ART BY ANNA MACIAS
Freedom of speech. Here in America, we know it as an intrinsic human right, something never to be violated or infringed upon. Think again.
Look no further than Russia, a world power that just cannot come to terms with this seemingly fundamental freedom. As seen through the recent campaigns for President Vladimir Putin, there is a clear, unjust motive behind the events during the reelection process.
Vladimir Putin has long confirmed that he will be running for re-election in the upcoming March election. This time, however, a new dark horse has emerged: Alexei Navalny. Navalny is the foil to Putin’s plans. A member of the liberal Progress Party, Navalny strikes a chord among the Russia people that Putin – a member of the conservative United Russia party – has not.
And foil, he does. During the course of his campaign, Navalny has caught much of the public attention, including that of other countries, for his free, liberal views. More importantly, through it all, Navalny has gained approval from millions of young citizens who are eager for a change in the country’s governing ideals. Down with Putin, they say, down with the social constructs that have ruled Russia for far too long.
Here is where the rampant oppression aspect comes into play. As a result of Navalny’s insurgent threat to Putin’s 17 year reign in Russia, the President has undergone a series of manipulations in an attempt to steer Navalny clear of the campaign grounds for the March 2018 election. For instance, in February 2017, Putin was behind a court hearing that pronounced Navalny guilty of defrauding a state company. Because Navalny was convicted of a criminal offense after these proceedings, he was not allowed to run for office, according to Russian laws passed under Putin.
In addition, Putin was unimpressed by Navalny’s exposure of the government’s lavish living through protests and riots. Thus, Putin advised the court to convict Navalny of defrauding a French perfume company and stealing a nearly worthless piece of art.
After these convictions, Navalny himself stated that these court decisions were politically motivated, but that the current Russian government officials, the current “thieves,” are scared of Navalny’s competition.
Through these actions, it is clear to any onlooker that Putin has had problems with his strongest and most popular opponent for a long time prior to this year’s re-election campaign.
The disapproval of Putin toward Navalny follows a string of similar incidents targeting those who object to the Kremlin’s ideals under the sitting President. Still not convinced? Curiously, all of Putin’s opponents have either found themselves locked up in jail on some trumped up charge or in the morgue.
Look no further than Boris Nemstov, an opposition leader found murdered two years ago. Nemstov’s body was left on the steps of the Kremlin, leading to disturbing speculations of Putin and other government officials’ involvement in the killing.
Nevertheless, fear not. Navalny is but one face of the growing dissent against Putin’s long-standing regime. The reality is that regardless of how many fires Putin and his allies attempt to douse, regardless of how many protests they attempt to squash, more will appear to fight the incumbent President and his oppression.
The unacceptable actions of the Russian president thus far have aptly showcased one of the biggest plagues on society today. From Putin’s rash actions, spectators across the world have come to the harsh realization that despite the hundreds of millions of articles or postings published daily applauding the world’s improvements, there are so many flaws in the world that are much more foundational and important than the newest iPhone or self-driving cars.
Among these concerning flaws is the basic right that many in Russia, popularly regarded as a developed power, lack: the freedom of speech. So, as the turbulent fight for expression continues in a land far far away, let us keep in mind that even our most prized rights, rights taken for granted, are a rare commodity elsewhere.