Pussy Riot – American Style

Pussy RiotStuart Lyle

Freed former Pussy Riot members, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, have unveiled a plan to start a new organization, Zone of Law.  The name, according to a Rolling Stone report, is a play on the Russian word “zone,” which can refer to prison camps.  It seems that outrage in the West over their ongoing incarceration helped convince Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to release them before the Sochi Olympics, presumably to avoid the unseemly display of “Free Pussy Riot” written on the bare skin of activist competitors as Madonna did in a 2012 Moscow concert.

The West managed a big huff when they were sent away, and ongoing media coverage has made them, or at least their titillating band title, known around the world.  The focus was on freedom of speech, or the lack of it, in “new” Russia.  But there was little coverage of the conditions of their incarceration, except for their repeated removal further away from Moscow and any possible media access.

Many voices in the US could be heard condemning Moscow.  And when Edward Snowden washed up there in the autumn, there were many to snigger at Snowden getting asylum exactly where a punk band ended up in the clink for daring to challenge Putin in a Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Russia has a very long history as a state built on an extensive prison system – what Solzhenitsyn called an archipelago of gulags across the vast expanse of Russia.  Nabbing political pests and sending them to languish in the gulag is an old story there.  People in the West, and in the US in particular, have good reason to condemn this crude and inhuman system, right?

Guantanamo prisoners

Well, maybe – as long as we are ready to acknowledge the inhumanity of snatching people off streets almost anywhere in the world, secretly “rendering” them through an archipelago of “black sites” to that very American gulag, Guantanamo, in Cuba.  Yes, condemn Russia for the savagery of forced labor, deprivation and extreme mistreatment that both Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova experienced first hand… so long as we are ready to condemn the injustice, racism, and criminality in the prison-industrial complex in the United States.

Like many things American.  The American Gulag is big – the biggest in the world according to this article in Salon.  That’s more prisons – and prisoners – than anywhere else on earth, including Russia. Including political prisoners… think Bradley/Chelsea Manning, Mozzam Begg, and Lynne Stewart (now freed to die).

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

The situation in Russia is awful, but the situation in the US is bad.  The Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU, and a few others fight against unjust incarceration in Guantanamo and in federal, state, and local prisons in all 50 states – and now Russia has some formidable, HBO-telegenic, and seemingly fearless young women ready to take on the state.  Support them all – here and abroad – if you really condemn the Gulag!

One thought on “Pussy Riot – American Style

  1. BRAVO!! to this post. As long as POTUS maintains that he has a right, inherited from Darth Cheney, to kidnap, incarcerate indefinitely and torture (oops! forbidden language!) anyone, anywhere, and send killer drones to kill “bad guys” designated by him with no due process or public presentation of evidence, any brave talk from US administration about supporting/defending “human rights” would turn to ash in their spokespersons’ mouths…if there was “a just God in Heaven.” [I apologize for length of that sentence; I usually don’t write ’em that long!]

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