Recently, a Russian punk band called Pussy Riot was sentenced to two years in prison for writing this song:
I’ve listened to “Punk Prayer” a couple of times, and read the lyrics, and still don’t understand the reasoning behind the court’s decision. The song’s lyrics make fun of president Vladimir Putin. The band filmed the music video in a church. So what? In the U.S., a publicity stunt like this wouldn’t even have earned a write-up in Rolling Stone.
It doesn’t make sense. Three women are going to prison for disagreeing with a dictator. Thankfully, many people know about Pussy Riot because celebrities, newspapers, and opinion leaders have taken up their cause. If there is a silver lining to this, and there really isn’t, perhaps now more people will dig deeper. It’s not just punk bands. It’s writers and journalists who are targeted in Putin’s Russia, especially those who expose human rights abuses in Chechnya. If you have any doubts this is true, spend some time on this website: http://journalists-in-russia.org/
Let’s face it. America is wonderful. You can write whatever you want. You can make as many obnoxious punk songs as you want. You can even sing them in churches without the threat of trumped-up charges of “hooliganism” and two-year sentences.
But don’t think for a second that the stuff you are writing isn’t powerful. Even if it isn’t dissent, it matters. Just because speech is protected here in the U.S. doesn’t mean it’s free. We work hard for this. Joseph Stalin, Putin’s predecessor, said “Ideas are far more powerful than guns. We don’t let our people have guns. Why should we let them have ideas?” Not only is free speech a luxury, the words you write are important. And the only reason any of this exists is because we’ve fought for it.
Here are some lyrics from Pussy Riot’s latest song:
The country is going, the country is going into the streets boldly
The country is going, the country is going to bid farewell to the regime.