Pussy Riot To Be Freed: Amnesty for Russian Punk Band, Greenpeace Protestors and Others

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina are being freed under the amnesty bill being submitted by Vladimir Putin to the Duma, the Russian parliament, on Monday December 9, to mark the Russian constitution’s 20th anniversary on Thursday. Nadya’s husband Pyotr Verzilov confirmed the rumors to The Voice Project:

It’s from the Kremlin and official already, they will be freed. We do not know yet when this will happen, because it is unclear when the bill will be voted by the Duma and how fast it will be applied to prisons – could be from 2 weeks to 2 months until they are freed.

The Voice Project also reports that Nadya’s father Andrei has also been able to confirm this from “reliable sources.” Nadya was moved to Siberia in November after protesting conditions and going on a hunger strike at her previous penal colony in Morodovia. She is now hospitalized in a Siberian prison facility, Regional Tuberculosis Hospital No. 1.

The BBC reports that Putin may also free the Greenpeace Arctic 30 campaigners currently on bail and facing trial on (reduced) charges of hooliganism, as well as some of the opposition activists involved in unrest in May 2012.

This all feels like a Putin move to make Russia seem less yucky-looking in the buildup to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Simone Baumann’s film Putin’s Game, documenting charges of threats, corruption, and environmental damage is screening throughout Europe. Pussy Riot jailed, Greenpeace activists facing trial, “gay propaganda” banned and LGBTQ beaten, Elton John (finally) speaking out about anti-gay discrimination in Russia. From the stage. While performing a concert in Moscow. Add in a boycott of Smirnoff vodka and Putin had to do something.

In a surprising move, NBC has named the New Yorker’s editor and a former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, David Remnick as a guest correspondent:

Remnick said NBC had guaranteed him editorial independence with his commentary, including such politically charged issues as gay rights and the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. “There is nothing in the world — and I know they don’t intend to hinder me in this way — where I would not be honest in my analysis,” Remnick said. “It would be a waste of everyone’s integrity and time if otherwise.”

Meanwhile, it could be a very happy new year for Pussy Riot, Greenpeace, and other jailed Russian activists. (more…)

Elton John to Play Moscow: “I’m Doing It for Gay Russians”

Oh Elton, Elton.  I am so confused, but I just can’t quit you. Remember when his remark about being very happy with civil unions became a rallying cry for Prop 8 and anti-equality forces? Once there was a hue and cry about his naivety ignorance of basic facts, he came around and ended up playing an amazing concert as a fundraiser for AFER and becoming a spokesperson for marriage equality. Then he played Rush Limbaugh’s wedding for  huge fee. (I’d like to hope that he donated that fee to pro-equality groups as a puckish fuck you to the forces at the EIB, but I guess I’ll never know).

Elton John played Sun City  in South Africa during apartheid, and yes that was 30 years ago. He played Tel Aviv just three years ago saying:

Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together. That’s what we do. We don’t cherry-pick our conscience.

Oh?

Then Sir Elton thumbed his nose at China’s cultural politics by publicly dedicating his 2012 concert in Beijing to  to “the spirit and talent” of dissident artist Ai Weiwei,  prompting the Chinese culture minister, Cai Wu, to demand that only stars with university degrees be allowed to play in China. Sir Elton told the Guardian:

“Ten thousand people went ‘Eugh!’, but how could you not?. He’s become a friend, and what he’s suffered as an artist is unbelievable. During and after the show, my tour manager was interrogated for three hours, and what he said to them was true: I bought a beautiful Ai Weiwei piece, I was grateful and we’ve become friends. I didn’t feel in any danger.

Sir Elton adds a new item to his wish list: He’d like to go back to China and talk to the government about AIDS. According to the performer:

the country’s leading AIDS activist has claimed that the government’s estimate of 650,000 HIV cases is barely a 10th of the real figure.

Elton John wanted to play in front of the Pyramids of Giza, but claims be was banned because he is gay. And his very public gayness has ruffled feathers in other locales, the Guardian reports:

a church in Tobago organised a protest against his appearance there, while he received threats from an Islamic group when he played in Morocco.

So what about his proposed December concert date in Moscow?

Listen, I went to Russia in 1979 and I knew we were being watched all the time: I had an interpreter that they’d clearly set up. Actually, I ended up having sex with him on the roof of my hotel.  I’m supposed to be going to Moscow in December. I’ve got to go. And I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say very carefully. There’s two avenues of thought: do you stop everyone going, ban all the artists coming in from Russia? But then you’re really leaving the men and women who are gay and suffering under the anti-gay laws in an isolated situation. As a gay man, I can’t leave those people on their own without going over there and supporting them. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’ve got to go.

