Russia Takes Another Step On A Long Road

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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41 Responses

  1. North says:

    Yeah Uncle Vlad got pretty spooked when Obama and the various note worthies of Europe began signalling they’d skip his vanity parade at Sochi. So that’s something at least.Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    The biggest problem, obviously, is that there were three of them.Report

  3. Burt Likko says:

    Thanks for the Cyrillic text support, @mike-schilling ! Your kung fu is strong.Report

  4. Will H. says:

    I applaud their efforts.
    Without regard to the lengths to which they might still have yet to go, it is without question that Russia has made far more progress in the area of human rights than the United States over the past twenty years.

    Also, a strong Russia is in American interests, as a countervailing force to a burgeoning and ever-more-technologically-advanced China.

    Review of choreographic patterns often involves disregard of the individual dancers.

    Putin doesn’t concern me so much as the power vacuum which will arise in his absence.Report

    • Michelle in reply to Will H. says:

      Will–I’m wondering why you think they’ve made more strides in the human rights arena in the past couple decades than we have. That wan’t my impression, but I could certainly be wrong.

      I agree that a strong Russia is in our best interests. Hopefully, Putin has given more thought to who his successor will be than Soviet leaders did.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michelle says:

        Well, when you start at zero, any improvement is infinitely better.

        Will H.’s fear of China is misplaced. China’s military capabilities, particularly its strategic ones, are still predominantly defensive, and they’ve put comparatively little effort into offensive capabilities compared to the U.S. and Russia.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Michelle says:

        I would have phrased it a bit differently, but that’s the general thrust.
        Also, it is a relational comparison; rate of change of X as compared to rate of change in Y.Report

    • daveNYC in reply to Will H. says:

      Progress in which direction?Report

  5. Notme says:

    Sorry I don’t care and in fact never did. PR went to lengths to create a scene and then they and their liberal western supporters whine about how they were treated. Why should we feel bad for a couple of malcontents?Report

    • Will H. in reply to Notme says:

      I am something of the same mind.
      Were it their intent to make some kind of political statement, I see no reason that could not have been done in a lawful manner.
      But while the conviction itself was fully justified, the sentences imposed were, IMHO, unduly harsh.
      Apparently, in Russia, much like state judges in the US, judges have a great deal of discretion in imposing sentence. (The federal sentencing guidelines are a book that’s over 100 pages.)
      For some reason, even with the numerous high-profile cases of DNA evidence exonerating persons confined for decades, the illusion of meaningful judicial review in the US is preserved.
      I know of no other nation that the US where betrayal of the public trust is viewed as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Most places view it as an enhancement, iirc.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Notme says:

      Why should we feel bad for a couple of malcontents?

      The circularity expressed here is dizzying.Report

      • Notme in reply to Stillwater says:

        What circularity? PR went into the cathedral with the intent to disrupt things. Now they and their liberal friends whine about the punishment. PR could have done their stunt in front of the church but they didn’t. They had to go inside and up by the alter.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Well, exactly. The argument that they got what they deserved is based entirely on the premise that doing the things they did deserves the getting that they got.Report

      • Notme in reply to Stillwater says:

        Let’s see, they are Russian citizens that broke Russian law, were tried in a Russian court and were sentenced according to Russian law. You may think it is too harsh for your liberal western sensibilities but you take your chances under a system such as those in Russia when you do something as they did to make a spectacle.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Fair enough. At least we’re clear that according to your Western conservative sensibilities there’s nothing to look at here.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

        Notme, do you think it’s possible for a law to be too harsh if it is the law? Or does the fact that it is the law mean that it cannot be too harsh?Report

      • Notme in reply to Stillwater says:

        Can you even acknowledge that what they did was way out of bounds and deserves punishment? They went onto a church while worshipers were there, set up by the alter and started their “political protest” which was laced with profanity. Heck, they faced up to seven years, the prosecution asked for three and they got two with 6 months credit. So yes, I think they got what they deserved.Report

      • Notme in reply to Stillwater says:


        Yes a law can be too harsh, If they had gotten the max of seven years that might be a bit harsh but they live in Russia and presumably know the consequences of their behavior, esp if they poke the bear or wake the dragon. (I just saw the Hobbit 2 in IMAX 3D today so I had to say that)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

        I think “they knew the law when they broke it” doesn’t take it as far as you seem to. It’s not irrelevant (insofar as it would be very relevant if they didn’t know the law), but there is nothing at all mutually exclusive between “they knew the likely consequences and did it anyway” and “the consequences – known or not – were not just.”

        To answer your question – though I don’t think it was directed at me – I can certainly agree that what they did was wrong and deserved punishment. Trespassing, disturbing the peace… those are crimes even here. I don’t think they’re “Six months in Siberia (or the American equivalent of Siberia) crimes,” much less “six years in Siberia” crimes.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        If I remember correctly, part of the charges brought against them involved blasphemy. Had they disrupted a mosque or a PTA meeting, they would have faced lesser consequences. To me, this demonstrates a fundamental injustice regardless of how Russian laws are written or what PR knew at the time.

