Norway/Russia: Musician cuts song from concert due to Russian pressure

17 November 2016

The Russian Consulate General in Kirkenes, a town in north-eastern Norway near the Russian border, has interfered with a literature festival in the area by voicing its concern over a sold-out concert to be held on 17 November 2016 by Norwegian folk musician Moddi and Russian Arkhangelsk Chamber Orchestra, reported The Barents Observer on 15 November 2016.

Moddi (real name: Pål Moddi Knutsen), who is touring Norway with the orchestra, is promoting his new album ‘UnSongs’ featuring 12 songs from 12 countries that were banned at some point in history, including his rendition of Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk Prayer’, a controversial protest song in Russia.

Literature festival coordinator Sunniva Knutsen told the online newspaper that contact from Russian authorities came via indirect means through one of their partners who conveyed that there was “concern on how the chamber orchestra would be met in Russia if they performed the song”.

Moddi told the online newspaper:

We Norwegians are fantasticly privileged and can mostly sing whatever we want. When the songs are performed in an international context I am responsible not only for myself, but for everyone involved. I bear Punk Prayer with me and look forward to play it in the future. Beyond that I can – sadly – not comment any further at this time.

Knutsen stressed that the festival considers the musician’s project to be important and that he can perform the song if he chooses.

Potential legal consequences
Russia’s Consulate General confirmed in an email to the online newspaper that they warned the Russian musicians about playing the song, saying they could potentially face legal consequences:

Mr. Pål “Moddi” Knutsen has the right to decide himself what songs he wish to play or sing. However, we contacted the organizers of the festival locally to make sure the musicians from Arkhangelsk Chamber Orchestra were told about the activity they participate in. In 2013, the video with the so-called ‘Punk Prayer’ was included to the Federal list of extremist material by a court decision. The decision applies to both video and sound that are insulting believers. That means the players in the orchestra could formally violate Russian legislation by assisting such performance. Our only goal was to avoid possible consequences for the orchestra and for Norwegian-Russian cultural relations.

The law the Russian official is citing, which was approved in 2013, makes it illegal to insult people’s religion and carries with it a maximum punishment of six years in prison.

‘Punk Prayer’
Pussy Riot’s song ‘Punk Prayer’ is one of the most well-known censored songs on the album and was the song performed by the group in 2012 in a Moscow cathedral that landed three of the members in jail.

After the members had been sentenced to two years in prison, a Moscow court banned ‘Punk Prayer’ videos from appearing online on the grounds that they were “extremist”, reported Reuters on 30 January 2013.

When Moddi decided to film a video for his version of the song, he decided he wanted to film it inside a Norwegian church in the town of Pasvik, half a kilometre away from the Russian border, but church authorities didn’t allow him as they considered the lyrics of the song to be unacceptable to the church. Moddi, instead, recorded the video on the steps of the church, reported The Barents Observer on 28 April 2016.

Watch the video for Moddi’s version of Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk Prayer’ here:

Photo: Moddi singing ‘Punk Prayer’ on church steps/YouTube screenshot

UPDATE: This story was updated on 22 November 2016 to reflect the Russian Consulate General’s statements and the law Russian musicians could be held in violation of if they had performed the song.


» Facebook: Moddi and the Arkhangelsk Chamber Orchestra Kirkenes concert event page

» NRK – 18 November 2016:
Consul General rejects Moddi censorship

» NRK – 17 November 2016:
Moddi: Unaccustomed to being censored

» The Barents Observer – 16 November 2016:
Playing ‘Punk Prayer’ in Norway could mean years in prison

» The Barents Observer – 15 November 2016:
No ‘Punk Prayer’ in borderland after pressure from Putin’s diplomats

» NRK – 28 April 2016:
Moddi takes Russian “protest poetry” to church steps

» Reuters – 30 January 2013:
Russian court orders Pussy Riot videos be banned from internet

» Article 19 – 30 November 2012:
Russia: Pussy Riot ‘punk prayer’ video banned

More from Freemuse

» 3 March 2015: Russia: Supreme Court upholds sentence against Pussy Riot members

» 13 May 2014: Russia: Pussy Riot members appeal sentence in Supreme Court

» 4 January 2014: Russia: Freedom to imprisoned Pussy Riot members

» 19 December 2013: Russia: Freedom promised to the two imprisoned Pussy Riot members

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