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Pussy Riot and Assange rock Europe! Pussy Riot and Assange rock Europe!
by Christos Mouzeviris
2012-09-06 11:08:31
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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. 


Christos Mouzeviris is the writer of the blog: The Eblana European Democratic Movement 



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Emanuel Paparella2012-09-06 12:59:52
Christos, these are thoughtful and insightful reflections on freedom of speech and transparency. Thank you for sharing them. There is a caveat however which may be worth pondering. Even the champion of free speech John Stuart Mill pointed out that there are limitations to freedom of speech and to full transparency. To cry fire in a crowded theater and cause a stampede is not freedom of speech but license. To attack an interlocutor with argumenti ad hominem and trumped up charges and boorish insults is not to engage in philosophical arguments but personal diatribes which any editor is allowed to censor without being accused of suppressing free speech.

I fully agree that in a democracy a citizen remains free to exercise his right to free speech and to civil disobedience even when it offends people, but then in all fairness he must also be ready to go to jail for breaking a law, no matter how bad that law is. Sometime the changing of the bad law is the more effective solution. If Henry Thorough and Gandhi have taught us nothing else but that on civil disobedience they would have taught us plenty.

Moreover, there is a reason why international law grants diplomats immunity from searches of their briefcases and allows punishment of those who leak top state secrets. The reason for that law is not so much that of promoting secrecy and espionage but to ensure the orderly function of diplomacy, the protection of its diplomats and ambassadors and the prevention of unfair advantages of one country over another, especially in times of conflicts and war.

One cannot make it too easy for rogue countries such as North Korea or Iran to get to the secrets of how to make and deliver a nuclear weapon, for example; not to speak of the fact that Mr. Assange has an indictment against him in Sweden for rape. He denies the charge but he remains unwilling to defend himself in a court of law on the matter claiming that it simply a trumped up charge for the fact that he has leaked secrets, which only makes one suspicious that the charge may be valid.

Christos Mouzeviris2012-09-07 03:35:37
From what I have seen from how the West treated Greece during this crisis Mr Paparella, I have many doubts about the West's intentions and power mongering in this world. So what if Iran wants to have nuclear, who decides that Israel can have it, India can have it, but Iran can not. And who decides what country can be rated as AAA and according to what criteria, what country can exploit its oil and natural resources without foreign intervention. Why Norway can be oil rich country without any civil wars and injustice, but for an African nation or even a country like Greece it is nearly impossible without having to sell out all its resources to foreign multinationals.. So please do not preach me about North Korea and Iran.. The enemy is not them..The enemy comes from "within"... There are elite nations and their elites think that they can rule this world. Any nation that does not fit the Anglosaxon criteria and mentality is deemed to be treated as inferior and exploited or be slandered like Greece.. Look at Latin America... Africa... South East Asia... And now, Southern Europe.. It used to be Eastern Europe... The westerners must always have some enemies so they can justify their mania on weaponry. They must always have some regions to colonize and exploit, so they can fund their luxuries... I am a westerner too.. But with the original version of the term.. A Greek humanist with a vision for an equal world.. Not a war mongering bank and market loving greedy scum!!

Emanuel Paparella2012-09-07 06:58:18

Indeed, Mr. Mouzeviris, if you take even a quick look at an article on the subject which I contributed to Ovi some five years ago (open above link) it will be apparent that we concur in principles on its repulsive negatives, keeping in mind however that it has positives too to which you yourself allude. But my comments were not so much about Western imperialism and colonialism but about free speech and its abuses and limitations. I am correct in assuming that such was the subject matter of your article?

Christos Mouzeviris.2012-09-07 11:08:55
True indeed... But from the perspective of doubting any military activity and our leaders hiding the true costs, or reason for every invasion we have made and all the diplomatic activity that goes with it, that we never learn or hear about...

Thanos2012-09-07 21:51:43
Mr. Lefevre I( have already warned you, so don't bother commending any more.

Thanos2012-09-07 21:56:30
And btw YOU asked to be removed so just ...live with your request!!!

