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Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova on Why She’s Joining the Abortion Fight and ‘Insane’ Putin’s War on Ukraine


I can’t tell you where I am for safety reasons,” says Nadya Tolokonnikova. “But I’m somewhere on the planet.”

The outspoken activist and Pussy Riot member—who was imprisoned in a Russian penal colony for “hooliganism” after performing the collective’s anti-Putin anthem “Punk Prayer” at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012—was designated a “foreign agent” by Russia’s Ministry of Justice late last year, which hasn’t exactly eased her anxiety. But it didn’t stop the 32-year-old from fighting the good fight. Her latest initiative is LegalAbortion.eth, an Ethereum wallet where people can donate crypto that will then be fully distributed to seven reproductive rights organizations in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade’s reversal: Planned Parenthood, URGE, NARAL, Center for Reproductive Rights, Fund Texas Choice, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and Fos Feminista.

Legalabortion.eth is spearheaded by Unicorn DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization that markets NFTs from female, non-binary, and LGBTQ+ artists as a means of diversifying web3 and redistributing its wealth. Unicorn DAO was founded by Nadya following her successful Ukraine DAO, which raised nearly $7 million for Ukraine.

“My first reaction was to be sad,” she says of Roe v. Wade being overturned. “I was sad for five minutes, but I don’t allow myself to experience sad emotions for more than five minutes, because then I try to find ways to organize my network to fight.”

The Daily Beast spoke with Nadya via Zoom about fighting for reproductive rights in America and the state of “deranged” Putin.

What was your reaction to Roe v. Wade being overturned? Obviously, this was something that the right has been trying to con people into for a very long time and there was the leak of the draft opinion, but it’s still shocking to see reproductive rights rolled back fifty years.

I was sad, because I spent two years in jail fighting for women’s rights in Russia and one thing in particular that we were protesting about was against too much involvement of the church in our bodily autonomy and in the state—the statement where we came to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and where we performed “Punk Prayer” and then spent two years in jail, and the rest of the story you know. So, for me, this topic has always been really important. I don’t understand why something that’s written in a little mythological book has to replace what’s going on with our rights at this stage, and I never could believe how much influence religion has on American politics.

Coming from post-Soviet territory, I got used to having reproductive rights. In Russia, we got our bodily autonomy when it comes to reproductive rights right after the revolution of 1917—with a short break when Stalin banned abortions. Other than that, for my grandmother, my mother, and me, it was a given that we would have our right to an abortion if we needed. Traveling across the United States, I was always shocked by how much influence religion has on politics, and when Trump got elected, it was obvious that democracy and freedoms would be eroded and that it would take time, since in America democracy is much more institutionally protected than whatever is happening in Russia—which we call a democracy, but it definitely is not. These are the disturbing consequences of Trump’s election.

Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot performs during Floodfest at The Mohawk during SXSW on March 16, 2022, in Austin, Texas.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Tell me a little bit about your new initiative, LegalAbortion.eth.

I really hope that people will be able to organize, come together, and fight back, because from what I understand, the majority of Americans don’t support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. So, my first reaction was to be sad. I was sad for five minutes, but I don’t allow myself to experience sad emotions for more than five minutes, because then I try to find ways to organize my network to fight, and that’s what we’ve done with LegalAbortion.eth. It’s definitely not the only thing we’re planning to do regarding abortion rights in the United States, but it was our first reaction. It was important to capture that rage that I saw in the web3 crypto community—not from everyone, but there was a good amount of people who wanted to help immediately. Planned Parenthood and other organizations that we want to help benefit don’t have crypto wallets, and we really want these organizations to start taking donations in crypto. They’re missing out on a lot of funds by not doing so. So, we created this eth wallet that people can use for safe and secure donations.

Do you feel like the altruism of the crypto community is unfairly overlooked due to broader skepticism of crypto culture? There weren’t a ton of headlines when the crypto world—including yourself—raised over $100 million for Ukraine, for example.

I’m honestly the wrong person to ask because I’m so deep in the crypto community. We’re slowly but surely paving our way—socially-conscious crypto people. I stepped into the crypto community at the beginning of last year, but the reason I stepped in was because I wanted to steer the crypto world more toward activism, and I quickly learned that I’m not alone. The founder of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, has written extensively about the importance of using crypto for enhancing social movements, redistributing public goods, and building alternative governance models that will allow us to govern our societies on all sorts of levels in order to live in better environments. I’m pushing this narrative that it’s not just people who care about yachts or strip clubs—those people are there, for sure, but Buterin recently wrote, “As a frontier social movement, we’re supposed to be trying to execute on visions like this, not just repeating unimaginative 20th century crap except with ourselves at the top.”

I don’t understand why something that’s written in a little mythological book has to replace what’s going on with our rights at this stage, and I never could believe how much influence religion has on American politics.

To go back to abortion, it’s always seemed to me about male control over women—forcing them into domesticity and away from following professional passions, their will be damned.

I’m so disgusted. I honestly think those people who make the decisions are irrelevant—really, any male decision about the female body is irrelevant by default—and second, these are a particularly deranged group of individuals basing their judgment about lives on something that was written two thousand years ago. We are in a completely different society with different norms, and to me, if you base your judgment about life on the Bible then I have nothing to talk with you about.

Well, it’s strange because the Bible doesn’t say anything explicit about abortion—though Jewish law contends that life begins at birth—so the Christian right is really just exploiting the Bible for their own ends here.

