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Pussy Riot Members Freed In Russia; Musicians Trump Putin

Dec 23 2013, 3:31pm CST | by

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Pussy Riot Members Freed In Russia; Musicians Trump Putin
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Pussy Riot Members Freed In Russia; Musicians Trump Putin

Vladimir Putin was named the most powerful person in the world earlier this year by FORBES, but even he has his limits.

Two members of the music collective Pussy Riot, who in 2012 were sentenced to two years in jail for performing an anti-Putin song in Moscow’s main cathedral, were released today under a new amnesty law. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was set free from a prison in Krasnoyarsk, a town in Siberia; co-defendant Maria Alyokhina was permitted to leave a facility in the western city of Nizhny Novgorod.

“I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans,” she said . “But I don’t consider this humane or merciful.”

Indeed, it seems that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova wouldn’t have been freed if Russia hadn’t been embarrassed into enacting the amnesty law ahead of the Winter Olympics it’s hosting in February. The international outcry over the Pussy Riot members’ imprisonment came not only from groups like Amnesty International, but from some of the world’s most prominent artists.

In May, Paul McCartney penned handwritten letters to Russian authorities requesting the release of the jailed members of Pussy Riot. He joined Adele , U2, Bruce Springsteen and more than 100 other musicians in signing an open letter protesting  Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina’s ”shockingly unjust trial and imprisonment.” Madonna published a call to action on her website :

I protest the conviction and sentencing of Pussy Riot to a penal colony for two years for a 40 second performance extolling their political opinions. Even if one disagrees with the location or how they chose to express themselves, the sentence is too harsh and in fact is inhumane. I call on all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment. I urge artists around the world to speak up in protest against this travesty. They’ve spent enough time in jail. I call on ALL of Russia to let Pussy Riot go free.”

Madonna amplified that message by posting it on her Facebook page, where she has over 14 million followers. It’s worth noting that, although neither Putin nor Pussy Riot has an official Facebook page, the latter’s community page has about 90,000 likes, about a quarter of the Russian President’s most-liked community page.

Would Pussy Riot have been freed as quickly in a pre-social media world? It’s possible, but unlikely. Though many blame today’s mainstream musicians for not advocating for change in the world as much as the generation that preceded them, today’s Pussy Riot news shows that at least a few are making the most of their broad reach.

Madonna’s platform helped her gross $305 million on her recent MDNA en route to earning $125 million over the past year, the most of any musician in the world. It also seems to have helped free the members of Pussy Riot, at least in some part.

Sure, their release was something of a publicity stunt by the Russian government, but without the publicity generated by Madonna and others, they would likely have been incarcerated for much longer. And in that regard, this particular battle goes to the musicians–sorry, Putin.

Want to learn more about the business of entertainment? Follow me on Twitter  and see my Jay Z  biography, Empire State of Mind . My next book, Michael Jackson, Inc , is due out next year.

Celeb 100: Power Musicians

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