🎙 Nadya of Pussy Riot: "We Can Be Truly Unstoppable if We Combine Our Ideals With Tools That Crypto Provides"

In this week’s episode I, speak with Nadya Tolokonnikova, one of the founding members of the feminist punk rock protest collective, Pussy Riot. Nadya has been protesting against repression of individual freedoms in Russia since she was 17. She started Pussy Riot to focus on women and non-binary people as she noticed leadership would always fall on men. The group started performing in the streets of Moscow and were being repeatedly arrested for a few hours at a time, until one day in 2012, Nadya was put in jail for two years, for performing in a church. Her time in prison made her even more convinced to do everything she could to try and make a difference.

She believes art is a more effective vehicle for influencing hearts and minds than politics and that’s why she continues to perform. This year, she discovered she can use cryptocurrency and NFTs as tools to amplify her art, and coordinate people and capital on a global scale. NFTs can be used as a vehicle to both influence opinion, and also raise funds to be used back in Russia, where political adversaries to the government are still being poisoned and jailed. Nadya talks about her past token drops, where she used her own prison sentence as part of the art, and discloses details of future projects. 

A heads up that we weren’t able to record for longer than 30 minutes so this will be a short and sweet (and powerful) one.

The podcast was led by Camila Russo, and edited by Alp Gasimov. Transcript was edited by Owen Fernau.

🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:


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👀 Only paid subscribers have access to the full interview transcript below.

Camila Russo: So you have an incredible trajectory and history as a performance artist, protesting for individual freedoms in Russia, fighting for your ideals, and beliefs has even taken you to prison. And now you're using NFTs and crypto as part of your tools in this art and in your expression.

So, before we get into how crypto falls into all of this, I'd love to get a bit of your background for listeners of The Defiant who might not know what Pussy Riot is, what it stands for, and how you came to start this movement, if you can catch us up on that.

Nadya Tolokonnikova: I have been in performance art since 2006. When I moved to Moscow, I was 16 years old. I moved to Moscow to study philosophy. And I did study philosophy for five years, but quickly realized that it's important for me that words and deeds always come together. So I figured that it's not enough to just study ideas and to question things, but also it was important for me to actually take part in whatever was going on at the time in activist life. 

“I did study philosophy for five years, but quickly realized that it's important for me that words and deeds always come together.”

So I became involved in participating and organizing rallies and protests and smaller performance arts situations. And I formed my first protest art group at 17. And then in a few years, I realized that it's not enough to just form a protest art collective, we needed to focus on girls and nonbinary people because we would always be in the shadow of a male with whom we would appear. And it doesn't actually matter how much merit you have, or how smart you are, even if you actually lead the project, if you appear with a male, most likely leadership is going to be attributed to them. And sometimes even, they don't want that to happen as well. Sometimes they just fall into this situation. 

“...it doesn't actually matter how much merit you have, or how smart you are, even if you actually lead the project, if you appear with a male, most likely leadership is going to be attributed to them.”

So we decided to start an all girls and nonbinary member collective that we call Pussy Riot. And one of the reasons why we started besides wanting to focus more on underrepresented people, was we wanted to fight Vladamir Putin, he’s the President of Russia for 20 plus years, and he is an extremely unpleasant human being. He kills people when he feels like it. He puts his political opponents in jail, and he's a homophobe, transphobe and misogynist, pretty much everything. He's not a good characterization of my country, because my country is amazing. 

So he announced that he's going to be the president a third time without actually asking people what they think about it and that was at the end of 2011. And I couldn't sleep or eat or breathe for three days. I realized I have to do something about it. And I figured that I have to do something with art because this is what I know how to do the best, this is my strong feature. And I feel like with activism, you always have to pick up something that suits you because a lot of people believe that there is just one phase of activism. Like you have to go to a rally, but if you’re not comfortable with that, you don't have to. You know, you can just pick something you're good at and use it for achieving your goals. 

“I couldn't sleep or eat or breathe for three days. I realized I have to do something about it. And I figured that I have to do something with art because this is what I know how to do the best, this is my strong feature.”

So I pick art and me and a couple of my girlfriends started Pussy Riot which is a feminist protest art collective. We performed all around Moscow, it was guerilla, art actions on the streets. And we wanted to bring our music and bring our art to people who have not heard of us before. We didn’t want to perform in venues or festivals. We wanted to perform in front of people unexpectedly just breaking the fabric of traditional normal life. 

And in six months, after us being really active and being arrested on a daily basis, we had to perform in subway stations. There's no way that you can run from the subway station. So would be arrested for 5-10 hours, sometimes the day, but it never was so serious. And then after six months, I think we really got on the nerves of the government and they decided to really, really lock us up and they put us in prison for two years. And that's how we became internationally known, and we became Time’s women of the year, or whatever like all the Guardians of the world and the traditional big media was writing about us a lot. So that's how we actually gained a bigger platform. 

“...after six months, I think we really got on the nerves of the government and they decided to really, really lock us up and they put us in prison for two years.”

And I was like, oh, my God, how could you be so stupid to put us in jail to give us the voice that we have right now. And we use it well. We built successful media companies in France and Russia and the Ukraine and Belarus. We have more than 50 people working at this media company full-time. I think most of my friends who've been there, so they're surprised. They don’t know because of the language barrier, people can’t learn about it, but we are actually, in fact, going to be more successful media moguls than Donald fucking Trump.

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