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Sakharov Prize nomination for Pussy Riot a disgrace

September 28, 2012

Pussy Riot’s nomination for the Sakharov Prize is a disgrace. According the European Parliament’s website, the Sakharov Prize is for those who “have shown how much courage it takes to defend human rights and freedom of expression.” Pussy Riot should under no circumstances be placed in the same category as previous winners of the prize–Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Wei Jingsheng, and Hu Jia, to name a few. To his credit, Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski called Pussy Riot thoroughly undeserving of the Sakharov Prize in a recent interview with EurActiv.

The narrative popular in the Western media is that three members of Pussy Riot are being jailed for simply practicing free speech, but their actions are far more Westboro Baptist Church (whose disruptions of military funerals were recently outlawed in the United States) than Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Unlike previous winners of the prize, the members of Pussy Riot are not thinkers who lead by example; they simply engage in outrageous stunts—a quasi-politicized Russian “Jackass.” One currently-jailed member of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolkonnikova, protested the election of Dmitry Medvedev to the Russian Presidency in 2008 by having sex in the middle of a Moscow science museum, along with a number of other couples. The action that got the three members of Pussy Riot convicted of hooliganism involved the performance of a song called ‘Holy S—t’ in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, essentially the Russian Orthodox Church equivalent of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The song’s lyrics label the church as being a puppet organization whose sole purpose is to promote Russian President Vladimir Putin—the title is not an exclamation, but a deliberate double entendre: the church claims to be holy, but it’s really just s—t. Without exaggeration, Pussy Riot is no more deserving of the Sakharov Prize than Sam Bacile.

That the nomination would be spearheaded by Germany is even more galling—German law specifically allows for the prosecution of those who “disrupt the free practice of religion,” and a German man who “disrupted a service on German Unity Day by shouting and throwing leaflets” was sentenced to nine months in prison just six years ago. Other countries in the EU aren’t really in the best position to look down their noses at Russia over the issue of free speech, either. A soccer player in the UK nearly found himself facing criminal charges for insinuating (via Twitter, no less) that an Olympic athlete was gay. Charges were brought in Poland against a Norwegian metal band for violating blasphemy law after a performance at a Krakow television studio in 2004. Multiple EU member states—including the home of Pussy Riot’s nominators—have found it entirely acceptable to place minor limits on free speech, yet they insist on holding Russia to an all-or-nothing standard.

That a group of politicians would even consider nominating Pussy Riot for the Sakharov Prize is the height of absurdity and foolishness. Pussy Riot is not about thoughtful contributions to the advancement of human rights. Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin stance, which is only a part of a greater agenda that verges on anarchism, is the sole reason for Pussy Riot’s acceptability, martyrization, and popularity among the Western nations.

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