Pussy Riots – and when will be the end of Putin?

This afternoon – 17.8.2012 – the three members of the Russian Punk Band „Pussy Riots“ have been sentenced to a 2 year prison punishment which is clearly unproportional, and displays to the whole world an unacceptable Russian way of the Rule of Law. It was transmitted live by European TV stations (many media people are somehow independent internally, and above all: the TV live broadcast is a tool of surfacial transparency, normally injuring the private sphere of people involved, but one can discuss about this). The pictures included the security glass cage and the handcuffs for the accused trio (whom did they threaten?) which is clearly a tool of intimidation – the girlie group had massacred or threatened nobody. The way how the sentence has been read by the district court judge spoke also for itself, not to mention the content of what she said. There has been and will be written enough, without doubt, about this and the previous criminal court sessions. In the EU all this would have induced, if at all, maybe a kind of „clap on the ass“ or an infraction fine of 100, maybe 200 or 300 EUR – as I mentioned, if at all, because one can argue very well that their performance in the Moscow church is covered by the freedom of art performance. In Germany and other EU countries, for the ladies who have never been before a court until now, no session would have been necessary, just a written procedure.

I would rather like here to mention some long-term developments in Russia. Of course, after the Orthodox Church of Russia has pleaded an hour after the sentence for mercy, without doubt President Putin will in maximum some months issue an act of  grace (which is totally unwanted by the Pussy Riots). As their flame will remain in the world and will threaten to increase, he will have no other choice. This will be his big show, when the person attacked in an artistic way will forgive them publicly.

What is behind? Putin plays the Strongman now, because it is expected and, on the other hand, also necessary in his view. The denunciations in the famous video from mid-August 2012 and the discussions of the generals, all hitting towards Medvedev and his role as cunctator before the Russian-Georgian war indicate this clearly. It is necessary as this is the only way to preserve a certain popularity, which also includes a dangerous polarization of Russian society. In the time of Internet news, of international blogging, the Kremlin (well, the official one) sees the only way for the survival of some people (who by the way made a lot of money, compared to the average European politician!) in restrictions for the free press, sometimes in a tolerated passivity of public enquirers in cases of personal injury of even death of critical journalists, in harsh sentences towards artists, in curbing the freedom of assembly for opposition politicians, etc. There were, are and will be complimentary voices against „the West“, the USA, the EU etc.

In fact, while Russia still has a big corruption problem which prevents many investment of mainly small and medium-sized enterprises, it also has a problem with a lot of politicians who are formally capable for dialogue but basically „constipated“ when it comes to the Rule of Law and to Human Rights. As an EU citizen, I must here apologize for the EU’s position in the visa question; normally the EU would have abolished the compulsory visa – but this is mainly due to the Russian government. I am sorry that at present and still the people of a whole country are suffering what could be done with a signture, but I fully understand the EU and the Member States that they are not (yet) ready to do this. The human rights issue and, I am sorry, a sometimes flashing Soviet-style of politics which then reminds of passed times which should be over now but are not, all this slows down the set-up of our relations and many activities.

The Russian society is not yet an Open Society, in the sense of Karl Popper, for example – there may be only 20-40% of the citizens (depending of the criteria) under this definition. My dream is a Russia, that discusses (really, not only announcing)  lots of economic interfaces, that never makes problems with any gas deliveries and therefore is a reliable partner (also for Ukraine and the countries behind), that leads an open, self-critical discussion in the education field, in short which is not tempted by any nationalism – as it is the case in grosso modo in the EU. A Russia which is not any more corrupt than the average of the EU Member States, which has a modernized administration, a functioning competition policy and is fully compliant with WTO provisions. A Russia with a functioning democracy, following the Rule of Law and Human Rights, with a really independent jurisdiction, having not any more a record number of pending cases before the European Court of Human Rights. A Russia with a society which reflects, as in the EU, the whole pluralism of human beings, and where sometimes there may be a government crisis, a parliament deadlock, a media scandal, an economic problem, or an argument between the state and the (orthodox) church – like in the European Union. Why not, nobody is perfect. Then the EU will turn out to be a great partner, for business, for policies, press will report in full transparency and in full access to everyone, we will discuss openly about history, we will both regret some spots out of that, we will then think also about our common international interest, and then indeed many new, additional agreements can be concluded. When we all try to be less a pain in the posterior of our citizens, not only in the EU but also in Russia, we would come a bit closer to paradise on earth; only a bit of course (and I don’t say this because of the Russian Orthodox Church).

But Russia must first become a country with a strong civil society. This is just tried to be prevented by some state institutions which equal an NGO worker who has contacts with other NGOs abroad as „foreign agent“; this has a very special meaning in Russia, from history. And other examples can be added – from a new legislation which is enacted in the last months only.

Russia needs a decided reformer – a real task for what could be called opposition. But the oppositon which should be a strong one in any democracy is kept in a status of fragmentation and disintegration – from inside and of course from outside. This is not an eternal phenomenon, however. And although there was a lot of cheating, the last elections showed that even the President needs some „additional means“ to preserve his power. Even if he did not need this to obtain 50% + 1 votes. So Russia needs a decided reformer, although the majority of people there wants a strongman, a nationalist, partly even some militarism. It will take a political generation, 10 until 15 years. Plus or minus some  years, of course. The Pussy Riots were ahead a lot of time, like many other people who demonstrated with impatience. As a European democrat, who wants also a real democracy in the countries around the EU and has worked for many years herefore, I can only join this band, and make a prayer that Putin goes rather sooner than later. This would contribute to the development of Russian society, economy and the chance for a decent stand in international politics. And I do not want to express myself now on Russia’s cruel position towards the people who have been killed, injured, threatened or forced to flee in their own country by Assad’s troops and ad-hoc troops in the Syrian Civil War of 2012.

And a last promise: As long I am responsible for EUFAJ, I will take a much stronger accent on human rights as originally intended – and this not only in Russia, but also in the surrounding countries. For example in Belarus where dropping teddy bears from a Swedish aircraft has led to the expulsion of an ambassador from an EU Member State. The task of this ambassador was to argue in favour of democracy, pluralism and fair and free elections. All these subjects are a much more suitable framework for a functioning social market economy which fulfils the needs of the people, and which lacks also in the country mentioned.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka
Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

Ein Gedanke zu “Pussy Riots – and when will be the end of Putin?

  1. PUSSY RIOT: PUNK-PRAYER „VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD, PUT PUTIN AWAY“
    (CHORUS)

    O Virgin Mother of God, put Putin away
    Рut Putin away, put Putin away
    (END CHORUS)


    Black robe, golden epaulettes
    All parishioners crawl to bow
    The phantom of liberty is in heaven
    Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains
    The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
    Leads protesters to prison under escort
    In order not to offend His Holiness
    Women must give birth and love
    Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
    Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
    (CHORUS)
    O Virgin Mother of God, become a feminist
    Become a feminist, become a feminist
    (END CHORUS)
    The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
    The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
    A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
    Go to class – bring him money!
    Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
    Bitch, better believe in God instead
    The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
    Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!
    (CHORUS)
    O Virgin Mother of God, put Putin away
    Рut Putin away, put Putin away
    (END CHORUS)

    Now I have copied and published the same text as Pussy Riots were singing. I assume that now I will be imprisoned for two years too? The punishment for criticizing Putin is very hard in Russia.

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