Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova: Authoritarianism is spreading like 'sexually transmitted diseases'

Story highlights

  • Pussy Riot members are sharing their story in a new show
  • "It is sad to me to hear Trump's praises of Putin," Tolokonnikova says

(CNN)Pussy Riot's Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova, who was imprisoned for protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin, says "democracy is being eroded" by leaders like President Donald Trump.

"We've seen the authoritarian tendencies is parading all around the world as sexually transmitted diseases, and we think it's time to make connection," Tolokonnikova told CNN's #GetPolitical series. "It's time to create global people's movement if we want to find an alternative to this raid of populism, which we've seen in my own country, Russia and in America too, Donald Trump, and in the UK, which ended up in Brexit."
Five years ago Thursday, Tolokonnikova and two other members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot were charged with hooliganism and sentenced to two years in prison for performing the anti-Putin protest song "Punk Prayer" at a Moscow cathedral.
    In what was widely seen as a response to Pussy Riot, Putin signed a controversial bill on June 30, 2013, imposing jail terms and fines on those who offend religious believers.
    Tolokonnikova walks to her first public news conference following her release from prison with the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in the background.
    Yekaterina Samutsevich had her sentence suspended on appeal but Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were imprisoned until December 2013. Upon their release, they founded an independent media outlet that advocates for political prisoners, and in November, they are bringing their story in the form of an immersive show to London.
    "With our new immersive theater project, we want to inspire people to act and to protect their values, to protect democracy, because democracy without deeds is just words," Tolokonnikova said. "And democracy is being eroded by authoritarian or pro-authoritarian leaders like Putin and Donald Trump and Theresa May."
    While US politicians have criticized Putin, Trump has refrained from criticizing him and has praised him many times. How does that make you feel?
    Tolokonnikova: It is sad to me to hear Trump's praises of Putin. He calls him strong leader. In fact, I don't think that Putin is that strong because I've seen it all around Russia. His power, his government is quite ineffective. They are highly corrupted, and they cannot solve the easiest questions. I know regions where schools are left without electricity for weeks, and Putin's government cannot do anything with that.
    US-Russia relations are in a tense place now, especially in light of reports that Russia interfered in the US election. Moscow denies the allegation. What do you make of the rising tensions?
    Pussy Riot member talks US-Russia relations
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    Tolokonnikova: When you talk about Russia and America, you don't need to think that Russia is Putin. Russia and Putin is two different things, and we have a lot of people in Russia who are not the same, (do not) think in a similar way as Vladimir Putin thinks. That's the reason why we're making our own art, that's the reason why we're trying to provide alternative views to what what's going in Russia and that's the reason why we're making this immersive theater show, because we want to portray the face of another Russia, which exists.
    Trump signed stricter US sanctions against Russia into law. Are you supportive of these measures?
    Tolokonnikova: Me and my team, we are against economic sanctions against Russia because we believe that it will hurt Russian economy and it will hurt Russian people, and it will be easier for Russian television propaganda and Russian fake news to say, 'See, the United States is our main enemy.'
    We don't think that one super power should punish another super power. I believe that if we are talking about sanctions, we need to apply sanctions to concrete individuals who are known for violating human rights.
    You've done a lot of work in support of the Magnitsky Act. Why are you supportive of those types of sanctions?
    Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova is seen behind the bars during a trial in Moscow.
    Tolokonnikova: We always supported sanctions against particular officials who are known for violating human rights ... The reason why we like the Magnitsky Act because it is against particular list of people who are in charge of killing people or putting them behind the bars. We spoke at the Senate in the US about people who are involved in Pussy Riot's story and we asked the Senate of the United States to put those people in Magnitsky Act, and we believe that's the way to go because particular individuals and Russian officials, they have to feel that they are accountable for what they are doing with Russian political activists.
    Do you believe that Russia interfered in the US election?
    Tolokonnikova: When I think about Russian interference in American elections -- yes, of course it did happen, and it's not really a unique situation. Putin's (an) ex-KGB agent, and as we probably all know, there is no such a thing as ex-KGB agent because he still has this philosophy that I need to somehow, in my own malicious ways, to interfere in politics of other countries. It's not really unique situation because American did it as well. But, yes, if you ask me, Putin did this hacker attacks, yes, Russian hackers are involved in that.
    What do you think are the effects of Russia's interference in US elections?
    Tolokonnikova: I don't believe that Putin's interference in the American election really brought Trump to power. I believe that there are other structural problems in American society and American economy that probably brought Trump to power, and Bernie Sanders talked a lot about these problems. I don't think that Putin is the first and the only reason that Trump was elected, but definitely he did interfere in American elections as he just interfered in elections in Montenegro, he's interfered in Ukraine's elections and he started a war in Ukraine. He has a long history of doing that. He has a long history of seeing what you call fake news and we call propaganda with things like Russia Today channel and with trolls and bots.
    In Pussy Riot's anti-Trump "Make America Great Again" video, which came out during the election, you predicted a dark future if Trump wins. Did your fears come true?
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    Tolokonnikova: I believe that what we showed in the video "Make America Great Again" is close to reality, but what strikes me here -- that reality actually is much worse than we showed in this video, and it's getting worse day by day, and I prefer not to open the news, actually, but when I open them I understand that level of political conversation is falling down exponentially.
    Do you still have trouble performing in Russia?
    Tolokonnikova: We cannot perform in official places. We make a deal with an official place and we make an agreement that we're going there to perform and the next thing the owner of this place now, he get a call from the office of local prosecutor and he says, 'Do you really want to have an opened criminal case against you? If you want it to happen, then let Pussy Riot play in your place.' It means that, basically, we are deprived from all official institutional activities in Russia, but we still can make our guerilla-style things, and our job here is to take back the streets. We can come to any public place and perform our song, and that's enough for us.