CITIZEN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA

CITIZEN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA 13

Citizen rights in Russia

Abstract

The rights of citizens are inherently paramount to any country andforms the basis on which the constitutions are written. Althoughcitizen rights can be categorized into the fundamental and suchothers as are called secondary rights, it is usually the role of thegovernment to ensure that such rights are safeguarded and that thesovereignity of the people safeguarded. However, different governingstructures have had implications towards ensuring that citizen rightsare safeguarded and kept realistic. For instance, democraticgovernments have had commendation from various analysts in observingand safeguarding many of human rights against the perpetration ofsuch rights in coutries that are governed through arnachy ordictatorship. In analyzing the situation in Russia, it is worthnoting that the country’s constitution enshrines the human rightsin the 2nd chapter. However, subsequent governments in thecountry have failed to live to the expectations of the citizens andthis has always led to increased activism and mass action as citizenslobby for their rights. In fact, the country has a very long historyof activism and revolutions led by people who desire to have theirrights recognized and accorded by the government (Francesca, para1-5).

Discussion

By focusing on the activism and revolutions that have characterizedthe country, there are various groups of activists, individualpersons and certain historical eras of activism that has shaped thehistory of the country. One of the most renowned activism eras in thehistory of Russia is the great revolution of 1917 as the Tsaristsystem of governance was overthrown. Prior to the revolution, thecountry faced great instability, both politically and economically,experienced retarded technological advancement, social divisions,military defeats and great economic scandals which faced themonarchy. The deteriorating conditions of working demanded that theworkers engage the government on civil strikes which then setprecedence for civil unrest. The striking workforce were led bythousands of women who protested for poor working conditions withoutfood in their factories and called on all other workers to lobby fortheir rightful recognition (Hemment, 10-17). The lack of such basicrights as food or proper working conditions therefore triggered thehistoric mass action by citizens.

In the subsequent days within the month of March, most, if not allworkers stormed the streets as they lobbied for common rights.However, the government failed to heed to the pleas of the workersand instead ordered them to resume duties with those in streets beingshot. Nevertheless, in what would be seen as a coup, the soldierssided with the striking masses and this led to the famous 1917revolution. The aristocracy and the Tsar collapsed in March of theyear with abduction of Nicholas II. After the fall of the government,Duma instituted a provisional government while the soldiers andworkers constituted a union to address their disputes collectivelywith more effectiveness in challenging the government as againstlobbying for individual issues separately. However, continued failureby the government to restore economic progression led to more criseswhich saw resignation of the government heads who took office. Theculmination of the revolution saw the soviets seize power in Octoberby forcing Kerensky and administration into exile which was fondlyknown as the October revolution. The revolution preceded theBolshevick led military coup by the leftish revolutionists and theprovisional government was toppled. Lenin took over as the head ofthe newly constituted government advanced the Marxist ideologiesthereby becoming a virtual dictatorship. The government managed toestablish and retain good relations with Germany which improved onthe economic performance of the country. Latter in 1918, Bolshevickinvaded with the white solders but were defeated by the sovereigngovernment soldiers after which USSR (Union of Soviet SocialistRepublics) was constituted.

From various historic accounts on Russia, it is clear that thecountry have faced various historic revolutions especially in the19th , 20th and 21st century (Zubok,180-213). However, more strategic was the role that citizens had inshaping the history of the country especially through lobbying andactivism (Francesca, 1824-1840). For instance, from the illustrationgiven, women workers became the initiators of the 1917 Februaryrevolution. Besides, other groups of individuals have been shown tohave had great significance in shaping the modern day Russiaespecially through activism. One would therefore be interested inunderstanding the actual role the citizens played in shaping thehistory of Russia and their contributions to the modern day Russia.Many illustrations of people who participated in the ountry’sactivism can be given. However, among other significant highlightsgiven, this paper takes special interest in the role played by a punkrock Russian feminist group which was based in Moscow and whichtriggered city protest in 2011 which is commonly called the Pussyriot. A critical analysis of the group, the agenda and thecomposition would go a long way in informing on the role citizenactivists have played in the history of Russia as a country. Anapproximate 11 women aged between the ages of 22 and 33 back in year2012 formed a rock protest group fondly known as the ‘pussy riot’.The group was founded in 2011 and has had a number of stagedprovocative performances which are ideally recorded in public placeswhich could be least expected and then after being edited and postedon the internet as music videos. The line of activism by the group iswide and touches on various themes like feminism, bad leadership andrights of same sex relationships. It was only recently that thepresident declared fight against homosexuals, one of the main agendasthat civil groups and activists like the pussy riot are advocatingagainst (Fierstein, para 2-6).

