Russia and the Ape who Governs Her
Try to imagine a press conference where U.S. President George Bush is asked about his policies at Guantanamo Bay by Bruce Springsteen, and responds to “the Boss” by musing: “Who are you?”
What do you think the world might then say about Mr. Bush?
Well, precisely that happened last week when Yuri Shevchuk, the Russian equivalent of Springsteen and leader of the legendary rock band DDT, stood up and confronted Putin with the following question: “I received a call the day before yesterday from your assistant, I guess — don’t remember his name — who asked me not to pose sharp questions. Do you have a plan for the serious, sincere and honest liberalization and democratization of our country so state organizations do not strangle us and so we stop being afraid of the police on the streets?”
Putin responded: “What’s your name, sorry?” Shevchuk gave his name, and added “a musician.”
How is it possible that Vladimir Putin does not recognize the single most famous and well-respected popular musician in the entire country, a man whose very gravely voice is his calling card from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok? Is it possible that Putin was not told Shevchuk would be in the audience?
Whichever way you slice it, this event is a horrifying new low for the Putin regime, and for Russia itself. Either Putin willfully lied about knowing Shevchuk in a pathetic attempt to denigrate and dismiss him, or Putin actually is so out of touch that he didn’t recognize him. We find it difficult to decide which alternative is the more ominous for Russia.
As if to prove just how little he cares about the Constitutional rights of Russian citizens, immediately on the heels of his confrontation with Shevchuk Putin’s stormtroopers descended on a group of peaceful protesters in Moscow. They had assembled on Triumphalnaya Ploshchad to claim their Constitutional right to peaceful assembly chanting “Russia without Putin” (watch video here and view more photos here), and this is what happened to them:
The group of arrestees included Oborona leader Oleg Kozlovsky. According to Kozlovsky’s Twitter feed, many of those who were on the Square were beaten by policy, as the photo above documents. The arrests themselves, to say nothing of the beatings, were nakedly illegal, a clear violation of the Russian Constitution, which gives Russian citizens the same right to peacefully gather to discuss politics as Americans enjoy. Similar arrests took place in St. Petersburg.
Putin did not even care that the world’s eyes were on Russia as an EU-Russia summit meeting was opening. Putin cares nothing for the Constitution, nothing for the legal rights of his own fellow citizens, so why should he care what any foreigner thinks?
The problem, of course, is that Russians like Kozlovsky (who is married, with a young child) are few and far between. Real patriots, who love their country enough to fight for its future, to fight hard enough to take serious risks to their personal safety, are are rare in Putin’s Russia as they were in the time of Stalin.
And the even bigger problem is the total lack of Western leadership. Where is the voice of America’s so-called “liberal” president Barack Obama? Does he approve of this shameless illegality, this brutish violence? Will he ever speak out openly in defense of basic American values, as Ronald Reagan once so forcefully and powerfully did?