Four days ago, a court in the impossibly-named Russian region of Mordovia—recently famous for wooing French actor/tax fugitive Gerard Depardieu—refused parole for Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, better-known as one of three members of Russian punk protest outfit Pussy Riot. Tolokonnikova received a two-year sentence for her participation in a protest in Moscow's main Orthodox church last year.
(We spoke at the time to a Russia expert, who gave us some context around the Pussy Riot phenomenon. Read the interview here.)
Apparently Tolokonnikova had drafted a statement before the court, but was not allowed to read it.
A Russian language radio service, Radio Svoboda, did get hold of what it claims is the text of the statement (Russian). The Russian Reader, a website on Russian affairs, has published the text in English. Below, some excerpts.
“Has the convict started down the road to rehabilitation?” This is the question asked when a request for parole is reviewed. I would also like us to ask the following question today: What is this “road to rehabilitation”?
I am absolutely convinced that the only correct road is one on which a person is honest with others and with herself. I have stayed on this road and will not stray from it wherever life takes me. I insisted on this road while I was still on the outside, and I didn’t retreat from it in the Moscow pretrial detention facility. Nothing, not even the camps of Mordovia, where the Soviet-era authorities liked to send political prisoners, can teach me to betray the principle of honesty.
So I have not admitted and will not admit the guilt imputed to me by the Khamovniki district court’s verdict, which was illegal and rendered with an indecent number of procedural violations. At the moment, I am in the process of appealing this verdict in the higher courts. By coercing me into admitting guilt for the sake of parole, the correctional system is pushing me to incriminate myself, and, therefore, to lie. Is the ability to lie a sign that a person has started down the road to rehabilitation?
What else do I do in the colony? I work: soon after I arrived at Penal Colony No. 14, they put me behind a sewing machine, and now I am a sewing machine operator. Some believe that making political-art actions is easy, that it requires no deliberation or preparation. Based on my years of experience in actionism, I can say that carrying out an action and thinking through the artistic end-product is laborious and often exhausting work. So I know how to work and I love to work. I’m no stranger to the Protestant work ethic. Physically, I don’t find it hard to be a seamstress. And that is what I am.
Recently, I got a letter containing a parable that has become important to me. What happens to things different in nature when they are placed in boiling water? Brittle things, like eggs, become hard. Hard things, like carrots, become soft. Coffee dissolves and permeates everything. The point of the parable was this: be like coffee. In prison, I am like that coffee....
I will surely use my experience in Mordovia in my future work and, although this will not happen until completion of my sentence, I will implement it in projects that will be stronger and politically larger in scale than everything that has happened to me before.
Despite the fact that imprisonment is a quite daunting experience, as a result of having it we political prisoners only become stronger, braver, and more tenacious. And so I ask the last question for today: what, then, is the point of keeping us here?
A Radio Free Europe report claimed that the court had cited Tolokonnikova's lack of participation in the "Miss Charm Prison Camp 14 beauty contest" as evidence of her need for continued incarceration. Like the above text, we can't confirm that report. It sounds too surreal to be true, but we're talking about a Stalin-era gulag—so we'll take even odds that it probably happened.