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Blogs

Enjoy the Winter Olympics but remember – and listen to – Pussy Riot as well.

4 February 2014

11:05 AM

4 February 2014

11:05 AM

And so to the winter Olympic Games which should not be hosted by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Sure, Putin’s Russia is not nearly as horrific as Stalin’s Russia but when that’s the yardstick for decency you know you’ve bankrupted yourself.

Was anyone taken in by Putin’s decision to release a handful of political prisoners recently? Shame on them if they were gulled by such an obvious play. Again, it is better that the likes of Mikhail Khodorkhovsky and Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova freed but they should never have been in prison in the first place. The upside, as so often in Russia, is heavily qualified.

The Pussy Riot girls – previously saluted here and here – are now at least at liberty to speak out and are currently on an international tour to highlight the nastiness and inadequacies of Putin’s Russia. They still deserve your support. There may be little that people in this country can do to embarrass Putin except this: keep highlighting the real nature of his regime. It is not enough but it is a start.

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As for the Olympics, Tolokinnikova tells David Remnick that:

“For Putin, the Olympic Games are an attempt to inflate the inflatable duck of a national idea, as he sees it. In Russia today, there are no real politics, no real discussion of views, and meanwhile the government tries to substitute for this with hollow forms of a national idea—with the Church, with sports and the Olympics.”

It is worth recalling Tolokinnokova’s closing statement at her pretend-trial, a statement that, whatever you think of a Russian punk girl band’s antics demonstrated that they were serious dissidents with a serious message. In it she despaired:

We were looking for authentic genuineness and simplicity and we found them in our punk performances. Passion, openness and naivety are superior to hypocrisy, cunning and a contrived decency that conceals crimes. The state’s leaders stand with saintly expressions in church, but their sins are far greater than ours. We’ve put on our political punk concerts because the Russian state system is dominated by rigidity, closedness and caste. Аnd the policies pursued serve only narrow corporate interests to the extent that even the air of Russia makes us ill.

We are absolutely not happy with—and have been forced into living politically—by the use of coercive, strong-arm measures to handle social processes, a situation in which the most important political institutions are the disciplinary structures of the state – the security agencies, the army, the police, the special forces and the accompanying means of ensuring political stability: prisons, preventive detention and mechanisms to closely control public behaviour. Nor are we happy with the enforced civic passivity of the bulk of the population or the complete domination of executive structures over the legislature and judiciary. Moreover, we are genuinely angered by the fear-based and scandalously low standard of political culture, which is constantly and knowingly maintained by the state system and its accomplices.

Note, again, how the girls feel they have been forced into living politically. Sometimes I think we forget that the ability to live without politics is one of the greatest blessings of living in this country. Of course there are problems in Britain but they are not suffocating ones. Ordinary actions or decisions are not questions of politics. It is different in Russia. Politics is everywhere and even negative decisions of passive acquiescence are stained by politics. Escaping that really will be a liberation.

This month, these games, is a particularly good moment to remember that and to salute Pussy Riot and other regime opponents for their courage. Acknowledging their struggle may still be a small thing but it is the least we can do.

 

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