“And I can fight only for something that I love,
love only what I respect,
and respect only what I at least know.”
—Adolf Hitler, 1925
from Mein Kampf
Saturday morning, John McCain was on NPR talking about Russia’s recent actions against Ukraine. The Republican Senator from Arizona said that in order to effectively deal with the tyrannical orgy raging on in the Kremlin, President Obama will need to realize that Vladimir Putin is a KGB colonel committed to the restoration of the Russian empire. To take on Putin, McCain said, the United States will have to impose the most rigid sanctions possible against Russia, while providing Ukraine with defensive weapons and economic assistance.
Over the past weeks, tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed on the western border of Ukraine. All along, Moscow has claimed no intention of crossing the border. However, given their record for dishonesty, it is difficult to put any kind of real value to this notion. As Senator McCain said, “you have to deal with Vladimir Putin for what he is. This is a man who at a press conference, when asked if Russian troops were in Crimea, said no, and that you could buy old Russian uniforms at stores in the region.”
That exchange went like this:
Q: Mr. President, a clarification if I may. The people who were blocking the Ukrainan Army units in Crimea were wearing uniforms that strongly resembled the Russian Army uniform. Were those Russian soldiers, Russian military?
PUTIN: Why don’t you take a look at the post-Soviet states. There are many uniforms there that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform.
Q: But were they Russian soldiers or not?
PUTIN: Those were local self-defense units.
As we know, the soldiers occupying Crimea were not of local self-dense units—they were Russian troops; and two weeks after that press conference, on the 18th of March, Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
By Sunday morning, American news outlets were reporting that Obama and Putin may have been closer to resolving the matter. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has become like a globetrotting hero for diplomacy, met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris Sunday afternoon to discuss what Lavrov called “a possible joint initiative that could be offered to our Ukrainian partners.” The talks lasted four hours and yielded nothing until Monday night, when Putin ordered a partial troop withdrawal from the border. There is no way to tell what is going to happen, but with any luck this thing will not end at the post-Soviet market for old American military uniforms.
Either way, John McCain was right.
McCain also compared Putin’s post-Crimea annexation speech to Hitler’s of 1938 Vienna, and the Senator was correct in that regard as well. Putin took Crimea for the same reason that Hitler annexed Vienna: to reunite the members of a “great” nationality—who became separated by post-war border lines—under his country’s flag for the benefit of the motherland.
In both cases, the monsters walked in and claimed what was not theirs and shouted why everyone would be better off. The crowds roared with applause because their lives roared with uncertainty and pain—the platform upon which Hitler stood when he took control.
This is the start to very big problems—and it has all been very shocking for U.S. citizens, which isn’t surprising. Because even with our stalled economy, American life is quite comfortable; to the point that many Americans forget how it is in other places where people aren’t free and where laws only protect those who write them. But when foreign human rights horrors become a part of the collective consciousness, Americans are quick to remember that not everyone is able to think and speak and act freely as we are; and everyday that Russia keeps up this mad parade, to Americans, the U.S. looks more and more like the Land of the Free.
Because in Russia, you think and speak and act as Putin tells you, or you go to the gulags.
* * * * *
When writing about rock and roll bands, I am not typically inclined to include a 657-word reflection of socio-political climates to provide a backdrop for the story. However, this time I felt such was necessary. Because it is important to remember who we are, and what we are working with—And what we are working with is a group of millennial women who use performance art to protest Russian authoritarianism.
If they were doing this in America, they would be applauded—and in fact, they are applauded in America—but in Russia they are beaten and flogged and arrested and charged with hooliganism, then put through a humiliating show trial devoid of due process before being sent to an inhumane work camp for 2-years.
Of course I am talking about the anti-Putinist, feminist, anarcho Russian punk protest band Pussy Riot. You’ve probably heard of them.
Pussy Riot is not a traditional band, but a protest collective. They do not perform in music showcases and they do not release albums. Their purpose is activism.
They wear brightly colored balaclavas and give impromptu concerts in public places. The performances are not actual concerts, but brief demonstrations that don’t include live instrumentation, during which they sing the lyrics to their latest song in front of a videocamera. The footage is edited and cued to a studio version of the song, and the music video is distributed for free online. This is Pussy Riot’s modus operandi for delivering their message in a country without true freedom of assembly.
In Russia, protests organized by opposition groups are frequently shut down by the Nashi, Vladimir Putin’s own version of the Hitler Youth that was created to stomp out political dissent. Among other national iniquities, this is what Pussy Riot is working with.
They are also working with a unified church and state—a relationship that serves as a primary source for the Kremlin’s total power. Which is why it was absolutely necessary for Pussy Riot to perform their song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Away” on the altar of Moscow’s historic Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The simple act of protest landed Pussy Riot members in jail, and catapulted the punk collective onto the global stage. It was their punk prayer, and it went like this:
Four girls wearing masks chanted lyrics on an altar for 60 seconds. Three of those girls were arrested and charged with hooliganism. Two of them—Maria Alyokhina and Nadya Tolokno—were imprisoned for 21-months in the labor intensive, inhumane and humiliating Russian prison system.
In order to fully grasp the nature of this injustice, it would be helpful to the reader to watch the following video which shows the Cathedral performance:
That was 2-years ago.
Throughout their sentence Maria and Nadya remained undaunted by the harsh treatment. They were released this past December, and immediately launched a campaign for prison reform in Russia called Zona Prava, which offers legal consult and aide to abused convicts. In February they went to Sochi to protest Putin during the time of the Olympics—on Feb. 18 they were arrested on a bogus charge and released, and the following day were pepper sprayed, flogged, beaten and kicked by Cossacks—state supported militiamen—when they and other Pussy Riot members attempted to film a video for the song “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland."
The song is good and the video came out very well, but the footage is highly disturbing. The scenes depict an uncivilized Russia that embraces authoritarianism and encourages violence against peacefully organized citizens. The video for “Putin Will Teach You to Love the Motherland” shows that true Russian hooliganism comes from the Kremlin.
Several weeks later, in early March, Nadya and Maria travelled to Nizhny Novgorod’s Correctional Institution for Women No. 2—the penal colony where the latter served her sentence—to campaign for prison reform. En route to the prison the women stopped to eat in a McDonald’s and were accosted and attacked by a pack of young men who looked like poster boys for Putin’s Youth. The assailants threw garbage on Nadya and Maria and cursed them, and sprayed their faces with green antiseptic solution. The goons were ruthless, and it was all caught on film. The footage looks like scenes from a totalitarian takeover, and to watch it turns my stomach and fills my heart with rage.
* * * * *
Life without freedom is not life—it is death.
The Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka once wrote that the greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism. Vladimir Putin understands this notion very well. In fact, it is a primary tenet of his pseudo-democratic government, and he applies it in reverse to achieve his fascist end—his final Soviet solution.
In light of the current East-West conflict, it is important to acknowledge who this rotten bastard is, and what he stands for. Pussy Riot has done a superb job at this; they serve as a constant reminder that the vicious Putin lurks across the sea—he hates freedom and women and loves all that is bad, and he wants to make you speak Russian.
This is why Pussy Riot is the most important band of 2014. They are at the heart of a cultural revolution that is key to human progress, and they love freedom.
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