Nadya Tolokonnikova (@tolokno) is one of feminist art punk collective Pussy Riot’s most visible members, and she’s the author of Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism.

What We Discuss with Nadya Tolokonnikova:

  • The roots of Nadya’s distrust of authority — and why she became a headstrong activist against it at an age when many Americans are only beginning to discover themselves.
  • What Pussy Riot’s protest art aims to accomplish by openly defying such authority.
  • What life in a Russian prison labor camp is really like and how Nadya and her bandmates survived their sentence for “hooliganism” there.
  • How today’s young people are making contributions to their communities in ways undreamt of just a generation ago (and often pulling bigger paychecks than their parents).
  • The potential perils of shoplifting to survive for eight years and creating DIY music in a corrupt police state without a stunt double.
  • And much more…

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Being a subversive artist in a country where free speech is protected can be risky enough when the people who don’t like what you have to say make their displeasure known in dangerous ways. But being a subversive artist in a country where your work can land you in a forced labor camp for years takes a certain level of commitment.

Nadya Tolokonnikova, author of Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, explains what it’s like to be a perpetual thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side as an actionist activist in 21st century Russia. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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At an age when many Americans are still finding themselves, Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism author Nadya Tolokonnikova left her Siberian home town and moved to Moscow when she was just 16. But the age at which someone becomes empowered to make a difference in their community is relative; Nadya thinks today’s young people around the world — including Americans — are starting to get involved even earlier in unexpected ways.

For example, the modern phenomenon of slime videos on YouTube has created a community obsessed with gooey concoctions made from various mixtures that even Nickelodeon couldn’t have foreseen. It’s a scenario that has people of all ages literally getting their hands dirty conceptualizing, designing, creating, sharing — and selling — slimes as diverse as the imagination allows. In fact, preteens are making big bucks by dreaming beyond the tried (and tired) lemonade stand model that worked for generations of old.

“Yesterday I was happy…not just because my book came out, but because a girl from Instagram — I think she’s 11 — she replied to me,” says Nadya. “I wrote to her that I really wanted to buy 10 of these slimes. They smell really good. She’s from Russia and it’s a big thing to have American-quality slimes. Now I will have some respect in the eyes of my daughter, who is 10 years old right now!”

So even though Nadya is famous on the world stage as one of feminist art punk collective Pussy Riot’s most visible members, endured 18 months in a Russian labor camp, and just published a book, her daughter keeps any potentially ego-swelling notions at bay by reminding her that, in spite of all she’s accomplished thus far, Nadya is still no nouveau riche slimetrepreneur.

Thinking back to her own childhood, Nadya can easily trace where her own distrust of authority began. While taking walks with her father on the streets of post-USSR Moscow, she noticed that police would illegally profile and question anyone who appeared to be an outsider.

“My dad hated to deal with cops,” says Nadya. “He knew that it was not legal…but they can bring you all sorts of trouble. They can bring you to the police department and since Russian cops are super corrupted, if you start to argue with them and make them mad, they can put weed in your pocket and you’ll go to prison for 10 years.”

Nadya points out that this mistrust of authority permeates Russian society in a way that might seem contradictory to westerners.

“It’s not just about me,” Nadya clarifies. “It’s about all citizens of Russia. We hate government. We all hate government. We love our country, but [we] hate government…I am anti-Putin, and I am pro-Russian.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about Nadya’s reaction to accusations that she’s a Russian spy, where she sees the place of amateurs in politics, the origin story of Pussy Riot, the potential perils of creating DIY music without a stunt double, Nadya’s favorite subversive projects, what it’s like to get a reaction out of Putin, why Nadya and other members of Pussy Riot are committed to remaining in Russia in spite of the constant danger, what life in a Russian prison camp is like and how it compares to correctional systems around the world, how Nadya copes with activist depression, and much more.


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