It’s happened throughout history. It’s not relevant to modern times. Slavoj Žižek writes a lot about how fundamentalists of all sorts—not just Christian fundamentalists—feel like they’re losing the battle, so they’re becoming more and more extreme. What we’ve seen is a very bloody and extremist ideology taking over the whole country. They’re becoming more desperate.

You mentioned that Stalin outlawed abortion in Russia, and there does seem to be a correlation between fascism and stripping women of their reproductive rights.

It’s not a good thing to be aligned with Stalin. Look at Putin—he’s started to bring back a lot of nostalgia for Stalin lately, and Russia ended up starting a war in Europe. Stalin not only had a religious upbringing, but scholars say he also did it because he needed soldiers for the war and didn’t know how long the war would last.

There’s a famous George Carlin stand-up bit about the hypocrisy of “pro-life” conservatives in America that goes something like, “They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you!” He then added, “Conservatives don’t give a shit about you until you reach military age. Then they think you are just fine…Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers.”

And now, by the time babies turn 18, they’re not going to even need soldiers anymore. They’ll kill people with drones. So, I don’t really see the point.

Are you worried that Putin is taking notes on what’s happening in America with the overturning of Roe v. Wade and will try to roll back reproductive rights in Russia?

The United States has more deeply rooted religious influences [in politics], and I feel like Russia is different when it comes to that, so honestly, I think what’s happening right now in the United States is very dangerous for every other country on earth—and it’s potentially dangerous for my country, not because Putin is particularly religious, but because he likes to punish people for just living their lives and enjoys stripping freedoms away. When he does that, he often uses the United States as an example, saying, “Well, protesters are being beaten and teargassed in the United States, so we’re going to be doing it twice as hard.” I do think our country is so much further as far as people owning our reproductive rights, so I really don’t think that shit is gonna fly. But Putin is pretty deranged and insane at this point, and he doesn’t base his actions on public opinion.

Why do you think Putin invaded Ukraine and what are your thoughts on the deadly decision?

He hates Ukraine. He hates Western democracy. He views Western democracy as one of his biggest enemies, and that’s why he’s good friends with China and India. He feels threatened by what’s happened in Ukraine since 2004, when the first Orange Revolution happened. If you have a great example of a country choosing to follow a democratic path—joining the European Union, building tech, culture, education, and investing in human capital—Russians might ask Putin, “What’s going on? Should we just follow that path and join the European Union as well?” That’s what I remember Russian people wanting in the ’90s—to join the European Union—but Putin decided that it was easier to kill than to play the game fairly.

The war really started in 2014 after the second Orange Revolution. Putin was really scared, didn’t want a great positive example, and invaded Ukraine. He wanted to spark a civil war in Ukraine and enhance it with the Russian Army. He’s been trying to do the same ever since. Do you remember that plane [Malaysia Airlines Flight 17] that was shot down by Russia over Ukraine? I was hoping that after that tragedy the world would stand up and globally say no to what Putin’s been up to in Ukraine, but the response wasn’t united and strong enough, which allowed Putin to push things further. His goal is to destroy Ukraine. In Putin’s mind, Ukraine is not even a real country. He calls it “Little Russia.” He believed in the beginning of this stage of the war that Ukrainians would surrender, not fight with the Russian Army, and happily join Russia. That hasn’t happened, so now we have a war that’s likely going to last for years.

Michael Tullberg/Getty for ABA

We saw Donald Trump compliment Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a number of times after it happened. Are you worried what might happen should Trump be re-elected in 2024?

If I could I’d like to abstain from commenting on American politics when it comes to these issues—not because I’m scared, I just don’t have enough knowledge. But as you know, I’m no fan of Trump and don’t want him to get re-elected.

Late last year you were designated a “foreign agent” by the Russian government. How have things changed for you since that happened? And are you worried for your safety?

I’m a “foreign agent.” Nothing has changed. Basically, everyone who was really vocal and effective—whether an individual, human-rights activists, journalists, or even artists—were designated as foreign agents as well. It’s pretty dangerous to be a political activist these days in Russia. We have a media outlet called Mediazona that we started in 2014, and we had to move it outside of Russia. It’s impossible to stay alive and work on what’s happening in Ukraine, because it’s illegal to even call it a war—you have to call it a “special military operation,” and can go to jail for up to 15 years if you call it a war. It’s pretty fucking dangerous.

What can be done about Putin now? He has total power, just went to war in Europe, kills or jails his critics. Do the Russian people just have to wait until he dies? What can people feasibly do to stand up to him?

Educating others is a pretty low-risk thing—although you can even go to jail for Twitter or Instagram Stories. Providing people information is what we do with Mediazona, and it’s why we keep doing what we do there. We cannot expect any massive revolution in Russia anytime soon, though nobody expected the revolution of 1917 to happen, so nobody really knows. Obviously, people are feeling threatened and intimidated right now. So just do the groundwork. Organize at the local and federal level, build non-profits, and help each other build a horizontal network of mutual support. Plus, there are really interesting rumors of those in Putin’s inner circle not being happy with his political decisions. After his invasion of Ukraine, a lot of them lost their luxurious houses and they’re growing very impatient. It’s a potent situation for political change when the elites are not happy with what’s happening and the people are not happy. So, hopefully we’ll see some change.





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