Posts Tagged ‘pussy riot’

Wandering the world wide interweb thingy this morning, with our eyes drawn by the massive opening weekend success of the second Hunger Games movie, we were also taken with the ongoing popularity of the film 12 years a slave.

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

It is the incredible true story of Solomon Northup who was a free African-American in New York who was kidnapped and held as a slave in the South before winning his freedom. No doubt the popularity of the film in the United States has been boosted by its appeal to the African-American audience, but it is also surely a universally appealing tale of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and bigotry, and we look forward eagerly to seeing it.

His astonishing history is related here.

Popular culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Popular youth culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Indeed, both movies are testaments to the power of the individual versus the state, and clearly tap into some deep need we have to believe that we can overcome awesome odds even when faced with the conspiracies of those in power, even if the politics of the Hunger Games series is a tad more subtle than Northup’s story, capable of being adopted by both sides of the political spectrum as a crie de couer for their side.

It may also be, however, that both movies simply leverage some deep need we have as humans to overcome the worst sides of our nature.

One of the more curious features of slavery in the United States was that of manumission, whereby an owner would free a slave, typically as a reward for long service, an act which was often used by proponents of slavery to go to the essentially benevolent nature of the system, or, at least, that it was not as bad as it was painted.

Exploring the phenomenon of manumission, one was then led, click by click, to read the fascinating historical snippet that in Ancient Rome, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, a law had to be passed to reduce the number of slaves freed by owners. Who knew? Indeed, over time, and counter-intuitively, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves. It has been said that one of the more important Roman Stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave.

The lex Fufia (also ‘Furia, Fusia’) Caninia (2 BC) was one of the laws that national assemblies had to pass, after they were requested to do so by Augustus. This law, along with the lex Aelia Sentia, placed limitations on manumissions. In numerical terms the laws meant that a master who had three slaves could free only two; one who had between four to ten could free only half of them; one with eleven to thirty could free only a third, and so on. Manumissions above these limits were not valid.

The limitations were established at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, at a time when the number of manumissions was so large that they were perceived as a challenge to a social system that was founded on slavery, especially when Romans harked back to the chaos of the slaves’ rebellion led by Spartacus known as the Third Servile War.

That so many Romans were so keen to free their slaves that a law had to be passed to limit their doing so surely changes our popular view of their society, and also poses some fascinating questions about human nature.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

Certainly, a large number of slaves in Rome worked in close proximity to their owners, as house slaves, whose duties included cleaning, bathing, sexual services, and cooking. Over a period of time, it is perhaps understandable that mutual respect grew up between the parties to this social arrangement.

It is surely not some kind of 20-20 hindsight aided by rose-tinted spectacles to wonder if, in a society founded on concepts of liberty, many Romans might have been acutely aware that the rapid development of their Empire based of foreign subjugation and domestic slavery was a contradiction of their most profoundly held beliefs which simply made them feel uncomfortable, and especially so when they developed human relationships with their slaves.

One little known historical anomaly is that the role of master and slave was sometimes reversed, as at the celebrations of Saturnalia, where it was the tradition for the slaves of a household to sit down to the type of feast normally enjoyed by their owners, and actually to be served by their owners at table, during which time they could speak freely and critically of their owners. Clearly, the relationship between slaves and slave owners in Rome was far more complex than it is commonly portrayed. But with Saturnalia, everyone knew that the levelling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. Another slaves’ holiday (servorum dies festus) was held August 13 in honor of Servius Tullius, the legendary sixth King of Rome, who was the child of a slave woman. Like the Saturnalia, the holiday involved a role reversal: the matron of the household washed the heads of her slaves, as well as her own. But temporary or no, it is hard to imagine these celebrations occurring commonly if the basic setting for slave-owner relations was one of mutual distaste and loathing. Another curiosity is revealed by examining other Roman laws: if a master wished to marry his female slave and produce legitimate children with her, then he could free her before the age of 30, the minimum age for freedom set by Augustan law. Clearly, as such marriages were so common as to require legislation, such a woman could not have been regarded with such stigma that she could not be socially enfranchised by marriage to an owner.

The stories led us to consider how the abolition of the slave trade, and the eventual eradication of slavery in the United States, was actually led by members of the ruling class who were morally confronted – affronted – by the essentially amoral nature of the societies they ruled over.

