WINDOW ON EURASIA: SOCHI COUNTDOWN – 20 WEEKS TO THE OLYMPIAD IN THE NORTH CAUCASUS
Note: This is my 30th 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Putin Says Sochi’s Main Enemy ‘Not Gays, Ecologists or Americans But Time.’During a visit to Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that preparation for the Olympiad was going well but that there was still a great deal to be done and that he was ordering biweekly progress reports from Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak who is overseeing the games and would personally visit the Olympic sites to make sure that everything is ready. “The main enemy of the Sochi Olympiad,” the Russian leader said, “is not gays, ecologists or the Americans. The main enemy is time,” which is now running short.” He also directed that ticket prices be reduced for Russian citizens so that they will be able to watch the competition from the stands rather than only via television (polit.ru/article/2013/09/17/olymp/, sochi-24.ru/politika/putin-poobeshal-priezzhat-v-sochi-pochashe.2013917.68127.html, kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230175/, itar-tass.com/c20/878552.html,en.ria.ru/sports/20130916/183496079/Putin-Admits-to-Glitches-in-Sochi-Olympic-Preparations.html, and globaltimes.cn/content/811936.shtml#.Uji2_z_f4UM).
Moscow Ignores Georgian Offer to Help with Olympic Security. David Dzhaganiya, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, says that Tbilisi has offered to help with Olympic security but that the Russian government has “ignored” the proposal. Nevertheless, the Georgia diplomat said, Georgia will do what it can as a responsible member of the international community opposed to terrorism (kavpolit.com/mid-gruzii-svyazal-zaderzhanie-lakaeva-v-batumi-s-bezopasnostyu-olimpiady-v-sochi/).
Sochi Residents, Ecological Activists Upset by Delay of Hearings on Environment. The Sochi city government agreed and then reneged on a promise to host a discussion on Moscow’s plans to eliminate some environmental protection regulations in order to allow more construction. The session, announced for September 17, has been rescheduled for Ocober 30. Many residents and environmentalists say the delay further harms the environment and damages Russia’s image in the West (blogsochi.ru/content/novoe-napadenie-na-imidzh-sochi-kurorta).
Russian MiitaryWon’t Use Draftees to Guard Sochi Games. The Russian defense ministry says that Moscow will use only professional soldiers to serve as army guards at the Sochi Olympiad, a plan intended to reassure many that such guards will be more highly trained than draftees but one that is likely have exactly the opposite effect: Not only are “kontraktniki” as the professionals are often known frequently involved with “dedovshchina” and other crimes, butMoscow has promised that it won’t send draftees to hotspots. Some may conclude on the basis of this announcement that Russian officials view Sochi as potentially one of them (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/18/%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%8B-%D1%81%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BA%D0%B8-%D0%BE%D1%85%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8F%D1%82%D1%8C-%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%BF%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%B4%D1%83-%D0%BD%D0%B5-%D0%B1%D1%83%D0%B4%D1%83%D1%82/).
Historical Preservationists Alarmed by Destruction of Cultural Monuments in Sochi. Environmentalists have attracted more attention, but members of Russia’s community of historical preservationists are expressing outrage about the destruction of key cultural sites in Sochi, including the one-time home of Fyodor Chaliapin (sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%BE-%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%84%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D1%85-%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%85-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F%D1%85-%D0%B8-%D1%81%D1%87%D0%B0%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%8B%D1%85-%D0%BB%D1%8E%D0%B4%D1%8F%D1%85/).
Is the IOC Prepared to Ban Christian Crosses or Jewish Stars of David? “Unless the International Olympic Committee plans to ban Christian crosses and Jewish Stars of David, they’re going to be in a world of hurt if they try to ban rainbows at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia,” according to John Aravoisis of Americablog.com. “Why? Because the rainbow is the symbol of the Metropolitan Community Church [and not just of LGBT activists]. And if Olympics athletes want to show their support for the MCC church during the Sochi Olympics, the IOC is going to have one hell of a backlash if they try to ban expressions of support for a Christian faith” (americablog.com/2013/09/olympics-going-ban-christian-crosses-stars-david.html).
Russian Oligarchs Need Olympiad for Money Laundering, Sochi Resident Says. “You think that we Sochi residents need the Olympics?” one Sochi taxi driver says. It is the Russian oligarchs who need it so that they can “launder” money. “You can forget about Sochi as a resort” as far as they and the Olympic organizers are concerned. The oligarchs are maing profits, “and we are left without work and are force to try to survive” (http://blogsochi.ru/content/inosmi-kak-iz-sochi-za-30-milliardov-shveitsariyu-i-dubai-delayut.
Few Now in Sochi Speak English and Many Steal from Visitors. A recent visitor to Sochi says he was shocked by how few people in the Olympic city know English and but how much street crime there is. He says someone stole his cellphone on the very first day of his time there. He added that services in general are not up to international standards (blogsochi.ru/content/sochi-glazami-inostrantsa-spetsproezdy-servis-naryady-i-mnogoe-drugoe).
Hunting Season Restricted in Karelia on Olympic Flame Route. Hunters in the Republic of Karelia will not be allowed to engage in their sport in three districts along the route that runners will carry the Olympic flame. That is to prevent any untoward accidents, officials there say. The republic will also deploy “more than 1,000” MVD troops to ensure the safety of the runners (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/19789-olimpiada-stanet-prichinoj-zakrytija-ohotnichego-sezona-v-karelii).
Russian Meteorologists Forecast Above-Freezing Temperatures for Olympics. Russian meteorolgists predict that temperatures will be about normal during the Olympics, with the average temperature being about four degrees centigrade (40 degrees Fahrenheit). The forecasters say that temperatures will be higher than that during the para-Olympiad to follow (ria.ru/eco/20130917/963746379.html#ixzz2f94BgrhN).
Circassians Say ‘Kadyrov Isn’t Kanokov’ after Chechen Leader Opens Monument to Those Who Opposed Russian Advance in 19th Century. Ramzan Kadyrov’s willingness to erect a monument to Chechens who resisted Russian imperialism 150 years ago has prompted Circassians to complain that leaders in their republics are not equally willing to do the same in honor of their ancestors who fought longer than anyone else against Russian forces (hekupsa.com/cherkesiya/obzor/1372-kadyrov-ne-kanokov-on-ne-stesnyaetsya-stavit-pamyatniki-natsionalnym-geroyam).
‘Gay Olympics’ Putting Pressure on Putin, Forcing Others to Take Sides. According to one commentator, the success LGBT activists have had in bringing international attention to Moscow’s policies about gays in the lead up to the Sochi Olympics is putting enormous pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and forcing everyone, the IOC, athletes, journalists, and fans to take a position. “Among the activists’ soft targets,” he says, “are the sports bureaucracies – thousands ad thousands of obscure bodies, specializing inlue or biathlon, in every country on the globe. Each has its own constitutuencies, its own pressure points. And each will have to make the sorts of decisions that sports bureaucrats lvie to avoid: What is our stance on LGBT rights?” Fans will “have to make a choice too” (buzzfeed.com/saeedjones/holding-the-olympics-in-our-gay-world).
Circassian Named Second Krasnodar Deputy Governor. Although “the Circassian question has been bypassed in most discussions of the Sochi Olympics,” Sufian Zhemukhov says in a detailed analysis of their situation, Circassians have gained a second deputy governor in Krasnodar kray with the appointment of Jambulat Khatuyov to that post. “There are now two Circassian deputy governors there,” even though ethnic Circassians form less than one percent of the kray’s population. This event is another indication that Moscow is concerned about the Circassian issue and wants to be able to point to such actions as the Olympiad approaches (circassianworld.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/the-circassian-dimension-of-the-2014-sochi-olympics-by-sufian-zhemukhov/).
Russian Emergency Situations Ministry Prepares for Sochi. Aleksandr Chupriyan, deputy minister for emergency situations, says that his officers have been preparing for the Olympics for six years and are ready for any eventuality (kavpolit.com/mchs-rf-gotovo-k-obespecheniyu-bezopasnosti-zimnej-olimpiady-v-sochi/).
Moscow Television Airs Program ‘The Games Under Lock and Key.’ The MIR channel broadcasts a program on preparations for the Sochi Olympics. As its title suggests, the program stressed that security will be tight, but it also suggested that all the basic facilities for the games will soon be ready (argumenti.ru/society/2013/09/284131).
Sochi Construction Sites Recall Post-War Soviet Union. The extent of destruction of the environment physical and human and the lack of water, electricity, shelter and food “recall the post-war period” of Soviet history, according to one local activist who says that the current situation is increasingly unbearable for Sochi residents and that ever more of them are considering taking part in protest actions like the one the resident of Akhkshtyr have initiated by blocking a major road to attract attention to their plight (blogsochi.ru/content/zhiteli-poselka-akhshtyr-adlerskogo-raiona-sochi-perekryli-dorogu-v-znak-protesta,blogsochi.ru/content/olimp-novosti and blogsochi.ru/content/olimpiiskii-sochi-xxi-vek).
