The ghost of Josef Stalin still stalks Russia.
Last week, a female punk-rock trio named “Pussy Riot” was convicted of “hooliganism” and sentenced to two years in prison.
In the West, hooliganism has come to mean rowdy, disruptive or vandalistic behavior, usually by groups of youth. In the Soviet Union, hooliganism has long meant any kind of behavior or speech that appears to threaten law and order — that is, the rigid authoritarian government.
The women were sentenced for singing what they called a “punk prayer” at a Moscow church last March. Their satirical prayer beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of its current leader, Pres. Vladimir Putin. They entered the church and danced down the aisle, lip-synching their political chant.
These “hooligans” were arrested and have been jailed ever since. Two of the women have children. The names of these persecuted women are Nadeshda Tolokonnikova, 23; Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30; and Maria Alyokhina, 24.
Since their arrest, people in Russia and elsewhere have staged protests, demanding the immediate release of the women. Among the protesters are Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting and Russian chess genius Garry Kasparov, who was beaten by police at a protest rally in Moscow.
The female judge, Marina Syrova, who sentenced the trio, practically gloated as she read her toxic sentence in court. She agreed with prosecutors who not only accused the trio of hooliganism but of “religious hatred” and “satanism” as well. The women could have received a maximum of seven years in prison. Putin had requested leniency for them. Gee, what a benevolent fellow!
Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union, from 1941 until his death in 1953, was one of the most murderous tyrants in history. An increasing sense of paranoia caused him and his henchmen to banish, imprison, torture and/or execute millions of innocent people. Trumped-up charges and accusations of non-existent crimes were his stock-in-trade. “Show trials” were pretexts to convict and exterminate opponents real and imagined — mostly imagined. They were also exhibitionist warnings to anyone else who would dare utter even a mild word of disagreement.
Yes, thankfully, things have improved hugely since Stalin’s murderous rampages. However, the ludicrous arrest, trial and conviction of these three women is, at least to a lesser degree, the same modus operandi used by Stalin and his goons.
And here are the similarities: Putin, his bureaucrats and Russian-mafia friends, who are insecure about their precarious grasp of power, have become paranoid and defensive — to the point that any criticism (freedom of speech) is termed a punishable “offense” against the State and/or the Church.
They care nothing about the “Church.” They pretend to because they need its support in what amounts to a devious system of scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours.
Under Stalin, the trio would have been banished to the hard-labor camps or executed. Now, in the new-and-improved Russia, they are sentenced to “only” two years in prison. It’s proof the same paranoid, knee-jerk, repressive attitudes to dissent still exist in Russia. These muzzling attempts will backfire. Tyrants who repress dissent always lose, in the long run. You’d think they’d learn that by now, but their power-mad pursuits surely blind them to history’s lessons.
How many more people have been tossed into prisons, the ones we haven’t heard about yet?.
Let’s protest this stupid injustice. To get a sampling of the extent of international outrage, go to the Facebook for “Pussy Riot.” And then write, fax or call the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to express your dissent. Address your communications to Head of Russian Consulate Vadim V. Saveliev. Address: Russian Embassy, 2641 Tunlaw Road NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. Fax: 202-483-7579. Phone: 202-483-7579.