It is easy to forget, in a world where daily cruelty and inhumanity seems to be a rule, that humane instincts and behaviour also have their day.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy's respectful oration has been credited with preventing America's cities descending into social turmoil.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy’s respectful oration has been credited with preventing America’s cities descending into social turmoil.

It is surely churlish to note, for example, and especially in proximity to the hagiographical anniversary of his death, that John F Kennedy was not especially personally committed to civil rights, and his administration had to be constantly encouraged to take up the fight. Yet there is a process whereby those that rule become aware of the depth of the wrong they inflict on others, and we should also, as we examine JFK’s legacy with clear eyes, celebrate the growth in consciousness, for example, of Lyndon Johnson and subsequently Bobby Kennedy, which was surely in direct relation to their increasing exposure to the legitimate demands of leaders of the African-American community. Jack Kennedy was a product of the ivory tower created by his father. After his death, both Johnson and RFK swung to the left on social justice issues, partly because of their life experience, and partly because of pressure from a growing and widespread liberalism in the community. Justice “seeped into” the ruling class, little by little.

It is a shame, perhaps, that we need our noses repeatedly rubbed into the ordure of injustice before we take up arms against it. But despite this uncomfortable recognition, we can also surely celebrate that one perceives a deep, abiding desire for justice at the heart of humanity that eventually wins out, again and again.

It seems to us that when we examine the entire sweep of history, human nature is ultimately attuned to reject the unjust, the domineering, the brutal, and to embrace the hopeful, the reasonable, and the inclusive.

One sees it in the predictable and certain implosion of autocratic dictatorships throughout the ages.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

Recently it has been evidenced in the peaceful “people’s revolutions” in the Eastern European block and Russia and in countries like the Philippines, in the progressive move away from military dictatorship in a country like Burma, and in the stumbling progress towards true, robust democracy in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and even, haltingly, China. Even, perhaps, in the unlikely election – and then re-election – of an African-American President in the USA. The outworkings of the “Arab Spring” are unquestionably a mixed bag, but here again, there is the unmistakable urge towards freedom – individual, communal, social, economic – that will simply not be quieted despite the odds against it, and those who have taken advantage of the chaos in the Middle East to erect newly-authoritarian replacements for what had gone before should look out for their heads. The genie of freedom, once having stretched its wings, rarely stays in the bottle for long.

It is as if we instinctively understand that a balance needs to be struck between free expression and freedom of choice and the needs of the State, and that when the balance is tilted too far towards a crushing of the human spirit we will, sooner or later, rebel.

Whereas becoming too granular and examining too many examples that appear to shove the argument one way or another would probably unhelpful, the simple fact is that by any rational analysis (of wealth, of disputation and wars, of the growth of representative democracy, of trade) our world is actually growing, inch by inch, less authoritarian and more open, such as with, for example, the general removal of fascist dictatorships in South America, (and the onward march of their economies), the reduction in internecine strife in Africa, the refusal of societies in Europe to descend into civil collapse despite the effects of the worst economic conditions in decades, and so on, and so on.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden - one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Needless to say, however, the forces of convention, of conformity, of suffocating adherence to authority, are ever-present and tireless. The assumption that power corrupts is nowhere more obviously demonstrated than in the enthusiasm with which one-time liberals are content to crush freedom of expression when it serves their agenda. There can be little doubt that the Obama Administration has been sucked into the vortex of dissembling, suppression and intolerance, just as, for example, the Blair government in the UK were, as the current Abbott Government in Australia is now, and as Putin rolls back the green shoots of Russian democracy. It is for this reason, surely, that we should applaud the whistle-blowing of people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon, and the militant advocacy of groups like Wikileaks, Anonymous, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Pussy Riot, Femen and others, no matter how “inconvenient” they are to the smooth running of the State.

At the outer reaches of protest, they carry a torch for humanity. They puncture complacency. They tell us things that no one else was going to: things we need to know.

And if we are to be fair, we should also applaud the grassroots activism of the likes of the Tea Party in the USA, because in criticising the growing incompetence and waste of the bloated and complacent American Government they raise issues that should be a concern to everyone, not just the right. A dollar that is invested in mindless administrationism – a dollar eaten up by self-sustaining bureaucracy that has long since stopped caring about outcomes – is a dollar that isn’t spent on an aged pension, a sick child, a much-needed improvement to road safety, a diversion program for addicts, or social housing. In demanding that we hold to account the voracious appetite of Government for our tax dollars the Tea Party and their equivalents around the world serve a useful purpose regardless of what one thinks of their wilder assertions or tactics.

