Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cat fight waking the neighbours?

Rock group case could put the cat amongst the pigeons in attitudes towards Russia's authorities

It’s not new for people to sound alarm bells about Russia. Commentators and activists have tried to raise awareness, about security threats to neighbouring states, espionage, human rights abuses etc. for a very long time. What is new is to hear the likes of Sting and Red Hot Chilli Peppers speaking out about rule of law in Russia.

The case of Pussy Riot, the rock group arrested for a lewd impromptu performance in a Moscow cathedral is very helpfully waking people up to how repressive things are getting in the former Soviet space, and how rule of law works as a tool of the regime rather than as a keeper of the peace. This, against a background of Russian support for Syria’s President Assad, must surely be finally helping to win over some of the more naive to the argument that we should be genuinely worried about the path the EU’s eastern neighbour is taking.

I hesitate to throw myself 100% behind Pussy Riot’s cause because I do think that what they did was offensive. The sanction of 7 years in prison being suggested is clearly obscenely disproportionate. It should all have been dealt with by now. A fine or a week in jail would have sufficed. However, from a christian position of conscience, I can’t quite bring myself to outright support them if it implies that they did nothing wrong, whereas for a good majority of those supporting them, I would suspect that they think that behaving that way in a church is just fine.

Coming back to Ukraine, what are the implications of a severe sentence for Pussy Riot on Ukraine’s own Femen, whose protests have so far been dealt with more sensibly by the Ukrainian authorities. Femen sprang up during the more liberal 2005-10 Orange era and for a while had the sympathy of many liberals, highlighting some very serious issues. And as for the tactics of baring their breasts, just how do you get the attention of people in such a male chauvinist society?

More recently Femen have discredited themselves with some ill-chosen targets (such as the Vatican) and some tenuous causes. One of their most recent protests in Kiev’s Euro 2012 fan zone was greeted more with glee by beered up foreign football fans than anything else. If they do wish to continue though, they should bear in mind that the current government’s instruction manual just says COPY RUSSIA in big letters on the first page, so 7 years for Pussy Riot could well send out a message to them too.

Russia could calm a lot of people down by letting Pussy Riot go free, but in the wider context, dare I suggest that a rock band in prison might be the symbolism that’s needed to redefine people’s attitudes towards what’s really going on in Russia? The authorities there have quite a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot, so it would be no surprise if they did so again.

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