Crime or Punishment: Russian Narratives of Incarceration

Comradely Greetings

Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj
Nadezhda Andreyevna Tolokonnikova


PLOT SUMMARY: The book is a compilation of letters sent between activist Nadya Tolokonnikova and philosopher Slavoj Žižek during Tolokonnikova’s detention in Moscow from 2012-2014. These letters discuss Pussy Riot's ideologies and critiques of global capitalism, and politics. As each letter progresses, Tolokonnikova’s influences become known, and they make clear how she understands society’s much-needed reforms. Along with the personal dialogues with Žižek, the letters showcase her plans to improve Pussy Riot and what to avoid, even after she was released from detention.

ANALYSIS: Throughout the letters, Tolokonnikova's understanding of the division between the Apollonian and Dionysian is explained as the rational and the instinctive being both parallel and able to co-exist. Pussy Riot’s activism is explained as multiple ideas that are structured but also chaotic to society. Tolokonnikova’s intellectual descriptions let the reader understand the issues with prison, cynicism, and totalitarianism. These descriptions conflict with what society usually thinks of these issues due to capitalism and colonialism. Tolokonnikova acknowledges this and pleads for everyone to question themselves and everything around them as they are complicit in capitalism and colonialism too.

     Additionally, Tolokonnikova critiques how movements and their organizers often lose focus as they get popular. This leads to many people getting excluded if they weren’t supportive before the group's popularity. For this reason, she states that Pussy Riot is not just her, but that everyone can be Pussy Riot at any time if moved to do so. She wants every binary system to fall and to destroy previous norms that limited her and others before, now, and after if any remain. With this in mind, she also critiques Žižek’s male chauvinism as one of the norms that limit her.


“Their the message is: IDEAS MATTER. They are conceptual artists in the noblest sense of the word: artists who embody an Idea. This is why they wear balaclavas: masks of de-individualization, of liberating anonymity.” (12)

“We have an interest in exposing this [capitalist] deception, which is why I insist on unmasking the static, centralized, hierarchic basis of what advertising will later sanctify as a product if unbridled creativity alone.” (54)

 “The only thing we can offer up in opposition to the current transformation of our communities into a prison is an absurd, unfounded faith that another state of affairs is possible.” (87)


BIOGRAPHY: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, also known as Nadya Tolokno, is a Russian political activist, most well known for her activism in the group Pussy Riot. She was born on November 7, 1989 in Norilsk, Russia, two years before the fall of the Soviet Union. She attended Moscow State University in 2007, which inspired her rebellion against Russian censorship. A year later, she joined a radical art collective called Voina (War) to perform political art and activism. With the collective, Tolokonnikova took part in an orgy in a Moscow biological museum in protest of the Russian president Vladimir Putin. This act of protest was the first of many that brought international attention to her and Russia’s conservative, homophobic, and patriarchal government.  Following her involvement in Voina, she went on to form Pussy Riot in 2011 alongside Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich.


     Since then, Pussy Riot has gained international attention for public protests against Putin such as Operation Kiss Garbage, Mother of God, Drive Putin Away, and Putin has Pissed Himself. Consequently, Tolokonnikova was arrested in 2012 on charges of religious hooliganism. She remained vocal during her sentence, although the prison restricted communication, about her and other female prisoners’ mistreatment. Additionally, she held multiple hunger strikes such as one in early 2013 where she protested to get better conditions for prisoners. In late 2013, she was released from prison early thanks to an amnesty in Russia, but arrested again in 2014 for her planned performance against the Sochi Olympics and released soon after. She now lives in Canada. She continues to support human rights initiatives alongside Pussy Riot and created MediaZona, a media outlet for penal/judicial related news. 


Elder, Miriam. “Pussy Riot Profile:
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.” The Guardian, 8 Aug. 2012,     

Bain, Miranda. “BIOGRAPHY: Pussy Riot.The
Heroine Collective
, 17 Jan. 2017,

Peter, Tom. “Photographer's Blog:
Witness to Pussy Riot's Activist Beginnings.” Reuters, 16 Aug. 2012,

“Pussy Riot Members Are Released in Sochi.” BBC News, 18 Feb. 2014,


Miller, Andrew. “Perfect Opposition: On Putin and Pussy Riot.” Public Policy Research, vol. 19, no. 3, 2012, pg. 205–207.
Miller documents some activism during Vladimir Putin’s presidential era and how it has been able to exist and be effective. He also provides a post-communist feminist look into Pussy Riot.

Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, New York: Vintage, 1991, p. 653.
Paglia further defines the Apollonian-Dionysian philosophies with her addition of gender into the two. With associating Apollonian with men and Dionysian with women, she argues that the Apollonian has helped male domination exist in society and the importance of both philosophies to impact society rather than one doing so.

Steinholt, Yngvar B. & Wickström, David-Emil, “The Pussy Riot Complex: Entering a New Stage of Academic Research into a Viral Russian Controversy,” Popular Music and Society, vol. 32, no. 3, 2016, pg. 393-418.
Steinholt and Wickström discuss the impact of Pussy Riot, popular music, and punk politics in reforming Russia’s societal landscape. 

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