Monday, September 3, 2012

Pussy Riot and Assange rock Europe!

The month of August was relatively quiet from any political developments, but two political events rocked the continent both in the east and west. The imprisonment of the female punk rock band in Russia, Pussy Riot and the political asylum that the embassy of Ecuador in London offered Julian Assange.

To me it was very interesting to watch the developments in these two cases and see the hypocrisy of the western media and the parallelisms in both stories. One was the case of a punk rock band challenging the ultra conservative Russian establishment and the other the case of the founder of the whistle-blower website, Wikileaks. He challenged not the political or religious establishment of one country, but the whole western propaganda of any war we got involved during the past years.

So which case was more important or serious? Our media portrayed the case of Pussy Riot as a sign of lack of freedom and democracy in Russia. Well, that is nothing new. Russia does not have the same values as the rest of Europe. The oligarchs rule Russia, so any attempt to compare western Europe and Russia in their version of democracy will always be western boasting to me. Not that we should not be proud of where we are as a society. But I find that we focus too much on the shortcomings of others and do not care what is going on in our hemisphere.

We tend to take our "freedom" for granted and try to force everyone else to strive to always to become like us. Have we ever wondered though how free we really are? We may have the privilege to say what we want, be who we want, live the life that we want, buy what we want, believe what we want......As long as we do not challenge the current status quo. In Russia they are not able to challenge their leadership or religion. Despite many protests, Putin is still in power and the Russian Orthodox Church has immense power and influence in the Russian everyday life.

But we are not very different, are we. Our elites have been established after WW2 and even though they keep changing by democratic votes, our societies do not fundamentally change. Has anyone ever questioned the current economic model until the economic crisis of the past 4 years hit our lands? Has anyone really understood why are we engaging in so many wars, who profits from all this and what do we get out of our involvement in them? Are we sure we get the right or necessary information from our leaders so that we can form our public opinion?

What Assange did was to challenge all this. He leaked confidential documents and provided us with information and evidence of many conspiracy theories that we suspected. No, I do not consider him a saint or a great guy. He was a hacker in the past and that to me translates as a very naughty, megalomaniac, attention seeking, spoiled geeky child. But imagine if it wasn't for him and his actions, how we would have access to some confidential and disclosed data from the government of USA and others?

Some claim that his leaks were not of such importance, otherwise he would be dead by now. Then I wonder why all this diplomatic row between four states (US that are after him for the leaks, Sweden that provides the justification for his prosecution, Britain that tried to arrest him and extradite him to Sweden and of course Ecuador), over a megalomaniac hacker with a bad attitude and sex crime allegations from his past. Why didn't those women in Sweden go after him all this time and only try to get him after he leaked those documents? Is that a coincidence? The British government even threatened to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London by force at some stage, a move that can be received as an act of war in other circumstances. And why the Latin Americans decided to intervene?

I remind you that Latin America is one of the regions that was harmed the most by US foreign policies and intervention. And it is not just Ecuador. All the Latin American states showed their solidarity and support for Ecuador's decision in a summit of the Organization of American States. That left only the US and Canada not backing Ecuador. And there is no surprise there.

Why are the Latin Americans so keen in supporting and fostering Assange? I am sure they are playing their game in the whole story. Perhaps we are being told only a fraction of what is really going on in this diplomatic row and there is more to come. Perhaps he knows far too much and our elites fear that he has far more important documents to leak than those that he leaked already. Perhaps he has put forward some demands and holds our governments in ransom. I do not believe that all this diplomatic row took place just for some alleged rape allegations. Rapes that according to these ladies he committed in 2010 and he subsequently denies.

But our media are portraying Assange's case as the case of someone who has done something very naughty and embarrassed many governments and businesses, not as a case of freedom of speech or information. I believe that we needed to know how our leaders do business, we need more transparency on how some deals and agreements are done. If it takes a hacker to provide us with this information then so be it. I would not expect our governments to reveal those details anyway.

So where is the difference with the Pussy Riot case? In my opinion there is none. These bold girls wanted to protest against their country's political establishment and challenge the status quo there. They are bold, naughty and in my opinion they knew very well what they were doing when they were doing it. They knew they are going to get in trouble. And kudos to them for doing what they did. But while in our societies, singing a punk rock song in a church with anti establishment lyrics can lead in the worse case scenario into a night in jail and lots of controversy (and publicity), those girls now are jailed for 2 years.

Assange wanted to challenge the status quo in our side of the hemisphere, that is that of hypocrisy, secrecy, withholding the truth and  ignoring the wishes of the people. Both did what they did perhaps with a wish to become famous, get attention and create controversy. They both achieved it. The unlucky girls in Russia got jailed for it, Assange escaped thanx to Ecuadorian intervention. If Britain had it its way, he would be arrested too and extradited to the US to be silenced. So where is the difference between the two? And why our media are focusing in portraying the situation in Russia as much worse? Perhaps to make us believe that we are doing better in our societies, and that we should be thankful to be "westerners."

The only thing that annoys me about our attitude is that it is simply arrogant and it does no good in solving disputes with third countries. Yes Russia has a democratic deficit. Hasn't Europe got one too? Yes Russia has limited freedoms in the press and of political campaigning. Well in Europe we have our own problems too. Look at Greece, Hungary, Italy for years with Berlusconi and even Britain with the huge Murdoch media scandal.

If we want to help the citizens of one country to get access to more rights, then the way is not by criticizing their elites or how they lack of democracy. That only gives their elites fuel to keep up the anti-western propaganda. The more we snub them, criticize them or refuse to do business with them unless they change, the more their elites justify their actions and the need for them to keep staying in power, in order to protect their country against any "western" humiliation, propaganda, or intervention. 

The best way to help the Russian (or any other country) citizens in their struggle to better their country would be more cooperation and exchanges between our universities, cultural projects, science, media, volunteering agencies, labor markets and businesses. When the Russian population, after their interaction with the rest of Europe is convinced that "our" way has to offer is the slightest better of what they have, then they will ask for change themselves in their own time, terms and way. And then we should help them, but only if they ask.

I support both Pussy Riot and Assange in what they did and I admire them for doing so. I wish that more people in both sides of our world did more things to challenge their countries' elites and the current status quo. Because apathy brings no changes. Because democracy needs boldness, sacrifices and constant vigilance. Because it is the only way for real change.