History beatifies the defiant, who stand alone against the might of an oppressor. Then there are those who break ranks to protest something in which they were themselves complicit. To this latter category – the Von Stauffenbergs and Gorbachevs – is now added Maria Ovsyannikova, an editor at Russian state-run broadcaster Channel One. On Monday evening, she interrupted the channel’s primetime live show to shout “stop the war” while carrying a sign that read, “Don’t believe the propaganda. They’re lying to you here.”
Some might argue that Ovsyannikova, who has worked for Channel One for eight years, should have made her protest sooner. But the pearl-clutching against Russia from Western politicians and corporations, who happily did business with Putin’s regime before public opinion turned irrevocably against it, is almost laughable. In the UK, many Russian oligarchs whose looted fortunes depended on the Russian president’s patronage have long been welcomed with a warm embrace, given access to the highest echelons of society and even awarded titles. None of them has yet had the courage to do what Ovsyannikova has. As any editor working for a major Russian news outlet will have known, she could have well faced a long stretch in a penal colony. Instead, after 14 hours of detention without any access to legal help, she was fined 30,000 roubles (€255) and, fortunately, released.
Of course, sometimes acts of defiance are too little, too late. If a grave crime has been committed then justice must be served, whatever the culprit’s contrition. But Osvyannikova isn’t guilty of a heinous crime and her act, orchestrated in order to be seen by as many Russians as possible, will earn her a place in the pantheon of the defiant – especially if its message gets through to its intended audience.