        You know things have gone haywire when conservatives are defending Russia’s response to protest.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

        That’s a case of selective memory.
        I found this at the Huffington Post from Ed Koch, former mayor of NYC (i.e., a liberal able to pass the litmus test), with just a quick search.
        PR was charged with “hooliganism,” which probably corresponds roughly to some gang crime in the US. It was described by commentators as “blasphemy and sacrilege,” but the judge found it to be a hate crime, “motivated by religious hatred.” Nothing political there.

        Compare the Moscow PD to the Albuquerque PD in Sherouse v. Ratchner.
        PR are adults, and not junior high girls.
        The actions of the Moscow PD had no overtly racist motive.
        The Moscow PD did not falsify witness statements later directly contravened by affidavits of the witnesses themselves.
        PR was not subjected to unlawful abduction.
        The Moscow PD did not falsify official police documents.

        The list goes on and on.

        I don’t want to sound like Balko here (I think Balko is doing a good job of sounding like Balko), but the criminal justice system in the US has a lot of room for meaningful reform– and I mean that in the sense of “way beyond sentencing in drug crimes.”
        It’s not really the things the courts find to be wrong-doing that’s so troubling, but the sort of horrific things where the courts find that no wrong-doing occurred.

        Part of a larger theme, that of the Left advocating hate crimes against established religion.

        By the numbers:
        Polls show that 74 to 92% of Americans believe in God, depending on how the question is asked. Let’s take the middle figure, 83%; which leaves 17% atheist population, far more than any racial minority.
        If the Democratic Party comprises some 43% of the population, and if every atheist is a Democrat, then roughly 1/3 of the Dem. Party would be atheists.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        None of that made any sense.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

        I should have expected as much.
        The irony here is that, even while you denounce the Russian courts for unjustness of judgment, you demonstrate that you lack empathy and understanding.
        There is no foundation for beginning from the premise of:
        Russia = Necessarily Bad
        We can sit and talk of how corrupt Russia is, or the federales, but the fact of the matter is there is a great deal of that going on in our own country. Such pollyannish American exceptionalism does not counter facts.

        You lack the understanding to place yourself in the position of the people whose worship service was disrupted by what could only properly be described as “an attack.”
        You can’t understand, even when a Democratic former mayor of New York explains it to you on Huffington Post.

        Generally, when the opportunity to pass judgment on others arrives with the opportunity to be more understanding of others, I find it preferable to cultivate understanding.
        While it might appear to be “nice” to the person(s) receiving understanding, I am of a mind that such is truly to my own benefit.
        However, I am also of the understanding that there are things not worthy of my understanding.

        I understand perfectly what would happen to me were I to take up a guitar (probably my Vox), head out to a local church, and interrupt the service there in a disruptive manner.
        I find the willful blindness which would tell me that such is merely a matter of expression to be unworthy of my understanding.
        I’d rather deal with the real world.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

        Respectfully, the discussion here seems tainted to me by not focusing adequately on the distinction between the descriptive and the normative.

        Russia purports to have become a western liberal democracy. In an actual western liberal democracy, what Pussy Riot did would be considered a minor crime, on the order of “disturbing the peace.” The overtly political and religious content would be largely ignored; the issue would be the time, place, and manner of their expression rather than the content of that expression.

        The circumstances of the Russian criminal justice system reveal that notwithstanding the grand promises of freedom made in Russia’s Constitution, the de facto law in that nation is profoundly illiberal.

        So far, these are descriptive rather than normative statements.

        But the law is mutable, even in Russia, and I say it ought to be more liberal in practice as well as on paper. So it’s not enough to say that the law forbade Pussy Riot’s actions. Surely, it did. But to complete the argument, we have to then say whether or not the law ought to have forbidden them; whether the harsh punishment (and 30 months in prison is a harsh punishment whether that prison is in Siberia or Sausalito) is proportionate to the gravity of the crime and consistent with a fundamentally free society.

        A Russia that is free and prosperous and functioning under a rule of law consistent with justice and principles of liberal government is in the interests of not just Russian citizens but of the world as a whole. Pussy Riot presents a prominent case enabling the interested world to observe whether this goal is being realized and to encourage Russia’s government and people to move towards that goal.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:

        @burt-likko nails it. PR was and should have been found guilty of trespassing and other related offenses. The content of their message should only matter insofar as its desirability by the owners of the church. It is my understanding that this was not the case and that PR faced greater penalty because of the content of their message. I disagree strongly with this.

        I do agree that it is reasonable to expect people who willfully engage in illegal action — even in service of a noble cause — to accept the known consequences of that behavior. I get frustrated when people engaged in so-called “civil disobedience” object that their actions have consequences. Whether those consequences ought to exist is an appropriate part of the conversation but it is by fully accepting them that their injustice can be properly evaluated.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Excellent analysis Burt.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        Part of a larger theme, that of the Left advocating hate crimes against established religion.

