Putin(g) Pussy Riot in prison, By SOC Okenwa

Onyeacholem tackles Fani-Kayode on his recent piece on Nigeria's troubles, saying he was part of those who dragged Nigeria into its current mess

The Russian federation was in the international news headlines recently for wrong reasons. Momentarily displacing the global attention and searchlight currently beamed on the butcher of the Sunnis in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, Russia made ‘history’ by jailing recently the Pussy Riot — a punk band composed of young female musicians. According to the presiding Judge, Marina Syrova, teleguided obviously from the Kremlin: “the girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules”. She therefore sentenced them to two years in jail. What did the poor girls do?

Well, before the Russian presidential election earlier this year the Pussy Riot had staged a controversial protest song in which they prayerfully asked the Virgin Mary to send Putin packing! “Holy Mother, send Putin away!” they sang in front of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Orthodox Cathedral. Putin, then, was manipulating everybody and everything, doing everything possible (including mischief and blackmail) to return to power as president. So naturally he was offended by this politico-religious campaign aimed primarily at tarnishing his image as a strongman who meant well for his country.

Three of the band members — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (22) Maria Alyokhina (24) and Yekaterina Samutsevich (30) — were arrested on March 3, several weeks after the performance, and charged with “hooliganism”. They have been in jail ever since! Seeing them on international satellite TV during their celebrated trial one would conclude that their spirit had remained unbroken in the face of orchestrated state terror. Cheer up girls even behind bars; you have made your point and the democratic forces around the world are your witnesses!

The trial and subsequent conviction drew international outrage from London to Paris, Washington to Sydney. In many cities across the Western world impromptu protests were held by activists and concerned freedom fighters. There was a general consensus that President Putin was personally involved in the trial process as he had an axe to grind with the girls. One of the girls’ husband was quoted as saying that Putin gave the verdict and not justice. And one of the vocal supporters of Pussy Riot in Moscow, Alexei Navalny, thundered to a Reuters reporter: “they are in jail because it is Putin’s personal revenge; this verdict was written by Vladimir Putin!”

World famous musical stars had variously demonstrated their support for the Pussy Riot including Madonna who in the middle of a concert in Moscow recently publicly undressed her top and turned her back to reveal a protest message tatooed there which unmistakably read: “Free Pussy Riot”. Well, Putin has remained adamant arguing that “justice” must take its course! The enfant terrible of Russian presidency has ‘decreed’ justice and it must be so dispensed for the Judge to sleep soundly at night! Like in Nigeria where justice is sold and bought with the courts brimming with corrupt Judges the Russian justice system has shown itself disgracefully to the world as one manacled by the executive.

When he was commanding the Free World from the White House in Washington DC the former US President George W. Bush liked to casually refer to the Russian President Vladmir Putin as a “Strong Leader”! Of course the Kremlin is currently being occupied by a strong leader from all indications but Vladmir Putin’s Russia cannot be said to be a model of democracy or a modern state worth emulating from every indices or statistics. President Putin is by training and by experience a political mafian with wide network and connections; he is a strategic political schemer and a dangerous political animal in love with power and its appurtenances!

Vladmir Putin had previously served out two presidential terms allowed by the Russian constitution for any president but before the end of his final term in office he schemed and craftily put in place a novel political mechanism that retained him as a powerful Prime Minister ‘under’ the then President Dmitri Medvedev. And soon after the meticulous elaborate come-back plan was activated leading to him winning, much like in Nigeria, a manipulated presidential poll earlier this year for a new fresh renewable term in office. Today his supposed ‘boss’ of yesterday, Medvedez, is now his ‘servant’ today as a glorified powerless Prime Minister!

You see, there is something in Vladmir Putin that gives him away as a gadfly, a political manipulator of high pedigree! A hard look at him reveals a pschologically-unstable man with the KGB blood still flowing in his veins, one that sees authority over others as an obligation! Putin is not only flamboyant but mercurial and charismatic! He is indeed a maverick with unpresidential swagger. In his first encounter with the zenith of power in the Kremlin the Russian strongman had demonstrated courage, leadership and disdain for the opposition even though his years in power were marked by remarkable creation of wealth and billionaires.