Animal Rights Activists Say Sochi about to Kill More Homeless Cats and Dogs. Despite its promises not to do so, after earlier protests, the Sochi city government appears to be preparing to launch a new campaign to get homeless cats and dogs off the streets by seizing and then killing them, animal rights activists say. To block that, the activists are pushing to build a pound to protect the animals and the city has agreed to provide some financing (blogsochi.ru/content/zashchitniki-khvostatykh-byut-trevogu-i-prosyat-o-pomoshchi andhttp://blogsochi.ru/content/priyut-dlya-bezdomnykh-zhivotnykh-dolzhen-zarabotat-v-sochi-uzhe-v-noyabre).
Petersburg Political Activists Call for Sochi Boycott. A group of activists in Russia’s northern capital have called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympiad unless Moscow releases all political prisoners and respects constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly (rosbalt.ru/piter/2013/09/16/1176073.html).
Sochi Residents Protest Destruction of Shakha River. Sochi residents say that corporations and officials involved in Olympic construction have violated both Russian law and their own promises and are continuing to take gravel from the bed of the Shakha River, effectively destroying that waterway (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/230094/).
Cher Refuses to Sing at Sochi. Cher says she has refused a proposal that she perform at the Sochi Olympiad because of “all the’gay hate’ in Russia.” The unnamed oligarch told her, she said, hat “the Russian people don’t feel the way the government does” about LGBT people (gayapolis.com/news/artdisplay-people.php?artid=25845).
Can Putin Be Trusted about Sochi? HRW Official Asks. Tanya Lokshina, who is Russian program director at Human Rights Watch, says that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that “people of non-traditional sexual orientation are not discriminated against” in Russia is “welcome.””But is he to be trusted? As is often the case [in Russia], it’s one step forward and two steps backward”( http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/13/opinion/lokshina-russia-gay-persecution/index.html).
Russian Fans Burn Chechen Flag at SPB Football Match. Russian fans burned a Chechen flag after a football game in St. Petersburg, the latest indication of the ways in which passions about sports can spill over into ethnic and political conflict (chechenews.com/developments/13840-1.html)..
Circassian Group Says Moscow Plans to Organize Terrorist Incident to Discredit Circassian Cause. The Circassian Parliament, a Circassian NGO, says that it is “100 percent” certain that the Russian security agencies plan to organize a terrorist incident in or around Sochi in order to discredit them. The group says that Moscow may use Chechens now living in western Europe as a means to recruit some who could be presented to the world as Circassian activists (freecircassia.ucoz.com/news/radikalnye_islamisty_sredi_lic_ishhushhikh_politicheskoe_ubezhishhe/2013-09-15-326 and facebook.com/circassian.parlament/posts/292170664258406).
Gay Activists Seek to Hold Parade in Sochi on September 26. LGBT activists in Sochi have asked for permission to hold a gay rights parade on September 26, the day that the IOC plans to hold its final press conference on preparations for the Sochi Olympiad. The request is a clear test of what the Russian authorities will and won’t allow in this area (rus-obr.ru/ru-web/26389).
Tkachev Presses to Remove All Illegal Immigrants from Sochi in 60 Days. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev says his officials will do what hey have to do in order that there will not be any illegal immigrants in Sochi two months from now. Give labor shortges, that effort may run into trouble with companies still trying to complete Olympic-related construction proects (rus-obr.ru/ru-web/26343).
Russia Agrees to More Tolerant Olympic Truce after International Pressure. The Russian government has acceped a UN-prepared Olympic Peace after behind the scenes pressure from other countries that callsfor the Sochi Games to “promote social inclusion without discrimination of any kind.” The document, prepared and approved by the UN every two years, now contains language that all sides support (newsru.com/russia/15sep2013/olymp.html and nytimes.com/2013/09/15/sports/russia-is-persuaded-to-alter-statement-to-call-for-inclusion.html?_r=0).
Sochi Mayor Promises ‘Straightest’ Olympics Ever in YouTube Parody. A satirical YouTube clip shows the Sochi mayor andhis two sidekicks, Cruisin’ and Grindr, promising”the straightest ever Winter Olympics” competitions in which there won’t be any “homosexual hanky-panky.” Bobsled teams will now sit man-woman-man-woman lest there be any samesex contact, curling will be renamed straighting, and downhill skiing will beonly straight line lest there be any swishing. The clip ends with the mayor saying “Come toSochi … but not if homosexuals” (www.gaystarnews.com/article/sochi-mayor-advertises-straightest-ever-winter-olympics-youtube-parody-hit140913 and youtube.com/watch?v=RscB_1srUBA&feature=youtu.be ).
