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Are Ousted Pussy Riot Members Too Popular for the Group?

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Photo: Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

They served time in Russian prisons for staging performance protests in Moscow, they continuously put themselves in jeopardy by openly criticizing their Russian president, and gave Stephen Colbert a run for his money when they appeared on his talk show Tuesday night. But apparently Maria (Masha) Alyokhina and Nadezhda (Nadia) Tolokonnikova aren't punk rock enough for Pussy Riot, the band that the pair once belonged to and helped make famous.

The remaining six members of Pussy Riot – who have kept their identities a secret, often wearing ski masks when they perform and going by the names Garadja, Fara, Shaiba, Cat, Seraphima and Schumacher – published an open letter on Thursday stating that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova should no longer allege in the media that they're with the band.

"It is no secret that Masha and Nadia are no longer members of the group, and will no longer take part in radical actionism," they wrote in a blog on the Pussy Riot Live Journal. They emphatically stated that Pussy Riot adheres to a "leftist anti-capitalist ideology," while Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have become "institutionalized advocates of prisoners' rights."

Indeed Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova told Colbert that they have been visiting American prisons to view the conditions there first hand and are dedicating themselves to improving conditions in the Russian penal colony system.

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While some might consider this a noble undertaking, Pussy Riot members said it detracted from their mission. "Unfortunately for us, they became so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group – feminism, separatist resistance, the fight against authoritarianism and personality cults, all of which caused their unjust punishment," they wrote.

The pair also performed with Madonna at an Amnesty International benefit concert in Brooklyn on Wednesday, which Pussy Riot members harshly criticized. "Our performances are always 'illegal,' staged only in unpredictable locations and public places not designed for traditional entertainment," they said, alleging that this high-profile performance adhered to none of these rules.

While many bands would welcome the chance to appear on national U.S. television and get profiled in the New York Times, Pussy Riot said that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova's U.S. press tour shows that they "completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group—feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment." That said, they wished their former bandmates all the best. "Yes, we lost two friends, two ideological fellow member[s], but the world has acquired two brave, interesting, controversial human rights defenders—fighters for the rights of the Russian prisoners."

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