Pussy Riot, Free Speech and the right to Protest.

A recent BBC interview with the defiant members of Pussy Riot, showed masked members of the group with colourful balaclavas basking in the limelight-rather than a group of serious young political protestors trying to make a valid political and social statement-hardly  the Baader–Meinhoff phenomena!  The right to protest and free speech, some would argue, is an inalienable right. It is certainly a right bandied about by western politicians, until it comes to a sit in protest in their neighbourhood-then out come the pepper spray, taser guns, truncheons and over-excited security forces, ready to use their latest and stylized technologies against their own citizenry, as we’ve seen in the United States and Europe over the past 12 months. But I digress.  Most liberal minded, rational folk would argue for the right to protest and express a political point of view in the face of wide-spread political corruption and violence against dissenting voices. However, the method and approach adopted can make or break a cause. After the recent Russian Presidential elections there were wide-spread street protests; risky for all those who participated, because of the violent response from the security forces; nonetheless protests continued, and unorganised, disparate groups of protest movements emerged to challenge the Putin regime’s levels of tolerance for political dissent and difference. Mr. Dmitry Gudkov of the Just Russia Party blogged that people are no longer afraid to protest against the government. Numbers of protestors suggested otherwise. He claimed earlier that a lack of coordination of the disparate groups was undermining any opposition movement.  Enter Pussy Riot. And what an entry it was onto the high alter of Moscow’s main Cathedral! Clad in costumes from Revolutionary Road and Spiderman, and screaming profanities in a kind of heavy vibrato version of Linda Blair’s character from The Exorcist, they harangued against the Russian government, Russian Orthodox Church and any other institution representative of the establishment.  Apart from their own version of notoriety, and the support of a few fading, over exposed western musicians like the repressed and dysfunctional , fading  anti-Catholic obsessed  pop singer Madonna , and the anti-aging tantric yogi practioner Sting, what did they achieve? The release of long suffering Russian political prisoners?  A commitment from the Government for political reform? Inspiration for a grass roots youth political protest movement for change? Sympathy and support from the millions of Russian Orthodox faithful who find comfort and solace in their faith in the face of social hardship and political repression? Contrary to John Lough’s analysis in The Telegraph (Lough, 2012) that their protest showed weaknesses in a Russian political system which lacks checks and balances (we already knew this John!) the girls only managed to offend a deeply religious section of their fellow country-men and women who had managed to survive decades of political and religious repression under communism through their religious faith. The right to protest and free speech is not at the expense of the dignity, integrity and the rights of others. Their choice of venue was naive as it was offensive, and their message incoherent in the midst of genuine political protests at the allegations of corruption in the Russian Federation.

Lough, J. (2012, August 14). Pussy Riot’s stunning victory over Putin’s bureaucrats. Retrieved August 14, 2012, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/9474948/Pussy-Riots-stunning-victory-over-Putins-bureaucrats.html

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