by Misha Saeedpour
On Wednesday, February 27th, faculty and students joined Dr. Charmion Gustke in the Bunch Multimedia Hall for the English Department’s first speaker of the Spring Speakers Series. Her reading examined similarities between Maria Alyokhina’s Riot Days and Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government.”
Maria Alyokhina is a Russian political activist, best known for her role in the anti-Putinist punk rock group Pussy Riot. She was arrested in 2012 during a performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior and sent to jail for two years, convicted for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. Alyokhina played a main role in the Pussy Riot trial, making sure she could take part in cross-examining witnesses and questioning the proceedings. She is an advocate for the freedom of the individual and its inability to ever truly land in the government’s hands. She expresses these feelings during her closing statement for the trial when she declares, “For me, this trial only has the status of a ‘so-called’ trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of lies and fiction, of the thinly disguised fraud in the sentence of this so-called court. Because you can only take away my so-called freedom. And that is the exact kind that exists now in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom.”
Dr. Gustke tied Alyokhina and Thoreau together by bringing attention to they ways they chose to fight against government transgressions. Both individuals wrote about the “impure” authority of government and worked against oppression in their own ways, Alyokhina using performance as a way to protest and generate reaction and Thoreau advocating for paying closer attention to the choices one makes within the community, for example not supporting businesses that are tied to what you are personally against.
We closed the discussion with a Q&A, where faculty and students had the opportunity to expand further on the topic.