Musical Martyrs: 10 Bands Who’ve Suffered for Their Politics

By now, unless you’ve been under a rock somewhere, you’ll know that the verdict in the trial of Russian feminist punks Pussy Riot is due this week. The Kafka-esque spectacle of the band being tried for the “crime” of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” has been an entirely depressing affair — our own Marina Galperina has written extensively about it over at ANIMAL — and while we don’t hold out much hope for a not guilty verdict, we do hope that the amount of publicity the trial has generated means that any conviction is very much a Pyrrhic victory for the Russian government. Sadly, Pussy Riot aren’t the only musicians who’ve suffered through authoritarian governments attempting to silence them — Russia, after all, isn’t the only place where making music and/or being politically outspoken can land you on the wrong side of the law. So here’s a selection of other musicians, both past and present, who’ve endured similar treatment at the hands of their country’s governments.

The Plastic People of the Universe

First, a story that has plenty of historical parallels with that of Pussy Riot. Anyone who doubts just how influential music can be in catalyzing revolution would do well to read up on the story of this long-running Czech band. Formed in 1968, they were a constant thorn in the side of Czechoslovakia’s communist government, and by 1976, the government had had enough — the band members were put on trial for disturbing the peace, eventually receiving custodial sentences. But their imprisonment didn’t exactly have the desired effect — in fact, it was their trial that inspired future Czech president Václav Havel and various other activists to pen the Charter 77 manifesto, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism. If you’re interested, there’s more about the band’s history here and also an article by playwright Tom Stoppard here (the latter behind a paywall, sadly).