Category Archives: State Department

Freedom of Speech in Russia Crushed Under the Boot of Strongman Putin: Pussy Riot Jailed

“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.

Members of the Russian Punk Rock Band Pussy Riot Protest in Moscow

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.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics, Russia, State Department

Freedom in the Internet Era

As one whose political coming of age was during the 1980’s, a cornerstone to the foreign policy of the west as personified by Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher was the right of people to self determination. During the Cold war our focus was on those in Eastern Europe and Soviet regions such as the Baltic States. While the fall of the Soviet Empire brought freedom to much of Europe it was but a dream to a many people. In recent weeks we have seen the people of Egypt express their desire to live in a more open and representative state. While the role of the internet is wildly exaggerated by the media, there is no doubt that the ability of ideas to transcend boarders is a dramatic change in international politics. Additionally we are reminded that tyranny has not faded from the earth and regimes such as those in Mainland China continue to rule by the total suppression of free expression by their people.

With this in mind, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could receive no better compliment than the condemnations coming from the Chinese government over proposals outlined in her speech on Tuesday.  In that speech Secretary Clinton proposed a $25 million program aimed at developing technology which would allow internet users around the world to circumvent attempts by government to block their citizens ability to access content on the internet. This is particularly disturbing to the Chinese as it potentially would circumvent their “Great Firewall”. Chinese foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu is quoted in the New York Times (2/17/2011) as saying “we are against any other countries using Internet freedom as a pretext for interfering in others’ internal affairs”. This has the same song we heard from Moscow over our Voice of America broadcasts in the 1980’s.

It would be naive to think internet freedom would lead to real political change and freedom in China. Any country willing to drive tanks over hundreds of their own citizens as the Communist rulers in China did in Tiananmen Square in 1989. As we have seen words and ideas have real power and people’s quest for freedom can over time prove unstoppable. There once was a time when American Foreign Policy was truly bipartisan and this is one proposal both parties should strongly support. There is no more challenging relationship facing the United States than China and we need to realize the long term threat they pose not only to the America but to freedom around the world. While this program is a small first step, it is a step in the right direction. With luck freedom just may break through the Great Firewall.

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Filed under China, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Internet, Media, State Department