Knowledge is the oxygen of freedom: anything that feeds knowledge to the masses will inevitably result in greater freedom, and deliver stronger constraints on the excesses of those that govern us.

We have an absolute requirement for knowledge of those things we still need to rebel against.

propaganda

Which is why, if there is any one thing we should be more wary of than anything else, it is surely the trend of “embedding” of our media with government, the increasingly cosy relationships (which go much further than battlefield reporting), where it becomes more and more difficult to discern news from propaganda, and in the reduction in media diversity as newspapers fold one after another and television channels sub-contract their news gathering from a small number of sources. The growth in Internet-based news and comment of which this blog is a tiny part will compensate to a degree, but as major media organisations gobble up successful purveyors of alternative news and opinion, the creeping hand of conformity moves ever onward and threatens our access to knowledge.

This battle will never end, and in a media saturated world we need to be aware that an appearance of more media does not necessarily mean better media. However, we cannot but view the free availability of an uncomfortable, uncompromising and above all external news source such as Al Jazeera in America, Australia and elsewhere as a very positive development.

reality-tv

We need to rail against homogenised, dumbed down, and supine reporting, too. We once saw a statistic that over 80% of the news covered by newspapers was reprinted directly from press releases.

That was 20 years ago.

Do we really think the situation has improved as media management has become increasingly sophisticated? We suspect not.

And we need to guard against the endless trivialisation of mass media.

Not for nothing did the Roman elite maintain power through “bread and circuses”.

In short, humanity needs people who “subvert the dominant paradigm”, whether or not the paradigm is one with which we agree.

And thank goodness, those people always seem to appear when we need them most.

Whether it’s an uppity slave refusing to accept his kidnapping 170 years ago, a flame-haired Hunger Games contestant from some dystopian future, or, indeed, this collection of philosophers who wrote to the Guardian a couple of days ago, highlighting the ongoing travesty of the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, we should praise those who subvert the dominant paradigm, and join them.

Wot they said.

For singing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, of the collective Pussy Riot, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years’ detention in a “prison colony” for “vandalism motivated by religious hate”. After having denounced the inhuman prison conditions and begun a hunger strike, Tolokonnikova, 24, mother of a five-year-old girl, was transferred 4,000 kilometres from Mordovia to the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s prison letters to Slavoj Žižek, 16 November).

According the Russian human rights commissioner Vladimir Loukine, “serving her sentence in this region would contribute to her re-socialisation”.

Now there is language we had not heard in Russia since the Soviet era and its hunt for all deviants.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

In fact, the singer of Pussy Riot has become a symbol of those repressed by the regime: gays hounded in the name of the now legalised struggle against homosexual “propaganda”, immigrant workers exploited and brutalised on the construction sites of Sochi and elsewhere, penalisation of anti-religious speech, significant ecological damage caused by construction projects undertaken without consulting local residents, the opposition muzzled, NGOs persecuted.

In the face of these increasingly numerous human rights violations, Europe has remained shockingly silent.

In a letter addressed from her prison cell to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Nadia Tolokonnikova criticises the complacency of western governments towards Vladimir Putin’s repressive and freedom-destroying policies. In particular, she writes in Philosophie magazine (November 2013): “The boycott of the Olympic Games at Sochi, in 2014, would be perceived as an ethical gesture.” As called for by Philosophie magazine, we, European intellectuals, call on our governments and all of Europe to break with their attitude of culpable tolerance and put pressure on the government of Vladimir Putin to immediately release Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina.

Russia is a constitutional republic and permanent member of the UN security council. It has signed the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. With the Olympic Games approaching this February, it is time to give them a reminder.

Elisabeth Badinter, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, Marcel Gauchet, André Glucksmann, Agnès Heller, Axel Honneth, Claude Lanzmann, Edgar Morin, Antonio Negri, Hartmut Rosa, Fernando Savater, Richard Sennett, Bernard Stiegler, Gianni Vattimo, Slavoj Žižek

Moscow (AFP) – Russian authorities confirmed Thursday that jailed Pussy Riot punk band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had been moved to a new prison in Siberia, after three weeks of worrying uncertainty about her whereabouts.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's incredibly courageous fight continues, from hospital.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s incredibly courageous fight continues, now from hospital.

