“We didn’t know if she was still alive”

Andrej Tolokonnikov talks about his fears for his daughter Nadja.

Two weeks after Nadja Tolokonnikova disappeared from her prison camp Nr 14 in Mordvinia her family still doesn’t know where she is. The political activist and member of the feminist punk group “Pussy Riot” was sentenced in August 2012 to two years in a penal colony for singing a punk prayer in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012. The performance lasted 40 seconds and was judged “hooliganism out of religious hatred”.

Nadeshda disappeared after a nine day hunger strike against the conditions in her prison colony. The Russian prison authorities failed to inform the family where they planed to take Nadeshda. According to inofficial sources she celebrated her 24th birthday last Thursday in a prison wagon in Sibiria on the way to prison camp Nr. 50 in Nischni Ingasch 2000 Kilometer from Moscow.

Tolokonnikova is currently Putin’s most famous political prisoner. At the age of 18 she joined the radical activist artist group “Vaina” (“Krieg”) and participated in their performances, among which was a group sex session in the Museum Of Biology in Moscow when Nadeshda was eight months pregnant.

“Till now we were not sure she is even alive”, says Nadja’s father Andrej Tolokonnikov: The 55 year old former doctor lives as writer in Moscow and even published a novel about his daughter: “Nadeshda”. Tolokonnikov recently contributed to the book “Why Europe needs a magnitzky Law” by the Russian journalist Elena Servettaz: www.magnitskybook.com. He also contributed two words to the famous punk prayer of his daughter: “Holy shit”.

Profil: Do you know, where your daughter is?

Andrej Tolokonnikov: Till now they refuse to answer all our requests. We don’t know when she will arrive in prison camp Nr 50 – but her husband Piotr was told by an official there that they are waiting for her. According to the law the Federal Prison Service has to inform the relatives latest after ten days, where a prisoner is located. Except in special cases likes terrorist. With Nadja I am quite sure they wanted to play cat and mouse with us.

Profil: Is Nadja’s hunger strike the reason for transferring her to Sibiria?

Tolokonnikov: Probably yes. They are afraid that she continues to talk about the “New Gulag”.

Profil: Is President Putin directly responsible for this?

Tolokonnikov: Russia is being governed very transparently by the system of “signaling”. Putin or someone from his entourage gives a signal. Even if it is only a gesture the apparatus knows what to do. Sometimes they even overreact after such a signal - then Putin has to call them back.

Profil: You influenced your daughter a lot?

Tolokonnikov: I think so. Although she lived after our divorce with her mother in Norilsk, she spent the summers with me in Moscow. She enjoyed the artsy and political atmosphere around me. I tried to give her an example that you should follow your convictions. Of course you can ask yourself: What did I achieve? Not much. But for a child it does not count what you achieved. On the other hand – she also changed me. Her contempt for barriers in society, her stubbornness – it influenced the way I look at the world.

Profil: Did you think the group sex orgy your daughter participated in was a good idea?

Tolokonnikov: I was totally against it. Even if we have to remember that nothing criminal happened there – certainly nothing more incriminating than a painting of Nicolas Poussin ( a French painter of classicist baroque) but if Nadja would answer you honestly today, there is nothing she regrets more in her life. She understood by now that this performance can harm her career. Especially if she decides to stay in this hypocritical, patriarchal and conservative Russia.

Profil: Why are Russians so conservative today? Because the Soviet Union enacted progressive laws but implemented them with repressive measures? Would it be different if the student movement of 1968 and its debate about gender equality and about sexual freedom would have happened in Russia too?

Tolokonnikov: The development of society in seventy years of Soviet Union and the fact that public opinion could not develop freely are for sure the main reasons for the reactionary climate in today’s Russia. Maybe we will still get it. But maybe Russia is a special case and we will not go through all the stages the West went through. I am afraid that we do not have the best prospects. The former superpower is today a second class nation, a gasoline station for Europe and a bogey for the world.

Profil: What did Pussy Riot want to achieve? Liberalize society? Force Putin to resign?

Tolokonnikov: All of this. For sure she wanted to change the debate in Russia. We need reforms in so many ways. And we need a different government. At the end of all this is Putin’s departure. With a trial against him and his accomplices.

Profil: Pussy Riot was not very successful so far. Most Russians find the performances totally impossible.

Tolokonnikov: I think Pussy Riot was successful. They have created a debate about the relationship between State and church. Not only in Russia, but in the whole world. True, the question of women in society, something the suffragettes were fighting for over hundred years ago in Great Britain, this is indeed still not a main issue here.

Profil: Your daughter has impressed many by her courage, her energy and her beauty. She turned within two years to a world famous oppositional figure – can she stand the pressure?

Tolokonnikov: I think she can.

Profil: Do you expect her to be released in March 2014 as planned?

Tolokonnikov: Maybe they will never let her out. There is no normal justice system in Russia. Look at the case of Alexej Navalny….

Profil: …the blogger and activist, who was sentenced to five years in prison in a clearly political trial. The sentence was then suspended, he ran in the Moscow municipal elections and his sentence has now been suspended on probation?

Tolokonnikov: Yes. In his trial they simply accused him of stealing a whole forest. Or the case of Michail Khodorkovsky: He supposedly stole his own oil.

Profil: What will Nadja do when freed?

Tolokonnikov: I think she will never stop fighting for her convictions. I imagine she is not sure herself what she will want to do. She is still very young. And we don’t know, when they will release her.

Profil: What future do you envision for your daughter?

Tolokonnikov: I try to convince her to go and live in the West. If you live in a European capital you can fight better against the Russian regime. But this has its downside: People don’t accept your authority if you abandon the country and go for safety abroad. If Putin’s Russia would change and be less cannibalistic with its citizens, then Nadja could stay and work her successfully. We will see.

Keep me updated!

© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz