WINDOW ON EURASIA: SOCHI COUNTDOWN – 21 WEEKS TO THE OLYMPIAD IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS
Note: This is my 29th special Window on Eurasia about the meaning and impact of the planned Olympiad on the nations in the surrounding region. These WOEs, which will appear each Friday over the coming year, will not aim at being comprehensive but rather will consist of a series bullet points about such developments. I would like to invite anyone with special knowledge or information about this subject to send me references to the materials involved. My email address is email@example.com Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Putin Says Security in North Caucasus Must Be Improved Before Sochi … President Vladimir Putin says Moscow must make a new security push in the North Caucasus, “mobilizing all force strcutures and improving the coordination, quality and results of their joint efforts,” because “the situation [there] is improving too slowly” in advance of the Sochi Games. He also called for a struggle against corruption and for new investments in the region to reduce unemployment and boost development (itar-tass.com/c1/870371.html and news.mail.ru/politics/14685295/?frommail=1&social=fb).
… Blames Outsiders for Stirring Up Region … Putin adds that “foreign countries and public and international organizationsundertheircontrol keep seeing the North Caucasus as a foothold for destabilizing Russia as a whole.” The Russian security services must “act more harshly to thwart such attempts” in the coming months” (wralsportsfan.com/putin-foreign-nations-try-to-destabilize-caucasus/12865955/).
… Calls New IOC Chief But Doesn’t Talk about Gay Controversy. The Russian president called new IOC President Thomas Bach to congratulate him but the two did not discuss Russia’s laws on gay propaganda, Bach told journalists. Bach said he “trusted” earlier assurances that the Russian authorities have given about the reach of the law regarding Sochi competitors and visitors (usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/09/10/new-ioc-president-addresses-russia-anti-gay-law/2794643/).
Human Rights Watch Says New IOC Chief Should Focus on Rights Violations in Sochi. HRW released a statement on the election of Thomas Bach as new IOC president saying that he should focus on ending the violation of human rights in the run up to and at the Sochi Olympiad, including in particular the mistreatment of workers, repression of civic activists and abuse of universal human rights (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229925/).
Sochi Olympic Head Calls for End to ‘Campaign and Speculation’ about Gay Rights. Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi Olympics organizing committee, appealed to the IOC to help “stop this campaign and this speculation” about Russia’s anti-gay legislation. “The people who are talking about this topic either haven’t read the laws or they have not understood the explanations of them. It’s necessary to finally end the speculation about this issue” (sports.nationalpost.com/2013/09/08/sochi-2014-organizing-committee-asks-ioc-for-help-in-wake-of-russia-anti-gay-law-backlash/,en.rsport.ru/olympics/20130909/685612083.html, anddailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013\09\10\story_10-9-2013_pg2_12).
IOC Says Russian Security Measures, including Fan Passport, ‘Justified.’ “The Russian authorities are taking those security measures in connection with the Olympiad at Sochi which they consider necessary, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agrees with this approach,” IOC President Jacques Rogge says. He suggested that the controversial fan passport will increase rather than decrease the ability of fans to move around during the games (itar-tasskuban.ru/news/article?type=city2014&i=4723).
Norwegian on IOC Says Sponsors Worried about Gay Protests at Sochi. Gerhard Heiberg, who was president of the 1994 Lillehammer Games and now serves on the IOC, said that many US sponsors of the Games are frightened of what might happen in the event of gay protests at Sochi. “I think this could ruin the Games a lot for us. We have to stick to our (IOC) rule about nodemonstrations but we must also be prepared for such things happening” (dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2013\09\10\story_10-9-2013_pg2_12).
Obama Tells Russian Gay Activists ‘How Difficult’ It is to Raise Rights Issues with Moscow. Activists who participated in a St. Petersburg meeting with US President Barack Obama say that he told them that it wasn’t always possible to advance their agenda because it is “difficult” for him “to raise these issues, especially in relations with Russia and China” (hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_OBAMA_GAY_RIGHTS?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT ).
US Ambassador to Moscow Says United States Now Won’t Boycott Games. “In the light of recent events,” apparently a reference to Vladimir Putin’s proposals on Syria, Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to the Russian Federation, says that the United States will not boycott the Sochi Olympiad. In the same interview, he expressed regrets for his earlier comment that Russia is “a wild country” (sochi2014.rsport.ru/sochi2014/20130911/686047765.html and flashnord.com/news/posol-ssha-sozhaleet-chto-nazval-rossiyu-dikoy-stranoy).
