Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, members of Pussy Riot, have been detained in Sochi. Photo: Getty
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Two members of Pussy Riot arrested in Sochi

Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, say they were arrested in Sochi with a group of activists and journalists.

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

Pussy Riot was arrested in Sochi today. 

Yes, you read that right. Pussy Riot members and internationally known “prisoners of conscience” Nadia Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina, who were released from prison less than two months ago, were just arrested in Sochi.

Tolokonnikova claims they were just strolling through town (with a group of activists and journalists), the police claim there was a theft at the hotel where they were staying. 

Pussy Riot had come down to Sochi to do a performance piece called “Putin Will Teach You How to Love the Motherland.” “The police didn’t know how to neutralize them, so they made up a theft in the hotel,” a local lawyer told me as he drove to the station to which the Pussy Rioters were being driven.

But Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina are not your average hotel thieves. After their August 2012 show trial, these girls are media experts, live tweeting their arrest. 

Маша Алехина, я и еще одна участница Pussy Riot едем в отдел полиции Блиново за нахождение в Сочи. pic.twitter.com/bj8qpX7gMN

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“Masha Alyokhina, another member of Pussy Riot and I are being taken to the Blinovo [police] station for being in Sochi.”)

Такой олимпийский Сочи. Едем в АДЛЕРОВСКОЕ ОТДЕЛЕНИЕ. pic.twitter.com/PoafsAGTZO

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“This is Olympic Sochi. Going to the ADLER STATION.”) 

При задержании применяли силу.

— Надя Толокно (@tolokno) February 18, 2014

(“They used force while arresting us.”)

 
 

Pyotr Verzilov, Nadia’s husband and the group’s informal manager, tweeted out their local lawyer’s number. Then he tweeted out the address of the police precinct to which the Pussy Rioters were being taken, adding, “See you at the station, journalist friends!”

Nadia tweeted out her cell phone number and even picked up the phone and talked, allowing this reporter to hear Alyokhina yelling at someone in the background.

Something tells me that heads are going to get bopped at the local police station. The local cops probably got the tip that Pussy Riot was in town and were told to make the problem go away. Panicking about messing up Putin’s Sochi party, they made the situation far worse, given the group’s brand recognition in the West and the number of foreign journalists swarming the place and bored of covering ski jumps.

What’s arguably even stupider is that they did the thing the Russian is state is great at doing: they remade heroes out of Pussy Riot, just as Nadia and Masha were busy mucking up their own image, going on junkets to authoritarian countries and shamelessly asking for money around the world. 

“How stupid do you have to be to arrest Pussy Riot in Sochi during the Olympics?” opposition leader Alexei Navalny tweeted. “There is no Ketchum in the world that can help you on this one.”

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com. New Republic Senior Editor Julia Ioffe will be writing dispatches from Russia for the duration of the Olympics. For the entire collection of her pieces, click here.

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Scarred lands: visiting the villages Boko Haram left behind reveals the toxic legacy of terrorism

The progress and challenges of Nigerian communities rebuilding after Boko Haram’s insurgency begins to wane.

“Sometimes it’s when I go to bed that what happened comes back to me.” Two years ago, Boko Haram militants stormed into 23-year-old John Amida’s home late at night in a village in Gwoza, Borno State, northeast Nigeria. Shielding his eyes with his hands from the torchlight saved his life. He shows me the mark in the centre of his forearm where the bullet aimed for his head went instead.

“All my friends were either killed or abducted,” he says. “I don’t try to forget what happened because it’s not possible; it’s with you even when it is not in your mind. The best thing is just to keep on living every day.”

After a broadly effective 18-month military campaign, Boko Haram remains a deadly yet waning force. Many communities once occupied by Boko Haram are now liberated. In Adamawa, just south of Borno, over 630,000 people previously displaced by Boko Haram have returned home.

With them, over 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in camps, or – like John and his family – in host communities. He and his family live in a home vacated and lent to them by a local. All over Adamawa, IDPs live in homes shared with residents or given to them temporarily in exchange for help, crops or token sums of rent.

Adamawa is a serene, largely rural, mountainous state. Even deep into the dry season, driving through the roads that cut between its vast countryside, its land is incredibly scenic. But within local communities, in more rural, isolated villages north of the state’s capital, Yola, the picture is more complicated.

Gombi, a small town a few hours’ drive from Yola, was recaptured from Boko Haram in late 2014. Much of what was destroyed in the insurgency – shops and small businesses – have been rebuilt or replaced. The local government buildings have been largely restored. The impact is still visible but, according to locals, decreasingly so.

But in less urban areas, like in Garaha, a village in Adamawa, rebuilt homes sit next to broken, abandoned houses, churches, mosques and buildings blackened by the fires that damaged them. Local government officials say the damage across Adamawa by the insurgency has set the state’s development back by a decade. Funding for rebuilding the state, which local governments complain is insufficient, is concentrated on urban areas.

According to Chief Suleimanu, a traditional ruler in Garaha, mental health issues are widespread but few are financially able to access support. While some people have been able to move on, others are still dealing with the consequences.

“Many couples and families have separated,” he tells me, detailing how in some couples one partner feels attached to their home while the other can’t face returning, or feel there is little to return to.

“The same with the children, some of the young people have gone to bigger cities like Kano or Abuja because of a lack of opportunities.”

Many returnees, who left camps in Cameroon to come back to Adamawa, are from families who have lived in their villages for generations. Their ancestral roots anchor them to their homes because their farmland is their main source of income. Non-agriculture-based industries provide few jobs. For many people, fleeing their homes meant abandoning their livelihoods.

As of 2015, 52 per cent of people in Nigeria lived in rural areas. Their relative isolation is a blessing and a curse. Larger rural spaces provide them with adequate land to cultivate their crops – but it also leaves them exposed.

During Boko Haram attacks on Garaha through to early 2015, there was minimal protection from security forces who often take hours to arrive.

For many people living in rural Adamawa, life is getting harder and easier at the same time. Armed herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnicity have become a greater threat across Nigeria, partly due to tensions between land ownership and cattle grazing.

According to locals, killings by herdsmen have increased this year. But villages are addressing their vulnerability. Armed vigilantes, some of which formed due to the lack of military protection against Boko Haram, are increasing. The police services are often too far away or too under-resourced to protect them. But some vigilantes now have more weapons and vehicles due to help from state services and locals. It is not an ideal solution but it has made places like Garaha safer.

With this new-found relative safety, villagers have begun farming again. With cash grants and donated tools from charities like Tearfund, it has been easier for thousands of people to begin cultivating land. In many villages there are small, lively recreation centres where young people play snooker and watch sport. Many of their places of worship have been rebuilt.

But the situation is grimmer in communities where such charities are not present.  Without resources, state or non-government help, rebuilding is a real challenge.

Adamawa is a state maxing on its credit of hospitality, relative safety and appreciation of agriculture. A recession in Nigeria and a severe food crisis in the northeast have added pressures on returnees and IDPs. Liberated communities will need more help and attention before they truly feel free.

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.