Elton John certainly flies in the face of Putin’s  ban on homosexual propaganda. He and longtime partner David Furnish united in a civil union ceremony in 2005, one of the first in Britain, and are planning weddings in Britain and in California now that it is legal to do so– and the couple has two children Zachary  and Elijah. In 2009 the Ukrainian government block Sir Elton’s adoption of an HIV+ baby, citing his age and single status; the Ukraine does not recognize same-sex unions.  Adoption officials had another point of view:

Albert Pavlov, head of the Happy Child foundation for orphaned and sick children in Zaporizhia, said he opposed adoption by gays, but called for removing age and marriage restrictions for adopters.

How will Putin and Russian government deal with Elton John, a venerable and flamboyant, visibly gay figure in pop music who refers to himself as the Queen Mother? Madonna and Lady Gaga  played St Petersburg and spoke out from the stage, violating, according to the Russian government, the terms of their visas.  Lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to ban fans under 18 years old from Gaga’s concerts. Madonna and Gaga are post-modern hetero-normative, basically straight ladies who like teh gheys, have a platform to speak out, and do. Elton John is waaay more risky–he’s clearly queer and the very act of playing in Russia is pretty subversive/transgressive, especially given his outspokeness on  stage and off.

In July, 2103 Elton John was scheduled to play a concert in Krasnodar, Russia which caused great consternation.

Local party leader Mikhail Abramyan recommended that Elton don a knee-length kaftan, knee-high leather boots, and a fur hat for the July 14th gig.

He said: ‘It would be more respectable.  We have suggested it to the promoters and we hope he’ll wear it.’, according to Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Despite calls from Krasnodar clergy to ban Sir Elton’s July 14th concert because the singer represents homosexual propaganda, no ban was issued. Rather the concert was postponed, then cancelled due to the singer’s illness.

Somehow I think, and maybe I am just an optimist, that Elton John playing Moscow is his attempt at activism, and is motivated by the desire to make a positive change, rather than to line his pockets. It will be interesting to see what bombshells, like that in China, he drops from the stage–maybe playing “All the Young Girls Love Alice”? And I wonder if Edward Snowden will be backstage! Now that would be a Facebook photo op!

HT: Back2Stonewall

Athletes Kiss on Medal Stand: Did Russian Gold Medalists Protest Anti-Gay Laws?

In recent weeks, Russian Authorities have repeatedly vowed to uphold their anti-gay laws that prohibit the mere expression of supporting gay rights– qualifying the act of doing so as propaganda, at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Thus far, Putin’s rearing head has refused to blink in the face of international scrutiny.  While the games have yet to begin in earnest, the decision to do so is already proving to be a total shitshow with Russian athletes now being at the center of controversy.

Case in point: two female Russian athletes celebrated beating the Americans and the British at the 4x400m relay by making out with their gold medals in tow, causing the internet to in turn freak out.

Okay so they didn’t make out exactly, but Russian athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova did in fact kiss on the medal stand at the IAAF track championship in Moscow to protest their country’s anti-gay laws.  As the video above indicates, their teammates joined in and all four girls shared an innocent kiss to commemorate their win.

A political act or an act of celebration?

It’s hard to say.  While headlines around the world are indicating that the act was political in nature, sources in the Russian camp insist that the girls were merely congratulating each other.

The stakes were further raised on Friday when Yelena Isinbayeva, Russian pole vaulter, called out critics suggesting it was “disrespectful” to refuse to abide by a country’s law when visiting that country.  She later walked back that statement and said that she’d been misunderstood going on to state;

“But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes, and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality (which is against the Olympic charter).”

Opponents of the law have since called on her to be removed as an ambassador to the Youth Olympics.

Isinbayeva’s initial statement was made in response to Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro’s rainbow-colored fingernails.

Unrelated but relevant, it seems worth acknowledging that the age-old logo of the Olympics consists of multicolored rings that interlock one another. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has yet to confirm whether or not nail art is permissible that includes those colors (black, yellow, red and green) while avoiding more flamboyant colors like purple orange, pink and teal.

Regardless, a number of ice skaters from around the globe have vowed to protest Russia’s laws in less manicured ways. While some inside Russia claim that the law and the subsequent reaction have been overblown, and while the IOC doesn’t permit any demonstrations of “political, religious, or racial propaganda,” critics including gay U.S. congressman Mark Takano of California have a different take, pointing to the absurdity of the implication that one’s identity be interpreted as an act of propaganda.

American figure skater Johnny Weir doesn’t intend to put forth any outward displays beyond just showing up;

“As far as outward displays, should I be competing in the Olympics, my husband, his entire family, and my entire family will be there as a unit, supporting me — and I think that that is a beautiful statement to make,”

Indeed, the very presence of gay athletes under the threat of reprimand — and the heightened awareness around everything down to the fingernails of even straight athletes — will ensure that this shitshow rages on until, and most likely after, the games begin.

Late Night: Some Random Thoughts on Edward Snowden

 

Hong Kong wanted him gone, and Putin clearly feels Edward Snowden–who celebrated his 30th birthday by placing everyone’s cellphones in the fridge–has outstayed his welcome in the pod hotel at the not-really-Russia airport.

Meanwhile tomorrow we have the potential of DOMA and Prop 8, which is pretty exciting!

 


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