“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Normally members of a Punk Rock bank being sentenced to two years in prison would hardly raise an eyebrow, let alone have the attention of people all over the world. For me personally that is almost as surprising as that I am about to use the “P” word in writing for which I fear my mother is about to roll over in her grave. Yet this seemingly irrelevant event has shaken those who cherish freedom around the world. In a Moscow court today, three members of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of “Hooliganism”. Yet to virtually the entire world this is seen for what it is, retaliation for these three artists speaking out against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This past March, three of the 10 members of Pussy Riot entered the Main Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and from the alter protested the alleged stealing of the Russian Presidential election by Vladimir Putin. As to whether those allegations are true is the subject of considerable debate and not the point of this essay. Indeed, I find the taking of political protests into a church distasteful and imprudent. However it is the reaction of the Russian prosecutors to the protest that has caused artists, politicians and average citizens around the world to speak out against the repressive actions of the Russian administration. The charges under which these young women were prosecuted carried up to 10 years imprisonment in Russia’s notorious prison system.
Since first becoming President on December 31, 1999 upon the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, Putin has restored a sense of order in Russia as well as establishing relative economic stability. Yet at the same time Putin has given cause for concern as to his commitment to freedom and democracy, especially in the wake of the constitutional two step which returned him to the presidency this year. I suspect his overwhelming election was in fact legitimate given the overwhelming desire of the Russian people to see stability and safety restored. At the same time his methods have only brought the legitimacy of his administration into question.
This is why three members of a formerly obscure punk rock band have been elevated to international symbols of freedom. While their words of protest may have been concerning to all those who value freedom, President Putin’s reaction has been frightening. Had Putin simply allowed these three to sing their songs and have their protest, they would be long forgotten. It has been Putin’s own actions which has given legitimacy to their words and united the free world in protest. If freedom fails in Russia we will find ourselves in a geopolitical crisis which could elevate tensions with the west to Cold War levels. The Russian people themselves rid themselves of the tyranny of the soviet system. President Putin would be well advised to embrace freedom and trust the Russian people themselves.
Thus I join millions of others around the world in calling for President Putin to immediately free these women and pardon them for all crimes they have been convicted. Furthermore, President Putin must embrace the freedoms the Russian people have given themselves. Ultimately his power is derived from the people of Russia and not imposed upon them. Should he fail to do this, the international community must not let this wrong stand. History has shown us that appeasement is simply an invitation to the extension of tyranny. So today the unlikely symbols of freedom are the three members of Pussy Riot who find themselves behind bars simply for their words. President Putin cannot be allowed to think that the world will allow this affront to democracy to go unchallenged or we may all find ourselves paying too high a price.