Her husband Pyotr Verzilov, who spoke to his wife by phone, said she has been weakened by a recent hunger strike and is currently at a hospital for convicts rather than the prison itself, which is in the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region.

Friends and activists have been concerned about Tolokonnikova’s situation as the Russian authorities moved her thousands of kilometres (miles) by train across Russia without saying where she was.

“Convict Tolokonnikova has arrived to an institution of the Russian prison service in the Krasnoyarsk region,” the region’s prison service said in a statement.

A spokesman for the service said he was not authorised to give detailed information out, but told AFP that Tolokonnikova was feeling “normal”.

Tolokonnikova, 24, had been missing for 24 days after being moved out of her original prison colony in central Russia’s Mordovia region. She had earlier published a letter in Russian media alleging prison abuse and held a hunger strike in protest.

Her letter said the colony has round-the-clock “slave labour”, with 17-hour days in a sewing workshop, beatings, and lack of sanitary facilities.

Verzilov said Tolokonnikova has in fact been for the past two days in a regional tuberculosis hospital in the city of Krasnoyarsk, a medical ward for convicts in the region.

She does not have tuberculosis but is being treated and examined after health complications that followed her hunger strike, Verzilov said, adding he hoped to see his wife on Friday.

“She is not happy with the isolation of her transfer, but she is content that her conditions have been met,” he told AFP.

Tolokonnikova had demanded to be moved out of her Mordovia colony and started eating when this was done, he said.

Prison authorities are not required to tell relatives of the convicts’ whereabouts until 10 days after transferring them to a new place.

Transfers often take weeks as convicts are slowly moved on trains with stopovers in various prisons in the vast country.

There are no legal limitations as to how long these transfers may take, however they are rarely done in strict isolation and information about prisoners’ whereabouts leaks out via other prisoners.

Tolokonnikova’s long transfer and information vacuum had led rights groups to demand information, with Amnesty International citing “serious concerns regarding her safety and wellbeing.”

Verzilov had earlier said he believed his wife was bound for Nizhny Ingash, a town in the taiga that lies on the Trans-Siberian railway about 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the regional centre Krasnoyarsk and four time zones away from Moscow.

Tolokonnikova and fellow band member Maria Alyokhina, who is being kept in the Ural region of Perm, will in March have served out their jail sentence for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral protesting ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

The conviction and sentencing of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina on charges of hooliganism sparked an international outcry.

What better way to support Pussy Riot than to send their new song to Number 1 worldwide? To do that iTunes need to sell the song which they are not at the moment. So if you believe in freedom … Please … Sign the petition, make it happen!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Apple_please_sell_Pussy_Riots_new_song_on_iTunes/

In case you don’t recognise her t-shirt, it’s a famous resistance statement from the Spanish civil war – No Pasarin, “they shall not pass”. I am moved and amazed by these young womens’ courage. So what can the rest of us do to help?

 

I have a simple question for Apple and iTunes.

When will I be able to buy Pussy Riot’s latest single? Putin Lights the Fires it’s called.

It strikes me as by far the simplest and most direct way I – anyone – can show my support for their right to free expression. No one should be jailed for a peaceful three minute protest in a church.

If the song went to the top of every chart in the Western world – not to mention in Russia – what a statement that would make to the Russian authorities. And might help pay for their legal case, and support their families, too, I guess. (Two of those jailed are mothers, I believe.) Pussy Riot have been in jail already for months. Now they are sentenced they will get one phone call a quarter, and be able to see their families once every six months. This is barbarism, writ large, in defiance of world opinion.

So how about it, Apple? Anyone?

Meanwhile, the Guardian in the UK have got the single which they have put to a montage of Pussy Riot coverage, and coverage of their supporters.

It’s horrible. It’s un-listenable to. See, I hate punk music, and I don’t speak Russian.

But I really want to buy it. How can I do that?

Please spread this blog, ask the question, ask Apple and other music retailers yourselves, post about it yourselves, Facebook and Twitter about it. Quick. Let’s get these women released – fast.

20120818-234012.jpg

The sort of young person that Vladimir Putin should be drafting in to help him run the country – virbant, toughtful, well-educated, unselfish. So what does he do? Throw her in jail for daring to criticise him. How much longer will the world tolerate this petty tyrant turning Russia back to the days of Stalin, and before that, the Tsars … how much longer?

I am indebted to mishato for posting thisinformation as a response to my earlier piece on Pussy Riot, the music group being disgracefully persecuted by the morons in the Kremlin.

