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…)

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.

Blurred Lines: Russia Dances With Gay Propaganda, Fights Lady Gaga and Madonna

“Tonight, this is my house Russia.  You can be gay in my house.  And if you ever need me Moscow I will just be a telephone call away.”

So promised Lady Gaga at a December 2012 concert in Russia (remarks begin at about the 3 minute mark).

Yet for fans in Russia those calls may be temporarily left unanswered.

With the 2014 Winter Olympics around the corner, the country has come under considerable heat for its anti-gay laws.  In Russia, the act of voicing support for gay rights in and of itself is considered to be “propaganda” and is therefore illegal.

In the face of international criticism Putin’s Russia is doubling down, with authorities currently investigating  both Lady Gaga and Madonna for failing to comply with their travel Visas and/or for vocally supporting gay rights while in Russia. The lines on this one are more blurred than a Robin Thicke song.

Vitaly Milonov, an official with the Prosecutor General’s Office in St. Petersburg and a sponsor of the law that bans gay “propaganda,” first raised concerns that their visas, approved as a sort of cultural exchange, did not permit either pop star to reap any financial benefit from their performances.

Yet these allegations have a political undertone.  Milonov first filed an application regarding Lady Gaga after her December show suggesting that she promoted homosexuality to children.  Madonna was similarly sued for 10 million dollars by an anti-gay group for causing them “moral suffering” for also expressing pro-gay sentiments.  Those charges were ultimately dropped.

Both stars are being investigated and could face fines or be banned from the country outright.

Regardless, they’ll find themselves in good company.

Blake Skjellerup is a New Zealand speed skater who hopes to compete on behalf of his country in the Winter Olympics being held in Russia.  Skjellerup is also gay and thus engaged in a tap dance of sorts with Russian authorities who are trying to avoid looking like assholes while holding firm to their anti-gay laws.

Milonov, the same official who’s going after Lady Gaga and Madonna, has made it clear that Russian officials don’t have the authority to suspend the gay ban for the Olympics.

That said, a Russian sports minister assured news agency RIA Novosti that while gay athletes could compete, any sort of propaganda would not be tolerated.

Skjellerup isn’t fazed, vowing to wear the same rainbow button he wore attending the 2012 Olympics and promising;

“If I’m stopped at the border, I’m stopped at the border. My presence there is going to be important for me and important for the community and I guess we’re just going to have to wait and see.”

Indeed.

‘Till then, express yourself.


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