Sunday, August 19, 2012

Peter Gabriel on Pussy Riot

There's been a lot written about Pussy Riot; one of the best pieces came from Peter Gabriel in yesterday's Times. Unfortunately, of course, The Times is locked behind a paywall so, ironically, it's difficult to share Gabriel's words on freedom of speech. I hope he'll not mind if I share his words here:

OK, here we go again — another cause celeb with a bunch of overpaid, underinformed musicians banging on about a part of the world they don’t really understand. A punk group playing rude, subversive music in a cathedral — it has outrage, blasphemy and sacrilege all wrapped up in one fell swoop.

At first glance the campaign to free Pussy Riot looks like another bandwagon for the Save the World gang to jump on. There’s a lot worse stuff to worry about than a Russian punk group when even President Putin, on his visit to the UK this month, called for the courts to be lenient in sentencing them. Although presumably he filed that under “notes to self”.

A number of musicians, myself included, have spoken out against the threat of many years in jail for these three young women. Pussy Riot have become a focal point for the protest movement and the campaign is warming up. By supporting Pussy Riot — and gay rights — Madonna found herself criticised by none other than Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister who, in an extraordinarily personal attack, accused her of being an old whore who should take her cross off or put her pants back on.

When it comes to religion, I do believe that we need to respect each other’s faiths and most musicians supporting Pussy Riot would not have chosen the cathedral as a place of protest. However there are certain fundamentals on which democracy and freedom have been built and one of those is the separation of Church and State. So when an archbishop, the head of your Church, publicly backs a very repressive head of state who so obviously now follows a doctrine very different from the Christian one, something is clearly amiss.

I am told by those who know Pussy Riot that the three girls on trial are all believers and quite serious about their faith. This might put their action in a different context, more similar perhaps to Martin Luther’s hammering protests against the sale of indulgences by the Pope on the door of his church, or Christ causing havoc by throwing over the tables of the moneylenders in the temple.

Going back to the days of Mikhail Gorbachev with all the hope for the reforms of perestroika and glasnost and then Boris Yeltsin leading the country to economic collapse, Russian morale had sunk very, very low. The West made the decision not to offer help or to get seriously involved, and perhaps we are now reaping the result of that decision.

When Vladimir Putin first came to power, he was a genuinely popular hero, bringing back services, prosperity and pride and many were willing to overlook the negatives. But each term of office has exposed more of what is rotten and seen the erosion of more and more human rights. The clampdown continues and so does the fall from grace. Recently we witnessed the previously unimaginable sight of Mr Putin being booed at a judo match.

But on the street, older Russians are saying that they have not seen such use of force — such brutality, bullying and threats of violence — since the bad days of Stalin. Russia is now regularly described as a gangster state: in which protesters are routinely imprisoned and beaten; in which investigative journalists are murdered; in which the tax authorities have been known to sell an individual’s tax returns to gangs so they can be a little more precise in their extortion demands; in which a young lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, hired to investigate corruption, is murdered.

It is a country that has continued to supply arms to the Assad regime while it slaughters its own citizens; where once again there are only two sides to choose from, with two shirts, one saying “Foreign Agent” the other saying “Agent of the State”.

And yet, as in many other parts of the world, there are very brave young people willing to risk their freedom, along with all the accompanying threats to family, for a better, freer and more open Russia.

The Russians are a very smart, able and independent people who will, for sure, determine who governs them and how they do it. We outsiders (and musicians) are now being asked to help them to throw off the heavy blanket of silence, to let a little light into Russia’s darkest corners.

Turning away doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.
[Thanks to Michael M]


No comments:

Post a Comment

As a general rule, posts will only be deleted if they reek of spam.

Post a Comment