Among the most known activism by the group occurred in February of2012 when the group staged a perfomancce within a church and laterreleased the video to the public. The performance was directed to Godand a music called ‘punk prayer’ was released which had the wordsof “mother of God, chase Putin away”. The group would argue thatthe protest was aimed at breaking the relationship that the orthodoxchurch had with Putin, the president then. The performance sparked avery serious reaction, not only from the president then but also fromthe church leadership which actually commented that the act wasdevilish. The government’s reaction was that the group waspropagating hooliganism and many of the members to the group werearrested and prosecuted on accounts of hooliganism.

From the team, three were convicted for advancing hooliganism asmotivated by religious hatred. However, the sentence served toincrease criticism even from the west and therefore indirectlyadvancing the agenda intended by the group. Various human rightgroups also adopted the case with Amnesty international designatingthe group as ‘prisoners of cocience’. However, the reaction bythe public in Russia took a different position and they were notsympathetic with the women band and so supported the trial andconviction. According to the president, the pussy riot group hadgrossely undermined the moral foundation upon which the state isfounded and therefore could have been accorded nothing less to suchtreatment as they deserved (Weir, para 1-5).

Besides being ideally a musical band, the group had a differentagenda and that was to lobby for the rights of Russians who in manyways faced the brutal dictatorship of the government especiallythrough poor legislations. By citing the legislation that restrictedlegal abortions, the group felt that women were being intimidated anddiscriminated against and hence decided to advance campaigns againstsuch dictatorship through arts. They believed that pussy riot groupwas part of the global anti-capitalism movements and they embracedthe situationist-style by advancing the guerilla performances.

The group’s performances could be called political action ordissident art which was disguised through music and art. By adoptingeither of the forms, the group advanced a kind of civil activity bywhich they created public awareness on repressive political system(Vasilyeva, para 1-9). They viewed the Putni led government asoppressive to the political liberties enshrined in the country’sconstitution. Besides, by having the government design policies andlegislations against basic human rights like legal abortions, thenthe government would be perceived as dictatorial. Nevertheless, themembers to the group subscribed to divergent political affiliationslike arnachy, and liberal left through feminism as an ideology tounite them.

In what could be interpreted as being focused on a prize beyond thevalue of a medal, the pussy riot group were such focused with theirprize being that of freedom. The group strived to attain the altimateprize and that was freedom of expression as well as to protest notonly for themselves but also for the Russian people’s rights. Theywould have been perceived as a crazy lot, naïve or daft but to theiragenda, they were sane and very sober. The church and the presidentaccused them of blasphemy but behind the scenes, they were successfulin doing what any real opposition to the president’s rule would notmanage. They therefore embraced art as a very useful tool for protestand public awareness within the country.

The leadership of president Putni has had had a lot of controversieswith blames being leveled against him for his dictatorhip indisguise. While many people such as blogers have been jailed inattempts to stop the anti-Putni protests, the pussy riot group onlyserve to symbolically head the protest movements. People have in manyinstances feared to express their discontentment towards thepresident’s leadership and this has worked to encourage the vicesbeing perpetrated by the government against the people. The countrylegalizes only state sunctioned demonstrations and therefore an easyslip into a dictatorial regime could be foreseen. The church in thecountry has equally faced blames in siding with the government inperpetuating the vices where the church has in the past been accussedof land grabbing and such social vices as against standing to lobbyfor the rights of the country and its people. The perceivedinjustices are therefore propagated by the unity between the churchand the government and many observers would predict the formation ofa state which is Christian fundamentalist in nature. This thereforeinforms the main agenda for which the pussy riot stands for.

Feminism as an ideal by the pussy riot is inherently the power thatcould unite women to stand recognized in the society besides shapingthe destiny of multitudes of discriminated against citizens in anynation. The patriarchs would worry because of the group’sactivities because Russians would now understand that Putni was nodifferent than all other radical leaders the world has ever known andwhose agendas were advanced forcefully to their subjects.Nevertheless, Putni could not manage to stop the concept beingadvanced by the group who embraced conceptual arts as most effectivetool for advancing their agenda. The main question that arisestherefore is on how possible it would be to imprison a concept(Velasco, para 2-7). The group only served to remind the Russianpeople that any revolution starts with culture before embracinganything else. By embracing technology and posting their clipsonline, they are able to advance their course while still beingperceived as concept prisioners physically. The social media world wecurrently live on has enabled the masses to get the message in asmuch as the group members are imprisoned. The group represents theopposition to the acting governmet and as elsewhere illustrated, theyare ‘girls with guitars’ advancing the most serious agenda ofopposition which only men with guns can advance.

