STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This next story is a mindboggling mix of Russia's past and present. It involves members of the Russian band Pussy Riot. We heard them talk with David Greene on this program. You know, they're the music group imprisoned largely for opposing Russia's president. Yesterday they were at the Sochi Olympics and they were attacked by Cossacks.
Cossacks have acted as shock troops for Russia's rulers for centuries. NPR's Corey Flintoff is on the line from Sochi where he's been covering the Games and the events around the Games. And Corey, why was Pussy Riot in Sochi?
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, they are in Sochi because they are trying to produce another protest video, the kind of thing that made them famous. And this one particularly is aimed at President Vladimir Putin. They want to produce a song called "President Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland." They've made about three or four attempts here in Sochi so far and every time they've been stopped by police, either detained on some pretext - in one case it was they were being investigated for an alleged theft from their hotel. But in each case they're held for a few hours and then released. This time it turned violent.
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INSKEEP: And we're going to listen to a little bit of that, as you continue talking. Just describe what are we hearing here, Corey. And what did it look like?
FLINTOFF: This is the YouTube video of the attack and it'll give you some idea. This is really a chaotic but short incident. The band members had arrived at this spot on Sochi's waterfront and they're getting set to perform in these trademark Balaclava ski mask that they wear. And then several uniformed Cossacks come long and attack them.
One Cossack kicked(ph) a couple of the women with a short horsewhip. They knocked band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova to the ground, threw a coat over her and whipped her. Other Cossacks tore the masks off the other band members. And the one man in the Pussy Riot group was knocked out, his guitar taken away and shoved into a trashcan.
As I said, this whole thing only took a couple of minutes. But it was another tactic to disrupt the band's efforts to make a new protest video.
INSKEEP: Horse whipping. And Corey, when used a Cossacks , there's a lot of images, century or more old images that come into my head. I think of men on horseback. I think of men and colorful uniforms. And of course they're associated with many brutal pogroms and other attacks in Russia over history.
What kind of a group are they today?
FLINTOFF: Well, that's exactly right. The Cossacks are kind of - or were a kind of warrior caste in Russia. They had this long history that goes back before the Russian Empire. They went from being sort of marauders in Southern Russia and they became enforcers for the czars. They were on the losing side in the Russian Civil War after the revolution. And so then they were heavily repressed during the Soviet period.
But they started to revive after the fall of the Soviet Union. And President Putin has adopted them as a symbol of national pride. It's sort of they are wearing the Cossack uniforms and that very familiar lamb's wool hat that they wear - you know, they are rather intimidating looking.
It happens that the governor of this region around Sochi is a Cossack by heritage. And he instituted these Cossack patrols. So uniformed people marching around during the Olympics and supposedly helping the police maintain public order. But the one significant thing that the governor has said is that Cossacks can do things that police aren't allowed to do. And that apparently means taking the law into their own hands.
INSKEEP: Including horse whipping people on the streets.
Now, I do have to ask, Corey Flintoff, the members of Pussy Riot were looking for attention. They went to Sochi. They knew there was an intense security presence and they would not be terribly welcomed. Do they feel in some sense that they got the attention they were looking for?
FLINTOFF: I'd say that's probably right. And I wouldn't be surprised at all if the video of these various detentions, and especially this incident with the horsewhip, doesn't turn up in their next video. You know, they've always been a kind of an Internet phenomenon anyway. And this is an opportunity for them to get really striking video and striking attention to what they say is, you know, autocracy and a kind of police state tactics by President Putin's government.
INSKEEP: Corey, thanks very much as always.
FLINTOFF: Thank you. My pleasure, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Sochi, where the Olympics continue, and where members of the band Pussy Riot were horse whipped by Cossacks as they attempted to videotape a protest.
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