Putin, Literature and the Freedom of Speech

The most commonly quoted call for a remote political kill is found, not in the popular spy thriller, The Bourne Identity rather, the best quote is found in British history lessons and Christian churches. It is the call for assassins, with Henry II’s apocryphal whine, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Apparently, the phrase is not even in the Shakespeare play – he never penned a Henry II.

The death of Thomas the Beckett, is the least passive and yet the most aggressive extra judicial political assassination of the all.

The assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition politician last week, has similar echoes of history, where, the systematic oppression of the freedom of speech twinned with the promotion of extreme nationalism has allowed Russian politics to descend into medieval murder. Is there a totalitarian handbook, that despots read to stifle democratic challenge well, as if there is a text book?

No fewer than ten, vocal Russian dissidents have been assassinated Cluedo – style, the list includes the suffragettes,  Anna Politkovskya, Anastasia Baburova and Natalya Estemirova and Sergei Magnitsky, Stanislav Markelov, Alexander Litvinenko

Perhaps the Russian oligarchy are reading from a book. There was a legal device, now illegal in English law, common in Agatha Christie novels, including, The 4.50 From Paddington and the apt, And Then There Were None, called the tontine.  Here, a subscriber paid an agreed sum into a fund, and thereafter received an annuity. As members die, their shares devolve to the others; every death causes the value of the remaining live members’ annuities to increase.

This was a common troupe and plot device for books, plays and many films including the recently Oscar nominated, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Upon the death of the penultimate member, all funds pass to the last survivor. Coincidentally, like Russian opposition politicos, members in a tontine tend to have short life expectancy and the last man standing inherits the fund. However, obviously, for the reader or the viewer, the last man standing, is usually the murderer of everybody else. Is it wrong of me to mention, the most famous troupe of the tontine genre, is the famous play, The Butler Did It – as the hashtag, #PutinDidIt simultaneously, trends on Twitter?

Where’s the international opposition? Apparently, we in the West are easily distracted by balls and snow, like playful social media kittens. During the Sochi Winter Olympics Putin, stole a province. During The World Cup, Putin invaded the Ukraine.  The international community is not even as sprightly as a kitten. NATO is an akin to an old man on his wedding night, flaccid and useless, outside on the porch, defending the bride upstairs, whilst Putin is sliding up the drainpipe, at the back, satisfying the new wife. Russia is buzzing the British coast and Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn, capital cities of Baltic States and capital of hen parties and stag dos. The Baltic; where EasyJet bridal party charters share the air space with Russian Ming fighters. I am sure there is not going to be a conflict with a civilian airplane over this conflict.

Perhaps we should be looking to the arts for a solution of how to maintain and contain Putin. The sports-field, as substitute for the the battlefield, in Sochi or Rio didn’t excite him. What would Shakespeare say? Coriolanus, a political leader, whose mercurial emotional temperament is unsuited for popular leadership, is quickly deposed and dies after a fatal comeback – Putin however, came back more potent. Julius Caesar, is perhaps more apt. Beware the ides of March? My money is on Putin. He’ll be here in April.

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