Sochi Olympics ‘Power Vertical in its Purest Form,’ Moscow Sports Writer Says. James Ellingworth, who writes for Russian sports outlets, says that “for many in the older generation, Sochi revives a moment of pride from their youth in the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t resonate much for the under-25s, who have only ever had a Russian identity, not a Soviet one. The older generation includes the Russian elite, who remember the positive propaganda impact of the 1980 Games.” Now, he continues, “Russian sport is the power vertical in its purest form. If the power vertical is the dominant political principle, then hosting the Olympics is supposed to show the Russian state’s organisational power. Winning medals is supposed to validate the power vertical as a managerial concept.” Consequently, “the Sochi Olympics mean a lot to Russians and onething is already clear: the Winter Games are not just a display of ‘Russia’s rise’to foreigners, but a force shaping the country’s idea of itself” The Shapsugs have been sending letters to Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials for months but have not received any response (rbth.ru/opinion/2013/09/12/what_the_sochi_olympics_mean_to_russia_29749.html).
NBA Head Criticizes Western Sports’ Silence on Gay Rights at Sochi. David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, says that “everyone wants to talk about the Russian law on homosexuality. Think about the opportunities that sports have to make a continuing statement, and the only thing we’re saying in that context is ‘Shhhh! No one say anything!’” (philly.com/philly/sports/other_sports/NBA_commissioner_David_Stern_weighs_in_on_Sochi_Olympics_anti-gay_laws.html).
Shapsugs Protest Destruction of Their Land and People. The Shapsugs, a subgroup of the Circassian nation, once again are suffering because their traditional homeland around Sochi is too attractice to others. Nearly 150 years ago, they were deported and killed; now they are seeing their lands despoiled by those who want to “develop” their area with no thought to them or their environment. Today, they and rights activists are holding a meeting in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, to press for recognition as an indigenous people with special rights, something the Russian authorities have refused to do, to demand an end to the destruction of the environment, and to protest Moscow’s plans to stage a re-enactment of the Russian occupation of Sochi in 1864 at the time of the Olympiad. The Shapsugs have been sending letters to Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials for months but have not received any response. (ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/25104445.html,zapravakbr.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=138%3Ashapsugi, andhekupsa.com/cherkesiya/golos-cherkesii/1274-obrashchenie-shapsugov-k-prezidentu-rossii).For another perspective on the Shapsugs and the current situation, see Nikolay Silayev’s 17-page summary of his 75 interviews of that community at georgiamonitor.org/upload/medialibrary/dec/decf3b61dff317ed7e11eb3f5ea2a27f.pdf).
Sochi Residents Blame Olympic Contractors for Destruction from Flooding. Recent flooding in Sochi has been made worse by the way in which Olympic builders have proceeded. Doing things as quickly and cheaply as they can, the latter have ignored basic drainage and other principles of construction. As a result, people in the region are suffering and visitors will be at risk if it rains (blogsochi.ru/content/navodnenie-na-razdolnoi).
Moscow Plan to Lift Restrictions on Building Near Sochi Threatens Environmental Wonders, Sparks Protests. Plans by Russian ministries to ease or even eliminate restrictions on construction in nature preserves near Sochi threaten to destroy those natural wonders. This has sparked demonstrations by local people despite official opposition and appeals from international ecological organizations for Moscow to put the needs of nature and the future ahead of those of contractors and profits now (sochi-24.ru/obshestvo/belye-skaly-agurskie-vodopady-i-drugie-pamyatniki-prirody-likvidiruyut.2013911.67903.html, sochinskie-novosti.com/, ewnc.org/node/12418, izvestia.ru/news/556557, gazaryan-suren.livejournal.com/117595.html, kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229703/ andgreenpeace.org/russia/ru/campaigns/forests/nadzor/).
Keith Olberman Draws Parallel Between Sochi and Berlin Olympiads. On his ESPN program, Keith Olberman sharply criticized Moscow and the IOC, saying their efforts to suppress gay protest at Sochi are driven by fears of corporate losses. In addition, he said that there were “frightening similarities” between Sochi 2014 and Berllin 1936, warning that international deference to Hitler at the time led the Nazi leader to become even more vicious and aggressive (advocate.com/politics/2013/09/10/keith-olbermann-sochi-olympics-rant).