Ovi editorial team2012-09-07 23:38:22

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Emanuel Paparella2012-09-07 21:17:58
The editor previously wrote me that Prof. Paparella should simply be "ignored," because he is "an old man who knows that he’s doing something naughty but the same time he continues out of childish stubbornness."

The above quote is either out of context or is a pure fabrication. How does a reader suspect that? From the fact that the insults that Mr. Lefevre says were hurled against him by yours truly were also taken out of context of the argument at hand or they were simply fabricated. Any reader can check that out.

Moreover the magazine has more than one editor but Mr. Lefebre so far has not identified by name the direct source of his quote. At that point the implication that the editors and myself are in some kind of conspiracy to censor Mr. Lefevre speech begins to appear bizarre and outlandish.

It is not my function as a mere contributor and reader to tell the editors of Ovi how to do their job as editors but it seems rather obvious to me, for one, that they may be simply enforcing the rules on comments which are clearly spelled out in the magazine under “comments.” Readers who are not willing to abide by them are told in no uncertain terms not to contribute and are also warned that their contributions run the risk of being expunged. All the more so if they voluntarly withdraw from being contributors.

I am convinced that John Stuart Mill would not disagree with that action.
Which bring me to the accusation of being an eccentric old man doing naughty things out of childish (dementia?) stubbornness. It occurs to me that a long time ago (some 24 centuries ago)there lived in a city called Athens an old man was also accused with trumped up charges. The hidden reason for the accusation (corruption of youth) was in reality that he would often challenge taken for granted assumptions; that irritated many people. They began calling him a gadfly and called himself a midwife who delivers the baby called Truth which all individuals have within them, but he refused to shut up so they went further, they trumped up charges and tried him and found him guilty and rendered "justice" by handing him a cup of hemlock.

We know well who that “old man” was. Many will not be able to tell you who his accusers and co-conspirators were but if one takes the trouble one can easily find out. They were indeed the villains of the whole episode. As Plato relates it, Socrates the stubborn old man, who was the man of integrity and the hero, before taking the hemlock makes the following prophetic comment (and I paraphrase): gentlemen, the issue is not whether I live or die for we all eventually die, the issue is whether corruption, which is faster than death, catches up with you and once she has caught up she may not easily relent. Food for thought!

Leah Sellers2012-09-08 03:50:56
These modern Revolutionaries and Visionaries of a more Fair, Just, Honorable and Ethical World are just some of the Earth's Essential Voices resonating and beckoning the Hearts, Minds and Souls of this particular Time and Space.
No matter anyone feels about how they deliver Their Truths and Visions, their Voices and Actions are Alive and Activating various parts of Our Inner Essential Beings.
My Prayers and Best Thoughts are with Them during their many past, present and future diffculties and travails. They need all of the Positive energy we can Send their way.
My Inner Essential Voice Sings with Them in Bitter-Sweet, and longing Harmonies.
As for Mr. LeFevre, sir, I suggest that you Breathe deeply and incorporate the Spirit of Forgiveness and Inner Calm into your daily Meditative practices.
Your Mind and Heart are capable of so much more, sir.
As for Brother Emanuel, sir, you are a Spiritual Fire-Breather and Purposeful Academic. I pray that all is well with you as well.
As for Our beloved editors, gentlemen and ladies, thou art Our Guardians - Our Watchmen and Watchwomen. Thank you for all of your arduous and painstaking work and talent. And for so graciously and honorably making Ovi what it has Be-Come for so many.

Emanuel Paparella2012-09-08 14:20:21
Indeed Leah, Ovi's editors are to be commended for creating a space where even those who disagree but remain respectful and stick to the argument at hand and don't descend to ad hominem arguments, can come together convivially and debate the crucial issues of out time. That is something which publications with an ideological slant simply lack especially when their purpose is the spread of the ideology. Ovi on the other hand has gone further and by respecting free speech has managed to create a sort of intellectual community, a shared world (as opposed to everybody is on his/her own), a family even and a conspiracy of hope.

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