It has been two days since the three Russian women, known as the punk band 'Pussy Rioters', were sentenced to two years imprisonment for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In a trial which has captured global media attention, provoking protests around the world (including the arrests of protestors in Marseille, France for wearing Balaclavas and breaking French law for having their faces covered in a public place), the right to freedom of expression and female political activism have taken centre-stage. The woman, who carried out their protests in coloured balaclavas, faced the judge in every day clothes. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the 22 year old philosophy student pictured above, wore a T-Shirt with the slogan 'No Pasasran!' throughout her trial and during her closing speech.
This slogan recalled a movie I had seen a few months back about 13 young women in Spain who were prosecuted and convicted without evidence for political activism in the aftermath of the civil war (1933-1936). The women were politically active before Franco came to power, protesting through the dissemination of leaflets and through advocacy. They were arrested, interrogated, and jailed in las Ventas prison, until their execution in August 5, 1939. The film directed by Emilio Martinez Lazaro follows the stories of seven of these young women, who sing and play in the jails until their show trial and subsequent deaths by firing squad.
The reason I linked Pussy Riot to the women was due to the 'No Pasaran' slogan. During the Spanish Civil War, one of the leaders, Dolores Ibarruri Gomez, also known as 'la Pasionaria', used it in her famous speech during the Siege of Madrid as a rallying call to resist Franco's forces.
Women are often depicted as the victims of war, raped and forcibly displaced, with little room for politically agency. The Pussy Riot band and women in history such as la Pasionaria and 13 Rosas demonstrate the fundamental roles young women have played in calling for a more just and free society.