EU Deputy Calls for European Officials to Boycott Sochi Games. Marek Migalski, a member of the European Parliament and the Committee for Russia-EU Cooperation, has organized a campaign to urge EU officials from attending the Sochi Competition. His group, called “Olympic Shames,” seeks to call attention to the worsening human rights situation in Russia and thus “not to legitimize the regimeof Putin.” Boris Nemtsov, a Russian opposition figure, has added his voice to this call (opinie.newsweek.pl/igrzyska-olimpijskie-soczi-2014-marek-migalski-rosja-kreml-newsweek-pl,artykuly,270016,1.html,themoscowtimes.com/olympic_coverage/article/bach-becomes-ioc-head-amid-sochi-olympics-controversy/485876.html and change.org/olympicshames).
Sochi Games Now Widely Viewed as Profitting Putin Insiders. According to one Russian journalist, “the only way Russia can change perceptions that a select few insidershave been profiting from the Olymppic Games is by truly delivering aworld-class tourism hub afer all the Olympic (and Paralypitc) athletes have packed up and gone.” There are some plans, but the outcome for many venues remains uncertain (russia-direct.org/content/what-tokyo-2020-can-learn-sochi-2014).
Sochi Residents Demand Olympic Organizers Face an International Tribunal. Saying that they are “hostages of the Olympics,” a group of Sochi residents has called for the organization of an international tribunal to examine and punish the actions of Olympiad organizers who are destroying their city in the name of preparing it for the competitions in 2014 (ru-nsn.livejournal.com/3442193.html and novayagazeta.ru/news/108925.html). Some of these protests are city-wide while others are occurring on a street-by-street basis (blogsochi.ru/content/zhiteli-ulitsy-sevastopolskoi-obratilis-s-pismom-k-vladimiru-putinu).Other Sochi residents are upset by the ways in which English is overwhelming Russian in signage in their city (polit.ru/article/2013/09/11/al110913/).
60 Flying Squads Search 150,000 Sochi Places for Illegal Migrants. Under the direction of Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, sixty mobile groups have fanned out across Sochi to search in every one of the 150,000 buildings and apartments in the city for illegal migrants with plans to detain and deport them. Tkachev said the work is urgent: “There must not be one illegal in Sochi two months from now!” (blogsochi.ru/content/aleksandr-tkachev-potreboval-ubrat-iz-sochi-vsekh-nelegalov-cherez-dva-mesyatsa).
Novodvorskaya Calls for Sochi Fans to Wear T-Shirts with Names of Putin Victims. Valeriya Novodvorskaya, an opposition commentator, says that she believes Putin should have held the Olympiad in Kolyma because of its associations with his beloved GULAG rather than in Sochi. But since the competition will be in the latter, she urges those who attend to wear T-shirts with the names of Putin’s victims such as Khodorkovsky and Politkovskaya to remind him of the opposition to his rule and to deprive him of an ideological victory (grani.ru/opinion/novodvorskaya/m.218807.html).
Circassians Urged to Look Beyond Sochi. Tiago Ferreira Lopes, a European analyst, says that the Circassians have achieved a great deal in the run-up to Sochi – they have been “able to develop a stronger notion of their own Identity” — but that they need to come up with a longer-term strategy to advance their national goals. “Tibetan separatists did not downsize their protestsjust because the Beijing Summer Olympics did notearnthe political gains they were expecting.” Circassians should now use other international media events such as the Eurovisioin song competition and copy the successful organizing techniques of the Armenian diaspora and Palestinians, she says (strategicoutlook.org/caucasus/news-end-game-or-new-game-to-the-circabian-ethnonational-agenda.html). Other LGBT activists are making the same point and have prepared videos for Eurovision 2014 (spectrumhr.org/?p=1425). But some commentators are warning that the Circassians may soon be cast aside by their sponsors after the Games are over (kavpolit.com/cherkesskij-genocid-kak-evrejskij-xolokost/).
Olympics Reveals ‘Paradox of Sochi,’ Commentator Says. One close observer of Sochi says that that city is “special in all respects. Its chief paradox has been revealed as a result of the Olympic campaign: the more billions are spent on the development of Sochi as a resort city, the less it is like a resort city.” Instead, it is place where “there is no water or electricity and where the natural environment has been destroyed” (sochinskie-novosti.com/ ).
Olympian Who Protested in 1968 Says Today’s Athletes Must Decide What to Do. Tommie Smith, who raised a black-gloved protest at the 1968 Olympiad, says “athletes got to make up their own minds up … They need to figure it out. I won’t do it for them. I have my own feelings” (sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2013/olympics/wires/09/09/2090.ap.oly.tommie.smith.sochi.gay.law/).
