Do you remember the controversy that erupted when Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing was released in 1989? I do, as well as going to a rather heated showing of the film at a cinema in downtown Portland, Ore., at which moviegoers were evenly divided between frightened white liberals and screaming black kids. That was a hoot.
The funny thing is that, rewatching the movie a year or two ago, I realized that, for all its tremendous performances and stunning cinematography, editing, and directing, the question that plagued Americans in 1989 -- namely, what was the right thing to do? -- was answered quite plainly and simply by one of the main characters at the end of the film. He understood what the right thing to do was and he did it.
When it comes to the Putinist secret police whacking on people who did nothing wrong -- people like Oleg Sentsov, Anna Pavlikova, and the eleven young men implicated in the Penza-Petersburg "terrorism" case -- there's no controversy. If we don't publicize their cases, discuss them aloud, make a fuss, make a lot of noise, show our solidarity, and encourage other people to do the same, they will die in the effort to get other political prisoners released (i.e., Oleg Sentsov) or be tried in kangaroo courts and sent to prisons for many years for thought crimes or no crimes at all (i.e., Anna Pavlikova, her fellow New Greatness suspects, and the eleven Network lads).
Is that you want? It's not what I want. But I don't hear many of you making much noise about it. What are you scared of? Looking stupid? So what, "being cool" is more important than doing the right thing? Or do you thinking doing the right thing should make you look cool? In reality, most of the time, doing the right thing either goes wholly unnoticed or makes you look stupid, as in Spike Lee's film.
There are people, however, who almost always know what the right thing to do is and have learned the simple lesson that solidarity is a two-way street. One of those people is the famous Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomaryov.