Free speech, Pussy Riot and forgotten Syria

Warning: This one meanders a little, and flips between Pussy Riot in Russia, and Syria without much to warn of the topic change. I believe the free speech situation in Russia and the revolution in Syria are both important to think about, and work to resolve. I'm a little bit ranty.

Pussy Riot has been all over the news, world wide. Last week three members of the revolutionary, political-feminist band was sentenced to two years in a prison work camp. These women basically stormed the church, and used the altar to perform a "punk prayer". They are artists, in my opinion, who use their art as a way of exposing the bad things in their country's political process-- much the way artists have always done.

They are called "dissidents" at times, but I don't think that's quite the right word. While yes, they do are a group of "persons who oppose official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state" and are "in opposition to the official policy", the word dissident is often used as a label for revolutionaries-- the "break everything down and start again", kind. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, I don't know, it's just the way I'm looking at things.

The women of Pussy Riot aren't the only protesters in the Russian Federation getting the boot on their necks, though. PBS did a quick little story on it the other week, although not nearly in depth enough [transcript here]. Margaret Warner interviews Stephen Sestanovich, who served in the State Department under Reagan and Clinton, and now teaches international diplomacy at Columbia. She asked, "Fair to say this trial was about a lot more than what three young women did in an Orthodox cathedral in Moscow?" [sic]

He answered, "Absolutely. The political context is all here.

"This prank, protest, demonstration, performance took place at the height of the protests against Putin in February, when there was a sense of possibility, even inevitability, to the demonstrations and the opposition. Since then, we have -- a lot has happened.

"Putin has sent a message to the opposition through a number of measures that he's introduced, fines and raids on offices and the like, that it's going to be harder for them to operate. Meanwhile, the leaders of the protests have found a lot of their momentum dissipating. They haven't got a program. They haven't got any real unity.

"And so, six months later, you have this trial..." [emphasis added]

The entire thing is worth a read, if you have time, and don't mind the shortness of it. I did some quick checking, and couldn't find a list of imprisoned political activists-- duh, right? I couldn't even find a basic number, or guess. Even Amnesty International didn't have much in the way of information, which surprised me greatly. This tells me that any real information we have about the people and protests being repressed in Russia are guesses, probably far lower than we think.

How many other countries are dealing with the same thing? How many millions of people are fighting, physically, through art, or music, or protests, or even letter writing campaigns, for the right to speak freely?!

What about Syria? Since the cutely named Arab Spring, American has ignored Syria. They need our help, even more than the women in Pussy Riot do. Pussy Riot has millions behind them; Syria is ignored-- it's those Muslim brown people, after all, says the racist, xenophobic Americans.

That's a terrible thing, if you think about it. Really let that sink in, will you?

Here in the US we can protest and the worst thing that might happen is getting some pepper spray in our faces. We might get arrested and roughed up by some fascist cops who have a hard-on for "authority". We won't get thrown in prison, and the Church won't throw a fit to have us sent away to a prison work-camp* for years! We won't be killed, dismembered, thrown into a pit with other bodies, for speaking out. We don't have to worry about being put on house arrest for years [I believe the only reason Aung San Suu Kyi was not murdered was because too many people outside Myanmar/Burma knew she was there.]

I could list situations all day, and still be telling the tiniest thimble of stories about the world, and people who are, in some cases dying, to speak freely.

We don't have to worry here in the States, not really, because the church isn't that powerful, and I have just as much right to say "Fuck the Church", as I do "Fuck the Police!"

Some countries-- too damned many countries-- don't protect speech like we do. Saying Fuck the church would be a death sentence in some; a prison sentence in others. Shit, Pussy Riot didn't even say Fuck the Church, but "Mother Mary, sweep Putin out!"

Which brings me around to my initial thoughts on the matter. Sure, I support the women's rights to say whatever they wish! They were protesting Putin, and I can't blame them one bit! If anyone, currently, in the world has a face and personality that scream "Evil Overlord" it's Vladimir Putin. I know about the funny business he has used to get elected, and how he and Medvedev seem to have this adorable "swap" thing going on. Anyone who doesn't see that shit is blind, probably wilfully, because they're too busy hating brown people, or something.

But it's the Church, the Russian Orthodox Church that really caused trouble for the women of Pussy Riot. Just like it's the Mosque that has supported dictators in places like Syria, that is the problem in that forgotten corner of our world. Teaching utter obedience to a religion, without thought, or reason, is part of this problem, I think. Giving religious people free reign to claim persecution when they're disagreed with, or told something they find offensive, is part of the problem! No one is protecting my religion, and if I sue because I'm offended I'd get laughed out of court; no, here we protect religion by letting chrisians sue the fuck out of everyone else, and letting the rest of us deal with it. More on that later, I don't want to get too pissed off today.

