Home

 

The glistening smiles of the three Pussy Riot members convicted of ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ have stolen the spotlight in the printed and online world for the last fortnight. But their smiles betray the devastating truth of their plight, a plight visible for the world to see and to cry foul. The court ruling that sentenced the three Russian punk-band activists to two years imprisonment has been brandished, and widely accepted as a farce and severe beyond reason. It is a conviction that signals the limits of free civil expression in Putin’s Russia and the now imperceptible, if not non-existent, separation between Putin and the judiciary.

 

Pussy Riot has become a phenomenon. They retain a rock-and-roll glamour with an unquestionable commitment to human rights in Russia. The response around the globe has confirmed this and there have been Pussy Riot groups emerging around the world. Plus, celebrity endorsement, albeit slightly trivial, has raised their status. Certainly, Pussy Riot’s provocative and subversive acts will continue to gather attention across the world because of their edgy facade and the name will flourish because of the internet, which they have already made their medium for expression via numerous Youtube videos.

 

President Putin has been vociferous during the case and has fully backed up the charges. He has claimed that “I think if the girls had desecrated something in, let’s say, Israel – there are some pretty strong guys there, you know – it wouldn’t be too easy for them to get out of there,” (Al Jazeera) But he has also made a gesture to the West by saying that “I don’t think that they should be judged so harshly for this” (Al Jazeera). The President apparently urged the court to show leniency, which the two years rather than the seven year sentence represented. Despite Putin’s kind sentiments, he is rather missing the point.

 

Foreign politicians have been quick to denounce the court ruling and have criticised the Putin regime, including Britain who has showed support for the punk outfit. The Foreign Office has condemned the sentence: Alistair Burt, the British foreign minister, said in a statement that the verdict “calls into question Russia’s commitment to protect fundamental rights and freedoms” (Reuters). But overall they remain cautious. Britain is, however, much more active and brazen in another capacity. Unbeknownst to many, I presume, they continue to pursue a separate and active human rights agenda in Russia.

 

The Foreign Office runs several Bilateral programmes with Russian NGOs. They include projects for increased electoral transparency, anti-homophobia and protecting Internet freedom. Pussy Riot have brought the world to attention on Putin’s Russia, but the fact that Britain already funds what are effectively anti-state projects is a far greater political issue, for Briton’s at least. The British government had run schemes in a more conspicuous manner under the previous President, Medvedev. He was more open to greater Western collusion and was seen as striding for some form of democratic transparency. But with Putin back in charge the schemes face difficulties.

 

Putin has recently passed through a bill that labelled any Russian NGO that receives foreign funding a ‘foreign agent’. This effectively reduces the rights of foreign funded NGOs to that of a foreign organisation; at the very least these NGOs ‘will face heightened scrutiny. They will be required to file regular disclosures with the government and to label all materials disseminated through major channels with their “foreign agent” status.’ (Golos) At most Putin has the right and power to dismiss them.

 

Today, these are the covert foreign policy tactics taken by governments. Britain is nigh-on infringing on Russian sovereignty by taking their pro-democracy agenda into Russia to boost British interests. In this they follow, unsurprisingly, numerous American sponsored schemes. As a result, Putin has not made these pro-democracy organisations illegal, but has done his utmost to curtail their influence. Putin, it seems for moment, is appeasing Western governments first by not banning these organisations and with his comments advising leniency for Pussy Riot. Behind the facade, however, he is becoming more dictatorial every day. Opposition leaders are imprisoned, dissent quashed and fair judicial procedures are often non-existent.

 

Pussy Riot has been raised up by the media as the big public issue of the moment. But in reality, the big political players are having these little ‘battles’ on a daily basis. When you take a step back, the political landscape has a similar look about it. The UK and the US take their democracy agenda to Russia, who say no thank you. However this ‘no thank you’ is just a little under the radar.

 

Pussy Riot is a different issue that has embraced non-governmental civil activism across the world. As an international ‘situation’ it is more public than governmental. Despite public pressure, nation states will have no interest in doing anything more than condemning the trials. As we have seen, Britain is active enough in Russia. The British government is also more concerned with Putin’s implicit support of the Assad regime in Syria

 

The world has urged, on the internet and in person, that the women are brought to justice. This is what the world would like to happen. This is what Madonna would like to happen. But this is much more than one court case, as members of Pussy Riot would claim immediately. As much as global support will help their cause, ultimately this is an issue for Russians to act on. The band represent something huge and chilling – an oppressed youth hungry for what they perceive as basic modern freedoms. In the long run, they are working towards dramatic social change.  As Carole Cadwalladr  said in the Observer: ‘It’s not a joke. It’s a brutal, nasty place, Putin’s Rus
sia.’
(The Observer)

 

The world should continue to shout and cheer for Pussy Riot, but it must understand that they are part of something bigger. From a human rights point of view and in light of his refusal to increase pressure on Assad’s regime in Syria, Putin is bad news.

 

Pussy Riot wear brightly coloured balaclavas to conceal their identity and to make the principles of Pussy Riot universal, so that anyone can become Pussy Riot. They have now passed the mantle and charged the Russian public with lifting the balaclava that hides the realities of everyday violence and terror. Putin’s second reign has only just begun and it will be a test to see whether civil activism and foreign sponsored human rights policies will ever unite together. How far will the Russian youth go? How much more criticism will the West dish out to Putin? From a British point of view, would criticism continue were Putin to changed tack and support Cameron and Obama over Syria?

What we do know, and as Pussy Riot fear, if there is no radical action now, Russia will slip further into a dictatorship.

 FREE PUSSY RIOT

 Jack Goodman

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s