Moscow Court Releases Figure in Olympic Corruption Scandal from Detention. A Moscow court has released Stanislav Khatskevich, the former director genera of the Krasnaya polyana company who has been charged with corruption, and has put him under house arrest until his trial (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229831/).
Sochi Olympic Chief Threatens Price-Gouging Airlines. Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi Organizing Committee, says that airline companies must stop raising prices in advance of the competition to increase their profits. He adds that if this continues, Moscow will arrange for low-cost competitors to fly between the Russian capital and Sochi and that the existing higher price carriers will have only empty seats (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/19602-chernyshenko-schitaet-rost-cen-na-aviabilety-v-sochi-nedopustimym).
Sochi to be ‘Most Emotionally Charged Olympiad’ in Decades. Michael Arace, a sports columnist for a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper says that “a new cold war is brewing” over Sochi and that the Games themselves will be “the most emotionally charged Olympiad of this century, regardless of whether the United States oorany other country boycotts. The next 152 days are going to be interesting. The 16 days after that – from torch lighting to extinguishing – will be even more fascinating. What will Putin do?” (dispatch.com/content/stories/sports/2013/09/08/cold-war-brews-as-winter-games-approach.html).
Circassians Plan Medal for Those Complicitous in Genocide and Cover Up. Circassian groups in Europe are planning to mint a special medal that they will present to Russian officials and the leaders of other countries who go to Sochi for their complicity in hiding the genocide of the Circassian people, the 150th anniversary of which will be marked in2014 (facebook.com/groups/418134964913502/permalink/575409139186083/).
US Sister City Calls on Sochi to Protest Russian Anti-Gay Law. The city council of Long Beach, California, which has a sister city relationship with Sochi, unanimously voted to urge “our sister city of Sochi to join our protest” against the Russian law against homosexual propaganda among children (gazettes.com/news/politics/election-more-endorsements-for-several-candidates/article_9d3be6d4-15b7-11e3-b708-001a4bcf887a.html ).
Those Behind Illegal Building Say They Can’t Tear It Down Lest They Disturb Putin. The owners of the Kavkazskaya Riviera complex in Sochi, which local officials have declared to be in violation of city and regional codes, say they cannot tear it down because if they did, they would disturb President Vladimir Putin and his guests who stay at a neighboring facility (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229658/).
Moscow May Pull Bid for 2020 European Football Championship. Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko says Moscow may pull its bid to host the 2020 competition because it has already won the right to host the 2018 games and Russia’s chances of winning another are “close to zero” (football.sovsport.ru/blog/43939925953/vitaliy-mutko:-rossiya-mozhet-otkazatsya-ot-uchastiya-v-evro-202).
Russian Fans Have Long History of Violence. An article in Moscow’s “Novyye izvestiya” documents something many know by anecdote: Russian fans have a long history of xenophobia and violence at sports competitions (newizv.ru/sport/2013-09-06/188480-bezumnaja-ljubov-k-sportu.html).
Moscow Paper Launchs ‘Faster, Higher, Funnier’ Cariacature Competition for Sochi. “Novyye izvestiya” has announced that it is holding an international cariacature competition in advance of the Sochi Games to identify the funniest characterizations of those competitions and the controversies around them (newizv.ru/society/2013-09-06/188458-bystree-vyshe-smeshnee.html).
SPB Police Look on as Thugs Beat Protester with ‘Nuremburg Trials Not Sochi Olympics’ Sign. A video has surfaced showing Russian police in St. Petersburg lookin on while thugs beat up a protester carrying a sign suggesting that the anti-gay organizers of the Sochi Olympiad should face a Nuremberg-style tribunal (pinknews.co.uk/2013/09/06/video-st-petersburg-protester-punched-in-the-face-while-police-look-on/).
Daily Show Takes on Putin Representative on Russian Human Rights Violations. Samantha Bee, a host of the show, found that “neither logic nor sarcasm” was able to crack the defense of Russia’s increasing crackdown on human rights by Andranik Migranyan, “who runs a Kremlin-approved policy group” in New York. Migranyan insisted that “gay people, they have the same rights as other people. Just don’t manifest this in presence of large public, with all this kind of parade, demonstration. … I think this is some kind of inferiority complex. Why the hell you have to have parades?” (advocate.com/comedy/2013/09/05/watch-daily-show-grills-russian-diplomat-gay-centaur-vladimir-putin).
