Bart Redford
Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies

KU students, faculty to discuss punk rockers, freedom of speech in Russia

Fri, 08/24/2012

LAWRENCE — The Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, together with the Center for Global and International Studies and the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, has announced that it will host a Skype discussion devoted to the arrest and imprisonment of three members of the punk rock group Pussy Riot, and the implications for free speech in Russia.

The informal discussion will take place at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27, in the Kansas Union Big 12 Room. The public is invited to attend. University of Kansas political science professor Erik Herron will introduce free-speech activist Kirill Mikhailov, who will share his viewpoint on the recent trial and imprisonment of the three young activists. Mikhailov, a journalist based in Moscow, has live-streamed and or live-tweeted many of the protests there.

The arrest and imprisonment of the punk rock group Pussy Riot has provoked widespread condemnation from U.S. and European leaders. Their two-year sentences were handed out in response to an incident in February, in which they sang a "punk prayer" critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The U.S. State Department, interpreting the act as free speech, condemned the sentence as disproportionate.

Russian prosecutors, however, argued that the act was a "hate crime" aimed at Russian Orthodoxy, and a recent poll conducted in Russia found that 44 percent of those surveyed considered the trial to be just, impartial and objective. The rock group's symbolic act came at a time when there were large street protests contesting the December 2011 legislative elections and the March 2012 presidential election, which Putin subsequently won.

Herron, who has served as an international election observer in many countries in the region, noted the importance of the issue. "The Pussy Riot case has focused international attention on the Russian government's efforts to stifle vocal expressions of dissent. It is unlikely that the case would have achieved such prominence without social media. Twitter, Facebook and live-streaming sites allow journalists like Kirill Mikhailov to provide real-time access to events, and they have fundamentally altered how members of the opposition communicate to each other and to the world."

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