Freedom of speech is something that Americans cherish and at times take for granted. The boisterous arguments in this country over gay marriage would find no footing at all in Russia. Some Russian activists have sued Madonna for millions of dollars, claiming they were offended by her support for gay rights during a recent concert in St. Petersburg. Anti-gay sentiment is strong in Russia. In St. Petersburg, a law passed in February makes it illegal to promote homosexuality to minors, and the author of that law has pointed to the presence of children as young as 12 at Madonna’s concert on Aug. 9.
Russian news agencies quote Alexander Pochuyev, a lawyer representing the nine activists, as saying the suit was filed Friday against Madonna, the organizer of her concert, and the hall where it was held, asking for damages totaling 333 million rubles, or nearly $10.5 million. Responding to criticism that the plaintiffs were stuck in the Middle Ages, the lawyer said they were using civilized, modern methods to defend their rights. “No one is burning anyone at the stake or carrying out an Inquisition,” Pochuyev was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying. “Modern civilization requires tolerance and respect for different values.” The complaint includes a video taken at the concert showing Madonna stomping on an Orthodox cross and asking fans to raise their hands to show the pink armbands in support of gays and lesbians that were distributed among the audience, the new agency reported. Madonna’s spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, did not immediately respond to emails asking for the singer’s reaction to the lawsuit.
It’s not just gays who are repressed in Russia. Apparently, it’s any opposition to Vladimir Putin. Three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot are facing two years in a prison colony after they were found guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, in a case seen as the first salvo in Vladimir Putin‘s crackdown on opposition to his rule. Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were calmly defiant as a judge handed down the sentence, to cries of “Shame!” inside and outside court. Judge Marina Syrova said she rejected their arguments that they had not intended to offend religious believers but were protesting against the Orthodox church’s support for Putin.
The case has galvanised Russia‘s anti-Putin protestmovement and raised the international profile of their cause, with dozens of protests held worldwide. British and American officials were quick to condemn what they described as a “disproportionate” sentence. The Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, said: “I am deeply concerned by the sentencing of three members of the band Pussy Riot, which can only be considered a disproportionate response to an expression of political belief.” A spokeswoman for the US state department said: “We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.” Madonna also has angered conservative Russians with her support for Pussy Riot. Madonna spoke out in support of the group during her concert in St. Petersburg and two days earlier in Moscow. After the verdict was issued, Madonna called on “all those who love freedom to condemn this unjust punishment.”