Kasparov Says Putin Regime is Looking for More Enemies to Maintain Itself. Gari Kasparov, former world chess champion and a leading Russian opposition figure, says that Putin probably hasn’t thought much about LGBT rights. But his attack on those rights is “a natural slide, the degradation of the Putin state that has always been lookiin for enemies. It’s the natural fate of any dictatorship to need enemies: Jews, Gypsies, gays, whoever. It’s the same for Hitler, Mao, Mugabe, Lukashenko. It’s like drug users. Once you create an atmosphere of hatred, you need to increase the dose” periodically in order to maintain control (slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2013/09/04/garry_kasparov_the_chess_champion_turned_political_activist_explains_why.html ). That his regime plans to do more than ban homosexual propanda to young people is suggested in many ways, most recently by a Duma proposal to deprive those of “non-traditional sexual orientation” of their parental rights (themoscowtimes.com/news/article/gays-kids-could-be-taken-by-state-under-proposed-bill/485644.html).
Despite Pledge, Moscow Fails to Make Sochi Handicap Accessible. As part of its Olympic agreement, the Russian government pledged to make all sites accessible to those with handicaps. But visitors to the sites have found that this is not the case: stairs are simply blocked, but there are no available alternatives (blogsochi.ru/content/%C2%ABpodgotovka-meropriyatii-po-sozdaniyu-bezbarernoi-sredy%C2%BB).
Sochi Contractors’ Failure to Coordinate Creating Disasters, Sochi Residents Say. Each of the corporations involved in building for the Sochi Olympics is acting independently and failing to coordinate with others or with the government. As a result, the city’s skyline has been destroyed and many dangerous problems in transportation and the supply of essential services have been created (sochinskie-novosti.com/).
Russian Nationalists Complain about Chechen Assertiveness in Sochi. Chechens coming into Sochi are telling local Russians to learn Chechen or leave lest they be killed by other Chechens who will soon dominate the region, according to a Russian extreme nationalist group (via-midgard.info/news/uchi-kobyla-chechenskij-yazyk-zdes-skoro-vse.htm).
‘Crudeness’ and ‘Incompetence’ Now Said Hallmarks of Sochi Service Industry. An official in the Sochi city government says that the flood of new people into the city’s service industry means that “crudeness” and “incompetence” have become the “hallmarks” of Sochi for many visitors. Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov said such people were “traitors to the interests of Russia” and must be punished (http://www.sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/12/).
Russian Railways Says It Lacks Resources to Guarantee Safety at Sochi Facilities.Russian Rail says that it lacks the funds to ensure that 16 of its facilities in Sochi are safe and security, despite the requirements of various Russian directives over the last year (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/12/).
Moscow Now Says Sochi Construction Will Be Completed by Early January. In the latest official confirmation that Moscow’s claims about progress in Sochi are overstated, Maksim Sokolov, the Russian transportation minister, now says that the transportation infrastructure there may not be finished until “the very beginning of January,” just a month before the competition. He adds that “there is still a lot that must be done before the Olympiad” (ria.ru/society/20130911/962543574.html).
Tkachev to Bring in 400 Cossacks to Maintain Order During Olympics. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev says that he will bring in 400 Cossacks to maintain order during the competition. They will be dressed in traditional garp and will be paid 25,000 rubles (900 US dollars) for their contributions in this regard (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229862/).
Moscow Historian Denies Moscow Wanted to ‘Depopulate’ Circassian Areas. Andrey Areshev, a historian at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that Western students of the Caucasian wars in the 19th century have failed to recognize that Russia “was not interested in the absolute ‘depopulation’ of Caucasian lands” because the empire wanted to develop them economically. Moreover, he says, “the Russian Empire used the most varied means, including force but not only force” to advance its ends (rus.ruvr.ru/2013_09_04/Zapad-reshil-uglubitsja-v-istoriju-narodov-Kavkaza-pered-Sochi-2014-6122/).
Tsarist General Said ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Circassians was Russia’s Policy. Tsarist Lt. Gen. Rostislav Fadeyev (1824-1883) wrote in his memoirs (republished in Moscow in 2003) about Russia’s Caucasus wars that Russia wanted to make the region populated by Circassians “truly Russian land” and to that end “cleansed the coastline of the mountaineers.” He added that “the expulsion ofhte mountaineers and the settlement of the Western Caucasus with ethnic Russians was the plan of war for its last four years” (aheku.org/page-id-419.html).
Addendum: Circassians Were Original Population of Sochi, Olympic Guidebook Sayswindowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/09/window-on-eurasia-circassians-were.html