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Riot Days | Maria Alyokhina | Guest Review


Activist and Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina writes a vivid and passionate account of her arrest, trial and imprisonment in a penal colony in the Russian Urals.

In 2012, in response to electoral fraud and the inevitable re-election of Putin, the band Pussy Riot staged a performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Maria and two fellow band members were later charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. In reality, they had been trying to claim religion back from the claws of government.

Personal elements are kept to a minimum throughout Riot Days. In fact, the writing moves at such a pace that you don’t have time to get to know many of those around the activist. Peppered with references to a troupe of Russian protesters and dissidents who have inspired her, this is not a story of the individual, but a reminder to constantly fight for our freedom and history. Once injustice is normalised, atrocities no longer shocking, our lives are no longer our own. As Maria says to a guard asking her to end one of her many hunger strikes, “I protest wherever I can, wherever I need to. That’s my nature. I need to protest.”

From the absurdities of her trial, in which Maria and her fellow band member are placed in cages, to the horrifying conditions in prison, where sanitary towels are stuffed into gaps in the windows in an attempt to block out the bitter cold, this is a harrowing picture of human rights abuses in Russia. Towards the end of Maria’s book, she recounts a conversation with one of the friendlier guards in the colony. Irina Vasilievna, who has worked there for 40 years, exposes the reality that, “Nothing has changed. Look around you. Does it look like anything ever changes in this country?”

This lies at the heart of Riot Days, an urgent warning against the stasis not just gripping Russia, but waiting to creep in if we are not vigilant enough to stop it. This an important read at a time when Western headlines on Brexit and Trump are eclipsing stories around regimes giving less and less in the way of democracy.

This post was written by guest blogger Lucy.

Review copy from NetGalley, cover image from goodreads.com.

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