My free speech or yours?

There is a trial underway in Russia and it is is being characterized by some as the prosecution of free speech.  It may or may not be free speech on trial.  It all depends on how one judges the underlying facts and the conduct of the three young Russian women being tried.  They are on trial for hooliganism; in February they entered a Russian orthodox church and performed a song of protest against Vladimir Putin and corruption in Russia.  The song used a parody of orthodox ritual to make its point – the girls danced and sang (actually they jumped rather than dancing) in an area of the church reserved for performance of church ritual by priests.    They face prison sentences of up to 7 years, a long time by most any standard.

Although free speech is not on trial, many media outlets are framing it as a free speech issue.  In fact, until a couple of hours ago, that is the way I was thinking about it – evil Russian repression under Putin’s highly controlling, if not dictatorial, government.   I was ready to rush madly out into the streets to protest the injustice, laughing at the term, hooliganism and deriding Russian the legal system.  Hooliganism, as a term, is just like terrorism, it is vague and without any certain definition. Like terrorism that lack of a clearly understood definition makes it a perfect term to apply to your enemies so that you can lock them away for months or years.

The girls are part of a group, Pussy Riot, that performs with their faces covered, anonymously to make a point that are a women, all women.  They sing as feminists and they sing for political freedom – all very noble indeed.  They are not hooligans, they are socially aware, conscientious artists standing up for everyone. Or are they?  They might be if they had not gone in the church to sing their song and make their protest.  It is not a public forum,  a stage for political debate or artistic expression – it is a place of religious expression.

They are pleading not guilty to hooliganism, but are willing to apologize to anyone they may have offended.   May have offended? Right! Imagine a person of a very different and alien belief system coming into your house or your church to sing and dance in words that offended you.  Would they be welcome?  Should they be allowed to sing?  The song and a dance purposefully violated the code of the Russian orthodox church.  In my opinion, the girls did not commit a crime worthy of seven years in prison – but they did commit a crime against the church and the church’s right to worship in their own way – and thereby against free speech.

3 Responses to “My free speech or yours?”

  1. 1 Bill Hanigan July 30, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I wonder if the subject matter of the song had been about anyone else but Putin would there have been a trial.
    In an earlier blog I stated that Russia was usually wrong, I should have qualified that by stating that Putin is usually wrong.

  2. 3 Ken Adams July 31, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Putin may be wrong – but he is charge. The story goes differently – the church was the offended party and called Putin asking that something be done and pushing for criminal prosecution. The girls had sung about politics before with no repercussions.

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