Religion Dispatches has posted an English translation of 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement in their trial for singing a song, which saw them jailed for two years having already spent months in jail. Please: read it. It’s long, but read it. It was spoken by a woman facing an unknown period in jail simply for daring to speak her mind – and nothing else.

Please: read it.

I was literally moved to tears by her words – tears of sympathy, tears of rage – and very impressed by the breadth and depth of the arguments she puts forth. Please: take the time to read this, and then join the fight to free these incredibly brave women, which even the might of the Russian pseudo-democratic dictatorship will not silence.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/theeditors/6295/pussy_riot_members_sentenced_to_2_years_for_offending_russian_orthodox_church/

Russia jails Pussy Riot protest punks for two years

(AFP and others)

Pussy Riot demonstrators (from left) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Aliokhina during their trial. This is what courage looks like. Assange, Pussy Riot, Bradley Manning – see a pattern developing? Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

A Moscow court Friday handed a two-year jail sentence to three feminist punk rockers who infuriated the Kremlin and captured world attention by ridiculing President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s main church.

The European Union immediately called the decision “disproportionate” while Washington urged Moscow to review the case and thousands rallied across world capitals calling on the Russian strongman to set the Pussy Riot members free.

Judge Marina Syrova said the three young protesters had displayed a “clear disrespect toward society” by staging a “Punk Prayer” performance just weeks ahead of Putin’s historic but controversial March election to a third term.

“Considering the nature and degree of the danger posed by what was done, the defendants’ correction is possible only through an actual punishment,” she said to a few cries of “Shame!” and “This is not fair!” from the packed courtroom.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina — 22 and 24 respectively and both mothers of young children — and 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich exchanged glances and laughed nervously as they listened to the marathon verdict reading from inside a glass cage.

“I did not expect the verdict to be so harsh,” Samutsevich’s father Stanislav quietly told reporters after his daughter was led away.

But co-defence attorney Nikolai Polozov said the three “will not be asking (Putin) for a pardon” for what they consider a purely political act. (And quite right too, in my opinion, as asking for a pardon implies an acceptance of guilt.)

The trio had pulled on knitted masks and stripped down to short fluorescent dresses near the altar of Moscow’s biggest cathedral on February 21 before belting out a raucous chorus calling on the Virgin Mary to “drive out Putin”.

To many they represented prime examples of disenchanted youth whose support Putin could almost certainly have counted on at the start of his 12-year domination as both president and premier.

The state-appointed judge opened the hearing with dozens of passionate supporters of the band and the Russian Orthodox Church being held apart by riot police and Western diplomats jostling with reporters for a spot inside the courtroom.

Witnesses saw about 60 Pussy Riot fans – ex-chess champion and fierce Putin critic Garry Kasparov among them – being taken away into waiting vans by police during more than three hours of hearings.

The once-unheralded band members have already been held in pre-trial detention for five months despite international protests about their treatment by Putin’s team.

The US State Department expressed immediate concern “about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences”.

“We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process.”

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the sentence “excessively harsh (and) not in harmony with the values of European law.”

The ruling was handed down as Pussy Riot release rallies hit major world cities and celebrities ranging from Paul McCartney and John Malkovich to Madonna and Bjork decried Putin’s tough stance on dissent.

A spokesman for the Russian leader said Putin had no say in the court’s decision and argued that the women always had the option to appeal.

“He has no right to impose his views on the court,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the PublicPost.ru website.

Putin had earlier this month said he thought the band members should not be judged “too severely” while stressing that he strongly disagreed with what they did.

The jailing capped an initial 100-day spell in office spell for Putin in which he has breached reforms put in place by his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev with new curbs on protests and political groups with foreign sources of income.

Yet the moves – all stemming from Putin’s charge that Washington was funding the historic protests against his return to the Kremlin last winter – appear to be backfiring.

A poll published on the front page of the Vedomosti business daily on Friday showed Putin’s approval rating slipping to a post-election low of 48 percent — a notable slide from the 60 percent he enjoyed around his May inauguration.

There were some initial signs that the polling data and international pressure may force the authorities to adapt their approach.

Leading ruling party member Andrei Isayev called the sentence “harsh” and noted that Putin had yet to speak his full mind on the matter.

And a senior Church council issued a formal statement calling on the state “to show mercy for the convicted within the framework of the law.”