Technically the women were trespassing, but in no way is that a great enough sin to warrant sending them to Gulag. They were making a point, asking Theotokas, or the Virgin Mary (sort of translated as: Mother of God) to sweep Putin away. Their Punk Prayer, really was a prayer. [I haven't been able to find a copy of the Prayer, but if I do, I'll update with it.]

Of course, the Russian Orthodox church is about as pro-woman as our Roman Catholic or various fun-gelical churches here, so we can't have them speaking out in public, now, can we! Most especially when the ROC has been a staunch supporter of Putin.

Hmmm.....

So, Putin's in good with the Patriarch of the ROC, huh?
The ROC wanted Pussy Riot sent away for 7 years... for hooliganism.** The link does a pretty good job of explaining how Russian law defines it. Hooliganism, in Russia, is "any deliberate behavior that violates public order and expresses explicit disrespect toward society.'" So technically spitting on the sidewalk, calling the taxi driver a wanker and upsetting some little old lady's sense of decorum because you called him a wanker and spit at him is hooliganism.

That's really fucking stupid!

Know what's more stupid? The ROC is supporting this charge, and some of their adherents are fucking suing Pussy Riot, for psychological distress. No, I'm not joking. These women watched the vid, on YouTube, and now they're so hurt and upset they're suing. They aren't asking for much, in damages, only about 600 pounds, or about 950 US Dollars. But it's the principle of the thing... suing for their choice to watch a vid, where some woman in balaclavas sing on the alter of a church for less than 1 minute.

Sounds like the lawsuits here in the States for hot coffee, or the guy who sued because he felt that beer adverts promised women, and didn't deliver. [You can see some other frivolous lawsuits at this slide show here at HuffPo.]

That's what really irritates me about this whole thing. The Church is helping the State punish these women, because they didn't stay in their place! These women had the audacity to stand for what they believe in, and they've said themselves they're members of the Church... in standing, they have brought attention to the weird interconnected, (it's almost nepotism!) relationship between the Federation's government and the Church.

So, they must be punished! Punished and sent away, for being brave enough to speak out.

The same is happening in Syria. People are being murdered by the scores, because they're brave enough to speak out and fight back!

Two more members have fled the country. The Russian authorities want to punish them, too. I'd let them sleep on my sofa, if they ended up in Arizona. I know a lot of people feel the same way, and we all hope for the best, for all the members of the Pussy Riot collective.

Sadly though, how many people would let a Syrian family camp out in their living room for a few days? I would, and I'd try really hard to be understanding of any dietary needs, given that I don't know what all halal entails, I'd probably fail, but I'd try. I want to believe that there are a lot of people out there, just like me, who'd do the same. Americans can be loving, and generous, some times.

The ROC was persecuted under the Soviet Union, but now they've got a nice cushy thing going with the Federation. The people who weren't allowed to worship in public, or have anything that showed their religious alliance are now free to protest all of us hooligans, and throw fits like little kids when we don't bow down before them quickly enough to worship their God. Sounds like the Tea Party and their unholy fundie-evangelical mongrel here in the US.

And it sounds like the nearly incestuous relationship between the various sects of Islam and the governments in the Middle East. Crazy how authoritarian minded people flock to a god to tell them what to do, and settle for some old man in a funny hat, or suit, or pretty dress, or the one with the biggest beard, to tell them in god's place, huh?

I know that different countries have different laws governing speech. I'm not naive; I know that what's OK here in Tucson isn't OK elsewhere.

I know that there is only so much we can do, here. We can tell our Reps, and send letters and petitions to support causes for free speech elsewhere. We can send money to Amnesty International, and they will use it to help political prisoners and encourage them not to give up. We can send money to the Red Cross/Crescent, to help the wounded in places like Syria. If you're a medical doctor, you could see about getting with Doctors without Borders, or you could donate to them, as well.

But there really isn't much we can do, from here. So what we can do, is all the more important, I think. That's why I did what I could, for Pussy Riot, as little as it was, and will keep up with that story.

That's why I'm thinking about Syria this morning; I think about them every morning when I get up and take a quick skim of the headlines. They are on the other side of the world, and so their day is my night... a lot of things can happen in a day, can't they?









*Yes, that'd a penal colony, a Gulag, a concentration camp-like prison. Unfortunately Russia still has those.

**Yeah, hooliganism. What the fuck is that supposed to mean, anyway? Being a hooligan means being a rather drunk British football fan, and running amok or fighting in the stands. It doesn't really mean anything from a legal or criminal stand point, as far as I know, outside of Russia's archaic "we don't like you, so we're calling you naughty!" version.




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