But Vladmir Putin’s Russia cannot de described as a democracy neither can it be said to be a dictatorship in the strict sense of the word! Rather, the system of government in Moscow oscillates between the two incompatible administrative worldviews with the latter more in tune with the Putin-ic masked methods and tactics of ruling with both iron and carrot, blood and water! He seeks to dominate the Russian people stiffling opposition systematically and dictating the democratic space and pace from the Kremlin.

Old practises die hard; Russia inherited the big communist ‘bloated ego’ of the demised Soviet Union trying hard to meet the challenges of modern democracy in a new world with little or no accommodation and sympathy for communism. No doubt Russia is many decades back in terms of modernism — governance et al. Though its military might is respected the country is deceiving itself and basking in the euphoria of old Soviet lost glory of military invincibility! Russia is never a Superpower; we have only one in the world: the United States of America!

Even in Nigeria where democracy is being assaulted daily by combined forces of corruption and mediocrity no musical group would be arrested flagrantly and jailed for, say, singing a song against the President or constituting a ‘nuisance’ to the public. Hooliganism or not we have many ‘hooligans’ as musicians — people whose melodical talents speak for themselves. If hooliganism is a yardstick to judge and jail great musical acts then Lady Gaga and Madonna would have been in prison by now in the States. And closer home the likes of Majek Fashek, Charley Boy and other new generation Nigerian artists would have been jailed by Baba during his Babacracy! Or the late Khalifa during his years of the Locust!

The on-going crisis in Syria has opened another ignoble diplomatic chapter in which China and Russia are playing the roles of villains. Russia has demonstrated in the face of the Assad madness in Damascus that a satanic country’s economic and military interests far outweigh the blood flowing like a river from Damascus to Aleppo, Homs to other cities inside Syria. Russia and China bear certain responsibility in the current blood-letting in Syria; with their tacit diplomatic and military support Assad is emboldened to inflict more damage to the psyché of the long-suffering Syrians.

The world is not fooled by the ‘verdict’ reached by the Judge in Moscow pronouncing the young girls guilty for “hooliganism”. President Vladmir Putin had decided (even before the girls were arrested and tried) to jail the girls to serve as a deterrence to other budding ‘hooligans’ out there in Moscow. That is why I salute the Pussy Riot for foreclosing any plea for presidential grace from Putin. According to them it is Putin who should be seeking for their grace and not the other way round!

The Pussy Riot has had a history of hooliganism or eccentrism and nothing is obscene here! One of the band members was reported to have gone to a Supermarket in downtown Moscow to buy a chicken and started masturbating with it in public! Around the world some wierd acts had done worse things and remained free doing what they know best: entertaining the people. In the world of entertainment bizzare things do happen; with drugs and alcohol in quality supply victims of ‘hooliganism’ might be victims of these social vices too! So we leave them in their special field to do their thing while we do ours!

The Pussy Riot and their lawyers are battling an entrenched interest in this case. And they have indicated readiness to appeal the verdict. Whatever happens the musical group (whether in jail or in freedom) can never be the same again with the fame their persecution has generated the world over. Since there is something infinitely beautiful about freedom one can only wish them soonest release so that they can put their talent in good use. They deserve to be free in a nation that pretends to be operating a democratic system of government where freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution.

President Putin remains a big loser morally in this particular case that has exposed his despotic rage and vindictive character unbecoming of any statesman anywhere. Putting the Pussy Riot in prison, therefore, in the final analysis, represents the height of the executive abuse of the judicial system in Russia. And a new low point for President Vladmir Putin. Vive lesPussy Riot!

Mr. Okenwa can be reached via soco_abj_2006_rci@hotmail.fr

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