The world is reacting with shock and outrage over the jail sentence given to a Punk Rock band out of Russia. What’s shocking is not just the outright smothering of what we might term inalienable rights; it is the hypocrisy in the notion that a purportedly Communist and thusly non-religious state, would defend church from criticism with a jail sentence. It is the fact the criticism of Putin in song was essentially anti state sentiments expressed mostly in the form of satire. Even Louis XIV didn’t jail Molliére for satirical innuendoes in Le Tartuffe. But Putin is no fool. He is a dictator. A tyrant. Putin is a Peanut Gallery Emperor, who like no other Russian leader has held sway decades after his reign. This is his message to enemies: Say the wrong thing, rub salt into a wound, and you can end up behind a plate glass courtroom bench and later into a gulag.
There is little to be surprised with here. For the last decade Putin has been putting pressure on the richest men in Russia and those with biggest most lucrative industrialized assets. Ask Vladimir Gusinsky, the Russian media mogul who Putin had arrested on trumped up charges. Gusinsky managed to flee to Spain before his trial. Ask Boris Berezovsky, the Russian mathematician and industrialist who was accused of economic crimes (some say his crime was that he was a Jew who made money) and then fled to the UK. Ask Mihhail Khodorkovsy, the oil magnate whose massive Russian company Yukos was single handedly ruined by Putin because he couldn’t countenance Khodorkovsy’s outspoken criticism. For a long time, Putin has been preparing for this moment when he ruled corporations.
Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall in the United States when corporations took over the US Government. He wasn’t going to let an oil magnate buy influence, say favorable news stories. There will be no Citizens United in Russia under Putin. He was not going to let it even get started. Khodorkovsy was taken into custody just as soon as he was at the pinnacle of his power.
In some ways I see this as a power struggle between political power in office versus media power. These are the days of free speech versus absolute state power. Unfortunately, unfettered monarchical rule is winning. In the United Kingdom, the Murdoch Empire is finally under fire and in a big way for spying on officials. In the United States, the Obama Administration has made a small cottage industry of going after whistle blowers, ostensibly people who see corruption and speak out about it while we are all busy staring at Kim Kardashian’s ample hindquarters.
China is of course one of the most regularly controlled public speech zones in the world. When you look at the trends from the Soviet Union…I meant from Russia, from China and now from the US, you see that the message is the ball. And the game at hand is to control the message.
One can understand why countries like Iran and China control Internet access. They watch as the venerable USS Enterprise of American print journalism, the New York Times itself, reports on the Iranian uprising by embedding Twitter feeds. Oh Lord, I can DO THAT! They watch as kids with cell phones expose their lies and their murder in seconds. They watch as social media provides resistance groups with an automatic infrastructure that only requires a password and a username. And across the Mideast social media tools have been bludgeons in the fight for truth. They watch as Police in the US cut off Internet feeds in a crime zone because they want to control the images that pour out of a scene where Police officers might be committing a crime. Other nations watch as kids sitting in our public parks to protest income inequality are routinely arrested, pepper sprayed and beaten for what we claim is out greatest asset- freedom to protest. They watch as bankers who robbed us blind walk free and enjoy their winnings. You bet governments are cracking down on information leakage. You bet governments like the US are putting Bradley Manning under public and intense pressure to send out a message: shut up or be shut up. If you don’t have the power to speak up, then remain silent. Are we really any different than they are?