Tuesday, November 12, 2013

No Room for Dissent in Putin’s Russia. By Robert Amsterdam.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova at her trial.

No Room for Dissent in Putin’s Russia. By Robert Amsterdam. Real Clear World, November 11, 2013. Also at RobertAmsterdam.com.

What has happened to Pussy Riot’s Nadya? By Frida Ghitis. CNN, November 13, 2013.


The arrest, trial and continued imprisonment in Russia of the female punk rock band Pussy Riot has captured the attention of international media over the past year, but the story seems in recent days to have taken a dramatic turn.
Although it seemed as if not much more could happen to Nadia Tolokonnikova after she and her bandmates were convicted on charges of hooliganism last year, the Russian government’s repression has been extended. Almost three weeks ago, Tolokonnikova “disappeared” into the penal system – in transit, it is believed, to the ИК-50 prison colony in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, deep in gulag archipelago – with no information provided to her family or legal team until she eventually resurfaced.
Her unexplained transfer to some of the worst prison conditions imaginable, thousands of miles away from her family, was prompted by a 9-day hunger strike and publication of an open letter in which she blew the whistle on inhumane prison conditions, including 17-hour work days, beatings and attempted suicides by desperate inmates.
It is difficult to say whether or not the continued arbitrary punishment of this young 23-year-old mother comes down from the top, or rather is the whim of a cowardly prison administrator, but what is certain is that Russia is a very dangerous place for whistleblowers — a system in which the rights of the individual are totally unprotected from the discretionary power of the state.
Whatever hopes may have remained that Putin would release political prisoners before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games are rapidly fading. Even while the world’s eyes are on Russia, it is evidently not a season of forgiveness judging by the Kremlin’s determination to punish the Greenpeace “Arctic 30” with charges of piracy and now, additionally, hooliganism.
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Russia’s partners in the West — and indeed foreign investors looking to sink millions into Sochi advertising — need to come to terms with the fact that Russia is not improving, not modernizing and is far off the democratic path under the current leadership. With state control over the media, a rubberstamp Duma and a politicized judiciary, for the time being Putinism is here to stay, and the more external enemies the leadership is able to manufacture, the more comfortable they shall become to commit to the social, moral and economic decay of the nation.
Supporters of Pussy Riot are hoping and praying that they will be released at the end of their two-year sentence, if not before — but there always remains the threat of more trials and more bogus verdicts. The only true salvation, however, lies in the challenging task of transforming some of the fundamental notions held by many in Russian society. To achieve progress, the Russian people must unburden themselves from a difficult history, and divorce God and patriotism from the state.