Read an extract

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina

In this extract from Riot Days, Pussy Riot's Maria 'Masha' Alyokhina recounts the story of the first time she and her bandmates got in trouble with the police

floors swept, stability in place

When Pussy Riot performed on Lobnoye Mesto, we unfurled a violet flag: the Venus mirror symbol, a clenched fist in the centre. There were eight of us, like the eight dissidents in 1968.


revolution without Caravaggio

As we were preparing for our Red Square action, Caravaggio’s paintings were brought to Moscow. But it’s not easy to carry a ladder into a museum. I didn’t go to see the Caravaggio exhibition. What a strange thing to be doing during the days of Russian Christmas, I thought, walking home through the woods after rehearsal.

At the rehearsal, smoke started billowing from the guitar amp. Katya rushed over and managed to fix it. She’s an expert in nuclear submarines. And some of us couldn’t even install a couple of editing apps on the computer.
‘ Smoke
– that’s cool!’
‘We need smoke!’
‘There’s no smoke without fire!’
‘Let’s bring a poster and burn it!’

So, as well as singing ‘Putin Peed His Pants’, we decided to set fire to a poster of Putin kissing Qaddafi. We rehearsed the burning part for a long time: it was going to be cold, we’d have to douse the poster with kerosene. We gathered at the old factory in the evenings and practised burning the poster, day after day: unfold, douse, set alight, almost simultaneously.


learn how to burn it

A rebel column is marching on the Kremlin.

Windows of the FSB rooms are blowing out.

Bitches are shitting themselves behind red walls.

Riot announces, Abort the System!


Attack at dawn? I won’t object.

For our freedom and yours I punish them with my lash.

The glorious Madonna will teach you how to fight.

The feminist Magdalene went to a protest march


Riot in Russia – charisma of protest!

Riot in Russia – Putin peed his pants!

Riot in Russia – we exist!

Riot in Russia – Riot, Riot!


Go out to the streets,

Live on the Red,

Show the freedom

Of civic anger.


Sick of the culture of male hysteria

The savage cult of the leader devours your brain

Orthodox religion of a hard penis

Patients are offered treatment by conformity


The regime is moving towards censoring dreams

It’s about time for a clashing confrontation

A pack of bitches from the sexist regime

Beg forgiveness from the feminist fiends


Riot in Russia – charisma of protest!

Riot in Russia – Putin peed his pants!

Riot in Russia – we exist!

Riot in Russia – Riot, Riot!


Go out to the streets,

Live on the Red,

Show the freedom

Of civic anger.


the poster didn’t catch fire

The cops got us afterwards for trespassing. We told them we were drama students. We said that we were staging a play and had decided to rehearse at Lobnoye Mesto. We gave them fake names. Actually, they were real names, just not our own: we’d taken them from the registry of traffic offenders, found people who matched our ages, used them as our own. False names. Done. It worked for everyone. Except me.

 ‘Do you know you have an outstanding conviction?’


‘What’s your name again?’

‘Masha.’ I had to come clean. That’s how the police got hold of a copy of my passport. With my real address.



The main thing was not to let them take the guitar – we didn’t have money for a new one


an outstanding conviction

I had never been in trouble with the police before. It had just never happened. I wasn’t a revolutionary. They hadn’t heard ‘Putin Peed His Pants’. The poster we’d failed to set alight came with us to the police station as evidence.

‘If this is a play, what’s Qaddafi got to do with it?’ a policeman asked.

‘Well, we just thought it was funny, so we printed it out.’


we printed out qaddafi

The cops bought that, too. We drank coffee from the machine, warmed ourselves, and laughed. The main thing was not to let them take the guitar – we didn’t have money for a new one.


‘Silly girls, you must be frozen,’ the sergeant had said, while we were climbing down the stone walls of Lobnoye Mesto, which was covered with ice, in a torrent of snow.– 12 ◦F, relative humidity 85%.

You stand on the stone walls and it seems you’ll fall any second. They are about ten feet high; but it isn’t really about the height. You can’t let yourself fall, because there won’t be a second time. We, Pussy Riot, went out to the square because we dreamed of a different history. Because the one in which the president turned into an emperor was not the one we desired. We were sick of lies. Of the unchanging, dismal lies broadcast on TV, the endless, groundless promises of a happy life.


a long and happy life

Riot is always a thing of beauty. That is how I got interested. At school, I had this dream of becoming a graffiti artist, and I practised graffiti in my school notepad. If you start your school work on the first page and do your sketches in the back, sooner or later the two will meet in the middle. And, next to your history notes, graffiti appears. Which turns history into a different story.

More about the author

Riot Days

Maria Alyokhina

From activist, Pussy Riot member and freedom fighter Maria Alyokhina, a raw, hallucinatory, passionate account of her arrest, trial and imprisonment in a penal colony in the Urals for standing up for what she believed in.

'One of the most brilliant and inspiring things I've read in years. Couldn't put it down. This book is freedom' Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick

'Reading: RIOT DAYS, by PussyRiot member MariaAlyokhina. A women's prison memoir like no other! One tough cookie!' @MargaretAtwood

'In oppressive political systems, some of the most effective weapons are sarcasm and dark humour. It is exactly these weapons that are employed by Masha Alyokhina in the brilliantly written Riot Days. Once you begin reading, you are completely disarmed, unable to put it down until the last page' Marina Abramovic

People who believe in freedom and democracy think it will exist forever.

That is a mistake. What happened in Russia - what happened to me - could happen anywhere.

When I was jailed for political protest, I learned that prison doesn't just teach you to follow the rules. It teaches you to think that you can never break them.

It's inevitable that the prison gates will open at some point. But this doesn't mean that you leave the 'prisoner' category and go straight into the category of 'the free'.

Freedom does not exist unless you fight for it every day.

This is the story about how I made a choice.

We are all Pussy Riot.
And actions break fear.

'To Back Down an Inch is to Give Up a Mile'.

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