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Why Pussy Riot's pitch invasion during FIFA World Cup 2018 final is such a big deal

The disruption during France vs Croatia World Cup final was not your run-of-the-mill pitch invasion

Utathya Nag utathya10 16 July 2018, 3:17 PM
One of the Pussy Riot members who came onto the pitch shares a high five with France's Kylian Mbappe

One of the Pussy Riot members who came onto the pitch shares a high five with France's Kylian Mbappe Image: AP

The world paused for 90 minutes plus stoppage time on Sunday as France and Croatia faced off in the World Cup 2018 final in Moscow Russia. With eyes of the entire football fandom trained intently on the match which would decide the next football world champions, a brief run-about on the pitch involving three pitch invaders dressed in police uniforms (a fourth was stopped on the sidelines) disrupted the match for around thirty seconds in the second half. Stewards promptly tackled the invaders and escorted them out before the match promptly resumed.

Pitch invasions are not very uncommon in football and despite the scale of the match, most people would have written it off as just a few fans doing mischief. After all, one of the two women who ran onto the pitch even went on to give Kylian Mbappe a double high five. But the fact is, it was far from a run-of-the-mill football pitch invasion.

Moments after the incident, Russian punk band Pussy Riot claimed responsibility for the invasion on Twitter, stating the members were part of the group.

"NEWS FLASH! Just a few minutes ago four Pussy Riot members performed in the FIFA World Cup final match — ”Policeman enters the Game,” read the group's social post.

Who or what is Pussy Riot?

In case you are confused by the punk band nomenclature used with Pussy Riot, don't be. A band is just one of the many facets (possibly the most public one) of Pussy Riot. It is, in fact, an open-membership collective which uses 'unauthorised' public performances as a tool to express political or social dissent. The group, first formed in 2011, stages actions, documents them on video and later provides clarifications about the intentions and messages. So, yes, music is a part of it but the socio-political messages go way beyond just the lyrics.

In fact, Pussy Riot rose to global prominence after several balaclava-covered female members sang a raucous song denouncing the Orthodox Church leaders' support of Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow's famous Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

What do they stand for?

In a past interview with The St. Petersburg Times, the group claimed Pussy Riot members' political perspectives ranged from anarchist to liberal left, but that all were united by feminism, anti-authoritarianism and a stark opposition to Putin, whom members regard as continuing the 'aggressive imperial politics' of the Soviet Union. The group considers Putin a 'dictator' and has denounced him several times for his authoritarian approach to leadership and heavy-handedness in suppressing the opposition.

The group is also outspoken in their support of LGBTQ rights, and reportedly also includes at least one member of a sexual minority.

What was the pitch invasion for?

The World Cup final pitch invasion was one of Pussy Riot's trademark public performances to protest against Putin's reign.

Why were they dressed in police uniforms?

The police uniform was the prop of the group's performance on Sunday. In its explanatory post, Pussy Riot revealed the inspiration came from one of Russian poet, artist and performer Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov’s iconic creations — the ideal policeman, which the group dubs as 'the heavenly policeman'. In Prigov’s poetry and performances, an ideal policeman stood for a just and ultimate authority.

In its post, Pussy Riot drew a contrast between 'the heavenly policemen' and 'the earthly policeman' who "persecutes political prisoners and jails people for sharing and liking posts on social media." The earthly policeman in this context is a reference to Putin's Russia, where, according to some reports, any dissent, even on social media, has been punished with imprisonment and persecution.

Pussy Riot's statement also referenced the case of Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, who was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.

It's still unclear if the uniforms were also meant to deceive security.

What were the demands?

Pussy Riot, in its statement, laid down a clear set of demands. They include:

1. Free all political prisoners.

2. Stop jailing people for social-media "likes."

3. Stop illegal arrests at protests.

4. Allow political competition.

5. Stop fabricating criminal cases and putting people in jail for no reason.

6. Turn the earthly policeman into a heavenly policeman.

Why is it a big deal?

Pussy Riot raised some questions about Putin's regime and the current political climate of Russia in front of not millions, but billions across the globe and they managed to do it in perhaps the biggest sporting spectacle held in Russia, with Putin in attendance.

Pussy Riot was previously known for wearing brightly coloured balaclavas, though those who protested on Sunday did so with their faces uncovered. The group posted a second statement later with three women, one wearing a pink balaclava, reading a statement acknowledging police had relaxed somewhat during the tournament but calling for greater restrictions on their powers.

"The World Cup has shown very well how well Russian policemen can behave. But what will happen when it ends?" one of the women asked in the video.

What's more, the incident was orchestrated just one day ahead of the highly-publicised summit between Putin and US President Donald Trump being held in Helsinki, Finland.

(With inputs from AP)

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