- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2012

The prosecution of three members of an all-female punk-rock band in Moscow is making a former Hungarian ambassador recall his teenage years behind the Iron Curtain when rock ‘n’ roll was the forbidden music of freedom.

Andras Simonyi, ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2007, said the three women are the new face of liberty under the increasingly authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Rock music is often referred to as a mighty soft-power tool. How wrong. This music is hard as rock. Just ask Mr. Putin,” Mr. Simonyi said in a paper he wrote on the trial of the three women, who are facing three years in prison for performing anti-Putin songs.

“Rock on!” Mr. Simonyi added.

In Moscow, Russian authorities Thursday placed the trial judge under police protection, saying she had received threats from the band’s supporters.

Judge Marina Syrova is expected to hand down a verdict in the case on Friday.

The three musicians — Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alyokhina — were arrested after they interrupted a service in a Moscow church to perform songs critical of Mr. Putin in February. They were charged with hooliganism, which carries a maximum of seven years in prison, but a prosecutor is seeking just three.

“[The band] will be remembered first and foremost for the amazing integrity of its members and its music — for the strong message they send about the maturity of Russian civil society,” Mr. Simonyi wrote.

“As long as there are leaders with authoritarian inclinations in the world, rock will have a role to play as the vehicle, as the medium, of choice for change for the youth anywhere, and the Stratocaster will be held up high as a symbol of freedom,” he said, referring to the electric guitar that defined the early days of rock music.

Mr. Simonyi, now with the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, grew up listening secretly to rock ‘n’ roll broadcast over the Voice of America, the BBC and other Western radio stations.

“It was our Internet of the time, which connected us to the Free World,” he wrote. “We tuned in to forbidden radio stations.”

When he was ambassador in Washington, Mr. Simonyi, a guitar player, organized a rock band with diplomats and musicians he met over the years.

Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and South Korea who is deputy secretary-general of NATO, played drums. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a former guitar player with the professional bands Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers and later a Pentagon adviser on missile defense, played frequently with the ambassador’s band. Tommy Ramone of the punk-rock band the Ramones, who was born in Budapest, dropped by the embassy for a performance.

“Rock music is universal,” Mr. Simonyi wrote. “It is neither imperialistic [nor] imposing. It speaks to the hearts and minds.”

Iran arming Kurds

The United States is working with Turkey to disrupt the flow of Iranian arms through Syria to Kurdish rebels, according to the U.S. ambassador in Ankara.

“When those [Iranian] arms go into the regime in Syria, we have no doubt that it is sharing it with its supporters,” Ambassador Francis Ricciardone told Turkish reporters after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday.

The ambassador was referring to the rebels of the Kurdish Workers’ Party, fighting the Turkish government for a separate Kurdish homeland. The arms-smuggling increased after Turkey denounced Syrian President Bashar Assad and his fight against Syrian rebels and protesters.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email [email protected] The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.



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