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Opinion: An Act Of Bravery At The World Cup

A member of the Russian protest-art group Pussy Riot is escorted by stewards during the Russia 2018 World Cup final match between France and Croatia.
Mladen Antonov
AFP/Getty Images
A member of the Russian protest-art group Pussy Riot is escorted by stewards during the Russia 2018 World Cup final match between France and Croatia.

There was a conspicuous act of bravery in the second half of this week's World Cup championship game.

The French team, which won 4-2, was bold and deft. Many of its players are immigrants, or children of immigrants, from Africa. Its victory was also seen as a triumph over bigots in France who have vilified and attacked immigrants.

The Croatian national team was dauntless. Several of its players were from families who were refugees when their country was torn by war.

But true daring occurred in the 52nd minute of the game. Three women and a man burst onto the field, dressed in police-style uniforms. They were members of Pussy Riot, which we should probably stop calling a punk music group that mounts protests, because as authoritarianism in Russia has deepened, Pussy Riot has become a collective of people who dare to stage artful protests against government repression.

The play-acting police that Pussy Riot put out onto the field during the World Cup championship were intended to signal to the roughly 80,000 spectators in the stadium, many of whom were visiting foreign football fans, that in the real Russia they couldn't see during the games, police and security forces intrude into everyday life. "[T]he earthly policeman gets ready to disperse rallies," Pussy Riot said on Facebook.

"[T]he earthly policeman hurts everyone," they added, "... persecutes political prisoners ... entering the ruleless game breaks our world apart."

Pussy Riot called for political prisoners in Russia to be released, for police to stop arresting people at political rallies, and for an end to the government policing opinions on social media.

The four members of Pussy Riot have been sentenced to 15 days in prison. But you might wonder: Would the world be surprised, or even much notice, now that the attention of the World Cup has gone, if the four aren't released in 15 days? Or at all? Would the president of the United States speak up for them?

A Russian activist has shared a secret video clip that shows two of the Pussy Riot members who were arrested being interrogated. A furious policeman shouts, "Sometimes I regret that it's not 1937," the time called The Great Terror in Russia under Josef Stalin, in which a million or more people were executed.

Pussy Riot knows the score. They live and strive in a country where activists, dissidents, artists and reporters can suffer for their bravery. And they went ahead with their action anyway, just below Vladimir Putin's cold smile. They are champions.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.