NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t



Masha Gessen is a prominent journalist who is also a lesbian and an outspoken LGBT rights advocate in Russia. After Russia passed two anti-gay laws in June, she decided it was time for her, her partner and their children to leave. In late December, they moved to New York. “The only thing more creepy than hearing someone suggest the likes of you should be burned alive is hearing someone suggest the likes of you should be burned alive and thinking, ‘I know that guy.'” That’s what Gessen recently, referring to an experience she had with one of Russia’s most virulent homophobic public figures. Gessen is the author of about President Vladimir Putin, published in 2012. Her new book is about Pussy Riot, the Russian group that has used punk rock as a form of performance art to protest against Putin. Their most famous action was in February 2012 inside a Moscow cathedral where they danced and played air guitar as their boom box played what they called “A Punk Prayer”:

“Virgin Mary, Mother of God, chase Putin out
… The phantom of liberty is up in heaven,
Gay pride sent to Siberia in a chain gang
… Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist.”

The action resulted in the arrest of three members of the group. Two of them, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were sentenced to two years in prison. “Not coincidentally, their arrest … launched Putin’s crackdown on the opposition and on his critics, which has lasted for the last two years,” Gessen tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “So, in a way, both their performance and their arrests marked the beginning of a new political era in Russia.” As part of Putin’s pre-Olympics prisoner amnesty, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released last month, two months before their sentences were up. Gessen’s new book is called Words Will Break Cement: The Passion Of Pussy Riot. MORE