        I don’t recall too many lefties opposing the construction of Mosques. Are those “hate crimes” by your understanding of the term?

        But that aside, it seems to me there’s room to advocate for certain general rights (like the right to access abortion services or contraception) without viewing that advocacy as a “hate crime” directed at members of religious groups.Report

      • Will H. in reply to Stillwater says:

        @burt-likko :
        I respectfully disagree as to the substantive findings on which these arguments are grounded.

        There are three distinct elements in the crimes of which PR were charged:
        1) criminal mischief (and I’ve also seen such things charged as “Running Amok” in some older cases from the 1930’s)
        2) acting in concert (and I’m sure you understand the difference between a single conspiracy of multiple goals, and multiple conspiracies each of a single goal)
        3) the hate crime aspect
        There’s also the role of the executive in commutation of sentence to consider.

        1) In the US, charged commensurate to the injury. From the Florida Statutes:

        (2) Any person who willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or damages by any means any church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship, or any religious article contained therein, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, if the damage to the property is greater than $200.
        § 806.13(2), Fla. Stat. (2012)

        2) In Wisconsin, acting in concert automatically elevates the sentence to the top tier of the punishment level. In Texas and other places, conspiracy elevates the sentence to the next tier of sentencing, i.e., a Class A misdemeanor becomes a state jail felony (or whatever the jurisdiction observes).
        So, it is conceivable that such a crime would be charged as a felony in the US.

        3) In the US, hate crimes deal mostly with race and national origin. In fact, many circuits have held that sec. 1983(3) is applicable exclusively to racial animosity.
        Russia’s history is notably different. Religion was illegal under the communists. Now it’s protected; and apparently to the extent that a court may consider religious animosity as an aggravating factor at sentencing.
        I call that “Progress.”

        The circumstances of the Russian criminal justice system reveal that notwithstanding the grand promises of freedom made in Russia’s Constitution, the de facto law in that nation is profoundly illiberal.
        One could make the same argument regarding the Kids-for-Cash scheme by Penn. Judges Ciavarella and Conahan.

        In the US, the President would never have been able to grant PR a pardon. The president can only pardon federal crimes. Any pardon would have had to come through the governor, and state executives are typically quite limited in what pardons they might issue.
        The Russian system clearly provides for more pardons to be issued.

        @kazzy :
        I remember this one heart-breaking passage in Strength to Love where MLK talks about his daughter asking him, “Daddy, why do you have to go to jail so often?”
        I don’t think the marchers at Selma got what was coming to them.

        I think you have some basic assumptions that need re-visited.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Stillwater says:


        I never said they got what was coming to them. But a key component of civil disobedience is accepting the consequences of that disobedience so as to highlight the injustice in question. When the folks engaged in sit ins were jailed, they exposed the injustice of the laws that landed them there. That is what civil disobedience is. Now, folks may engage in illegal activity for reasons unrelated to civil disobedience. But civil disobedience is a pretty specific thing.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Stillwater says:

        the judge found it to be a hate crime, “motivated by religious hatred.” Nothing political there.

        Excuse me, but has anyone seen my ass? I laughed it off and can’t find it anywhere.Report

      • notme in reply to Stillwater says:


        Who is going around and telling folks that Russia is a liberal western democracy? Are the Russians saying this?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

        Well, @notme, let’s start with Vladimir Putin and then take a look at the Russian Constitution (and if that’s not enough for you, then I doubt any other evidence will help convince you).Report

      • notme in reply to Stillwater says:


        I see the word democracy but not the words liberal or western. Besides who believes Putin except for folks like Obama?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

        What characterizes western democracy to distinguish it from other kinds of democracy? I would suggest that the defining characteristic is a division of powers between multiple bodies of government composed of directly-elected officers.

        What characterizes liberal democracy from illiberal democracies? I would suggest the thing to look for are checks upon the power of the state to do as it pleases with individuals written in to the fundamental law of the state itself.

        A non-western, illiberal form of democracy might be the election of a king.

        Russia’s constitution contains all of the indicia of a western liberal democracy — likely so even if you adopt different definitions than mine. The reality fails to deliver on the promise, that’s the rub.Report

      • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:


        “Russia’s constitution contains all of the indicia of a western liberal democracy — likely so even if you adopt different definitions than mine. The reality fails to deliver on the promise, that’s the rub.”

        The same can be said for our system.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

        @damon the US government, though it too falls short, comes a lot closer to the ideal than Russia’s.Report

      • Damon in reply to Stillwater says:


        I agree that it comes closer, I just disagree about the distance-and the trendline suggests convergence.Report

    • James K in reply to Notme says:

      Why should we feel bad for a couple of malcontents?

      An interesting position from someone whose country was founded by a bunch of malcontents. I suppose the Massachusetts colony deserved the Coercive Acts too?Report

      • notme in reply to James K says:

        The folks in Mass did break the law so Parliament felt it was necessary to bring them to heel and make an example out of them. Although it backfired on them as it was probably too harsh for the time.Report