Feb 7, 2014
Two members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot are currently on an international tour. Their recent stop has gotten a lot of press. Wednesday they appeared at a Amnesty International Benefit concert in New York alongside a host of celebrities. Their tour has provided them with an opportunity to criticize the Russian government under Vladimir Putin and its intolerance of dissent and GLBT rights.
I am glad that they are bringing attention to the lack of freedom in Russia. But I am afraid that the laudatory celebration of them by the news media in the United States is serving another purpose. It suggests that somehow the United States is a bastion of free speech and tolerant of dissent. This is not true. Obama’s America does not tolerate dissent, not real dissent anyway. Since 2012 multiple anarchists, four in Seattle and one in New York, have been jailed for refusing to cooperate with grand juries. In echoes of the McCarthy era, the anarchists have been asked to provide the names other activists and then thrown in jail when they have refused to do so. And, of course, there is the well publicized case of Edward Snowden who, after exposing the sweeping extent of illegal government spying, had to seek asylum in Putin’s Russia.
The attention that Pussy Riot is receiving should then be a reminder that governments are most inclined to tolerate dissent when it appears elsewhere. It is politically convenient for Putin to provide Snowden with asylum. It makes him appear more tolerant of dissent. And the same is true with Obama. It is politically convenient for the United States to welcome Pussy Riot. It strengthens the myth that this country is a haven for free thought and freedom of speech. That is not true of Obama’s America, just as it is not true of Putin’s Russia.