Where is the International Outrage Over Pussy Riot’s Jailing?

Russian punk band Pussy Riot desecrated a Russian Orthodox altar during Lent. For this, they have been sentenced to two years in prison, less the five months they have served since their arrest.

The trial and sentence have elicited outrage and cause celebre status from the usual coterie of dim-witted musician activists, who seem more offended by the fact that three musicians were imprisoned for a musical performance than the fact that the otherwise doubtless charming ladies chose to hold their performance in a church at the holiest time in its liturgical calendar, or that in Russia, lawyers and journalists have been murdered for investigating Vladimir Putin.

That the three women in question chose a Russian Orthodox Church not just for its traditional Caesaropapism, but also for its small-o orthodox Christian beliefs — including an opposition to gay rights — has probably helped the ladies’ standing with their peers.

But Pussy Riot’s conviction is not the story of three musicians imprisoned for their vulgar band name, nor of an issue that will doubtless burn hot in the hearts of Madonna’s and Sting’s publicists for the next two weeks or so. It is the story of Russia’s continuing descent into totalitarian darkness — or if you prefer, its return — and of the Western world’s more or less total indifference.

The severity of Russia’s totalitarian turn can be seen not just in Pussy Riot’s sentence — as blogger Sean Guillory noted, in the dark days of Tsarist Russia, the ladies would have faced three weeks to three months in prison — but in the myriad of dark, terrible things happening there. Garry Kasparov, the all-time chess great and one of the leaders of Russia’s democratic movement, told the Wall Street Journal how he was arrested and beaten while at the protests outside of the court house at which Pussy Riot’s members were convicted. But most tellingly, he added:

Such a brazen step should raise alarms, but the leaders of the Free World are clearly capable of sleeping through any wake-up call. A spokesman for the Obama administration called the sentence “disproportionate,” as if the length of the prison term were the only problem with open repression of political speech. …

If officials at the U.S. State Department are as “seriously concerned” about free speech in Russia as they say, I suggest they drop their opposition to the Magnitsky Act pending in the Senate. That legislation would bring financial and travel sanctions against the functionaries who enact the Kremlin’s agenda of repression. Hit them where it hurts and expose them as the thugs that they are. Those who wish to help should pressure their representatives to pass such measures. If you live in a democracy you have a voice. Do not waste it.

Mr. Kasparov is wasting his breath. Russia spirals back into autarchy. As our own Matthew Lina has noted, Iceland tried and convicted its former Prime Minister of the crime of not foreseeing the banking crisis — a trial initiated by his former Opposition, now the Government of Iceland. As our Mark Impomeni notes, Romania’s Prime Minister is launching a silent coup against the country’s President. China’s government puts down more protesters in a week than the population of most American small towns.

But except for Ukraine — where the former Prime Minister was tried and convicted for signing a crippling natural gas treaty without the assent of her Cabinet, a criminal offense predating her time in office, and where she now possesses appeals even to the European Court of Human Rights and world-class medical treatment — this generation of leaders in the West is surprisingly indifferent. Sergei Magnitsky is dead, and so has no appeals. Pussy Riot will never be allowed near an effective appeal. The Tibetans and the Uighurs and thousands of Han activists face torture in China. And the Free World, as Kasparov puts it in a harkening back to a time when American leaders cared about freedom, shrugs.

In fairness, Pussy Riot is proof that the West’s concern for Yulia Tymoshenko is not just because she is a strikingly attractive woman. Apparently, they care because Kyiv listens; Russia treats them as beneath contempt, and they prove Moscow right daily.

The consent of the governed and free speech — the cornerstones of democracy — are falling in Russia and China. As a curtain of darkness continues to fall over Russia and Romania and so many other places, the world closes its eyes. We have seen this film before, and it never ends well.

Image Copyright Shutterstock.com/Elena Rostunova