Friday, 10 August 2012

Put Pussy Riot in context


The British press, as a rule, covers Russia badly and the Pussy Riot trial is no exception.  In many of the articles which I’ve read, there is precious little distinction between reporting and comment. 

Now, I would not for a minute suggest that the three young defendants should receive the three year prison sentence which prosecution lawyers are seeking, but the notions that the proceedings constitute a ‘show trial’, represent a return to Stalinism or are purely politically motivated don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Read Mercouris’s carefully researched post which looks at the legal issues and some of the lazy assumptions which have been reported persistently by newspapers in the UK.

The law in a particular country reflects quite properly the values of the society in which it operates.  If a protest were to desecrate a mosque in a devout Muslim country the punishment would most likely be severe.  International opinion would not be appalled.  If an anarchist collective performed a profane song at the altar of St Peter’s, and if its members had a history of other provocative and criminal actions in the Vatican, it would not be surprising if they were tried, convicted or even imprisoned.  Any outcry would be muted.

The difficulty with much coverage of Russia in British newspapers is that every story is used to build a case against Vladimir Putin and is not, therefore, treated on its own merits.  There is very little attempt to provide context, balance or even full disclosure of the facts.  Reporting is often bent into a shape which suits comment writers and the newspaper or broadcaster’s editorial line.

It would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the Pussy Riot case.  The defendants may well be acquitted or dealt a less than draconian punishment.  However the fact that the case has come to trial is certainly not as absurd as it has frequently been portrayed.  

3 comments:

footballcliches said...

That is such a well researched piece. I am a Guardianista (guilty as charged), I have been to Russia, lived with Russians and speak (poorly) Russian.

The country is nowhere near perfect, it faces huge problems whether its the demographic time bomb, problems with drugs or corruption, but I find the Guardian's line to be so poorly researched and lop-sided it beggars belief.

I did find one of the comments interesting, however, and I think that this is the one most important in this case in point:

'I imagine that the defence of Pussy Riot by bien-pensants in the West is not un-related to their negative view (which I share) of Putin and Russian democracy. If one believes that regular avenues of dissent are not properly available, because elections are not free and fair, and orderly, peaceful political demonstrations are not allowed to proceed by the state, then more radical forms of protest become justifiable. For this reason, your line that Western supporters of Pussy Riot wouldn’t like it if they acted in the same way here may be beside the point: their protest has a justification in the Russian context which it would lack in (some) Western countries.'

Your thoughts on it Chekhov would be greatly appreciated.

Chekov said...

It's not entirely an invalid point. Although I'd tend to argue that the lack of viable alternatives to Putin / United Russia is one of the reasons for their success. The activities of a wilder fringe of protesters and the tendency of western media and Russian liberals to weigh in on their behalf actually undermines the chances of a viable opposition emerging. Look at Limonov for instance.

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