While the course of justie and citizen rights for the Russian peoplehad bee pursued over years with no success due to the dictatorshipadvanced by subsequent governments, the citizens remained undboutedlyiconic in the struggle. In what would later be seen as a successfulrevolution in Russia, balaclavas, skirts as well as punk used bypussy riot has gone viral and served the purpose to remind thepresident and the people that everyone deserved freedom and rights toa good living (Nazaryan, para 3-6). The society needed to be awakenedand noise (through punk) would serve better for the purpose.

The passion with which the group advanced the agenda of goodgovernance only ressembles the passion that many other such strongwilled people in the history of the nation had. The effect or impactof what would be interpreted as bad governance through arnachist ordictatorial regimes transcends what the confines of freedomenshrines. Worst of it all is when the so perceived ‘saneinstitutions’ like the church share in the vices and advance theungodly agenda. The only remedy for such, as history shows, isdevotion by people to forsake personal interest and lobby for thecommon good. The effect from a single person’s effort to restorejustice and rights of people for multitudes may not be successful butthe trail left may be instrumental in guiding the course of others tofollow and the altimate result would be realized. This was thereforethe main reason why the pussy riot members would courageously faceprocecution and physical imprisonment but one thing was certain, thatthe concept for which they stood would not be cowed away behindprison walls. In their statements while awaiting trial, the fivemembers of the pussy riot reiterated their conviction that while thetrial may be biased against them because of their powerlessness, theybelived that their actions would be justified by many of the goodwilled people of Russia (Alyokhina, 1 Kiril, 69-77). Failing tostand up for the people of Russia could not make the group any betterto the government but advancing their course would be moresatisfactory them. In fact, according to the team, the trial theyfaced was not inherently their trial but rather the trial of thecountriy’s institutions of justice as the whole world would beeagerly waiting.

The recent years have seen a strategic rise in activism within thecountry involving nearly all people and touching on various aspectsof their lives within Russia. As Davydova notes, it is notoften the intention of the citizens to engage the authorites and lawenforcement agencies in running battles while they demonstrate butthe need for such forces all people to activel participate in suchmuss action (1). From his report, he highlights how the public havebecome instrumental in championing for environmental conservation. Heargues that with increased arnachy, the government tends to imposelaws on the subjects regardless of the implications towards theirlives and the lack of proper and genuine institutions through whichthe citizens can air their concersn, then they have ended up on thestreets by becoming activists so that their grievances can be passedon through the media, open protests as well as through the socialmedia platforms.

Nikitin (para 1-6) wrote an article on the rebirth of civil activismwithin Russia. According to him, the increased corruption witnessedwithin the country has necessitated the public to engage web bassedactivism, through which conspicuously patriotic civic movements haveemerged. The lack of proper institution of justice and the rule oflaw within the country have seen many vices being fostered bysuccessive governments with the modern day government taking thehigher blame for propagatging dictatorial policies over the rights ofthe people. In fact, according to a servey quoted by the article, atleast 52% of the population wthin the country rank the Putni ledgovernment as the most corrupt in the Russian history and to whichthey have no confidence in. Besides, the poor institutional frameworkincreasingly burdens the workers with poor state of workingconditions as Gessen (para 3-7) notes. Nevertheless, the rise andincrease of activism by such groups as pussy riot have significantlyinfluenced the state of affairs for the better with citizensincaresingly being exposed to their constitutional rights.

In a like manner, Gessen (1) writes comprehensively on the state ofRussia and Ukraine unrest and the role that active activism bycitizens of either of the side have been playing over years. Despitethe fact that states lies adjusent to each other, civic participationhave in often times barred possible inter government conflicts. Itmust therefore be acknowledged that citizen rights within Russia havebeen compromised over years with subsequent administrations failingto safeguard the interests as enshrined within the constitution.Individual persons, groups or even opposition movements have had themost instrumental input towards challenging the government onensuring that human rights to the people are safeguarded andaccorded.

Conclusion

The modern day Russia is shapped by the many years struggle of peoplelobbying for their rights as provided for by the constitution.Whereas the second chapter of the country’s constintutionemphasizes on the rights of citizens, subsequent governments haveover years failed to observe and respect such. This thereforeexplains the increased activism in Russia by the public in lobby forrights as are safeguarded by the sovereign constitution.

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