Bono: The Russian Police State’s Silent Partner?

It’s a moving moment when the Declaration of Human Rights spools across the  screens during MLK and when the Amnesty International lanterns spotlight the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma. ‘From Burma Action and Amnesty International, let’s hold her up. Let’s tell the powers that be that they can’t touch her, she belongs to us.’
from an account of U2’s August 25th concert in Moscow, posted on the band’s official website

The St. Petersburg Times
Friday, August 27, 2010
Chernov’s Choice

Bono, U2’s outspoken frontman, was strangely closemouthed after the Russian police arrested five Amnesty International volunteers and shut down the stands of Amnesty International, Greenpeace and U2’s own anti-AIDS organization, ONE, before the band’s high-profile concert in Moscow on Wednesday.

The police and plainclothes agents qualified stands, posters and leaflets as an “unsanctioned” rally and ordered them to stop their “illegal” activities. The activists, who say their presence and activities were authorized by the concert’s promoters and were part of the concert agreement with U2 itself, were even ordered to take off their T-shirts.

In the late 1980s, St. Petersburg rock band Akvarium refused to perform when a musician in the audience was arrested, and was fully supported by the public, who kicked up a storm of noise until the police were forced to release the man.

In today’s Russia, the world-famous band U2 swallowed the sanctions, and duly played a full set to the audience of 55,000 without even mentioning the incident from the stage. No mention was made of Sunday’s banned concert in defense of the Khimki forest, which is being destroyed to make way for the construction of a Vladimir Putin-backed highway, despite the fact that the band had met activists and musicians who opened Bono’s eyes to the issue earlier on Wednesday.

Words were found for President Dmitry Medvedev, however. “President Medvedev could not have been more gracious to me,” he told the audience.

The arrested activists were taken to the police station and released several hours later, when the concert was over.

“A spokeswoman for U2 said the band did not yet have the details of the detentions and could not immediately comment,” Reuters reported later. No mention of the incident was to be seen on U2’s web site Thursday, when the situation was widely reported by news agencies and the media.

Defending harassed activists is not, perhaps, quite so much of an ego-massage as drinking tea with Medvedev in his Sochi residence, discussing musical tastes and global issues, without daring to touch such sensitive topics as the human rights situation or ecology in Russia itself.

To be fair, Bono did manage to do one good thing. He invited Yury Shevchuk to sing a song with him. DDT frontman Shevchuk is a well-known opponent of the Kremlin and defender of the Khimki forest who had to sing without a microphone at Sunday’s protest concert because the police had impounded a truck carrying the PR system. Handing a microphone to Shevchuk was a great symbolic act, even if the song was the safe “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

1 Comment

Filed under international affairs, Russian society

One response to “Bono: The Russian Police State’s Silent Partner?

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