Putin: Pardon Riot

The following editorial appeared in The Kansas City Star

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the tide has been ebbing for months.

The rigged parliamentary election of December, marred by widely documented fraud, sent tens of thousands into the streets under the banner "Putin must go." To no one's surprise, he was re-elected in March, after barring pro-democracy opponents.

But now he must contend with what scholars call "historical contingency," an academic phrase for "you couldn't make this stuff up."

In this case, it was a female punk band called Pussy Riot. One day in February, five punkettes barged into a Moscow cathedral, plugged in their amps and began belting out a punk prayer with the refrain, "Our Lady, chase Putin out."

Their performance was shut down in about 30 seconds. Three punkettes were eventually arrested and, in a recent proceeding, sentenced to two years behind bars.

By this summer, the band had become a pop culture cause celebre, with Putin and his regime regularly denounced by the likes of Sting and Paul McCartney. Posters began to appear: "Putin is afraid of girls."

Putin had committed the error most feared by dictators. He has made himself ridiculous, a situation especially corrosive in his case, given his shirtless horseback rides and other macho displays.

Since the verdict, the undercurrent of Russian discontent has only increased. If Putin is as smart as reputed, he should conclude that the best way out is a pardon for Pussy Riot.

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