On April 8 the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, visited Amsterdam. Thousands of people used the opportunity to show their dismay with the Russian bill against homosexual “propaganda” among minors and the general clampdown of gay rights in Russia.
It was stifling hot in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva last Friday. A group of Iranian dissidents was preparing a sit-in for the 477th day in a row. Tourists were taking photographs of the flags decorating the entrance of the world’s leading organization for human rights. A friend and I unrolled a banner, put on a colorful balaclava and armed us with yarn and needles.
It was a few hours before three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot would be sentenced for their “punk prayer” against Putin in a church in Moscow. The day before, a fellow knitter has posted a call for action on Facebook. Knitting a balaclava, part of the band’s trademark outfit, in front of the UN would be the proper way to show our outrage.
“Imprisonment for a subversive performance?” a Spanish gentleman asked us. “Ridiculous.” A tourist from China wanted to know if I was related to one of the band’s members. He was just taking a picture when three policemen approached. “Do you have a permit for this manifestation? In Switzerland, if two people hold a banner, you need a permit. Those are the rules.” Could we apply for one at the spot? The policemen looked as if I swallowed a balaclava. We should have applied months in advance! “There’s a philosophical conflict between liberty and equality,” a Russian scientist from CERN tuned in. “Let me tell you something about nineteenth-century Russia.” Either the idea of a history lecture or my fishnet stockings softened the policemen. “We won’t fine you just now. But you can’t show your banner or wear your balaclava. Those are the rules.” Amazingly, we didn’t need a permit to knit. The Iranian protesters offered us chairs. “I wanted to bring flags,” an employee of an international Trade Union said. “But our Russian members are all pro-Putin.” A Russian MD nodded. “You can’t have an important position in Russia and be against Putin.” His supporters had already spotted our Facebook event page and were posting vulgarities.
The Pussy Riot members are sentenced to two years in prison. I will finish that balaclava and wear it.