100,000 Still at Work on Olympic Construction. Despite suggestions by Russian officials that basic construction work is completed, “more than 100,000” builders are still working on the sites (kuban.rbc.ru/krasnodar_freenews/13/09/2013/876593.shtml). .
Biathlonists Practice in Mud. Russian biathlon team members who came to Sochi for practice runs had to ski through mud because the weather is too warm to support even manmade snow, officials acknowledge and photographs who (blogsochi.ru/content/sport-i-gryaz-sochi).
Campaign to Have Foreign Officials Boycott Games Attracts More Supporters. Pavel Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Bukovsky, Lev Ponomarev, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Boris Nemtsov, and Irina Privina are just some of the Russian activists who have signed the appeal to foreign leaders not to attend the Sochi Games (change.org/olympicshamesrus).
Sochi Looks as if It has Been Bombed. A survey of the state of work on Olympic sites with fewer than 150 days until the opening ceremony finds that instead of fountains, there are pits,and that instead of a welcoming resort there are places that look like they have been targeted by bombers. Worse, some construction is now having to be torn down and replaced because it was not build properly in the first place or did not contain the necessary water and sewage lines. A recent example is that numerous streets have been torn up because the necessary pipeline infrastructure was not installed in the first place (blogsochi.ru/content/aif-do-olimpiady-v-sochi-menshe-150-dnei-gotov-li-gorod and http://blogsochi.ru/content/do-olimpiady-v-sochi-%E2%80%93-140-dnei).
Sochi Acquires Three More Leaning Towers of Pisa. After officials tore down a house that had begun to lean because of inadequate foundation work, they promised that there would be no more. But now, pictures show, there are at least three additional “leaning towers” in Sochi, more than in the famous Italian city. These structures appear to be collapsing because those who prepared the foundations did not do the necessary work (sochi-24.ru/nedvizhimost/eshe-tri-doma-v-sochi-mogut-prevratitsya-v-pizanskie-bashni.2013913.68009.html).
Anti-Immigrant Sweep Hurting Builders. Any contractor who hires an illegal worker now faces a fine of 800,000 rubles (27,000 US dollars), one that if enforced will mean that many companies won’t have enough workers to do finish their jobs and that many oligarchs behind these companies will lose money, given the numbers of such workers involved (sochinskie-novosti.com/800-%D1%82%D1%8B%D1%81%D1%8F%D1%87-%D0%B7%D0%B0-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%83-%D0%BC%D0%B8%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B0/).Meanwhile, Two Sochi residents have been charged with providing false documentation to illegal migrants to allow them to remain in the city although they are not working as the documents specify (prokuratura-krasnodar.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5779:2013-09-19-08-14-12&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=253).
Circassians Blamed for Armenian Massacres in 1915. As part of Moscow’s anti-Circassian campaign, a Moscow newspaper suggests that Circassians working in the Ottoman Empire played a key role in the mass killing of Armenians there in 1915. This attack is cleverly designed to make it more difficult for Circassians to attract support for their own calls for international recognition of the genocide inflicted on them by Russian forces (segodnia.ru/content/127499).
Circassian Alpinist Says Sochi has Attracted Attention to Circassian People. Karina Mezova, a Circassian mountain climber who has been chosen to carry the Olympic torch up Mount Elbrus, says that the Sochi Games are playing a positive role by attracting more attention to the Circassians than they could have hoped for otherwise. “The very fact that the Olympiad will take place on our land serves as a symbol of the rebirth of the nation…The Olympiad in Sochi is in the first instance recognition of the history of the Circassians theselves and about their culture. It shows that no onehas forgotten about us” (cir.rus4all.ru/city_msk/20130913/724411660.html).
Roundup of Illegals Turning Sochi into ‘a Concentration Camp.’ The anti-immigrant sweep in Sochi is leading to “real ethnic cleansing” there, with many legally registered but non-native people being swept up and detained in what can only be described as “concentration camps,” journalists say (svoboda.org/content/article/25111259.html andblogsochi.ru/content/osada-sochi-kak-olimpiada-prevrashchaetsya-v-chrezvychainuyu-situatsiyu). Activists have even distributed guidance on what to do if officials try to detain someone illegally (blogsochi.ru/content/kak-reagirovat-na-proverki-registratsii).
Profits ‘Real Reason’ Olympic Movement Caving to Russia. Despite claims to the contrary, the Olympic movement is about money, and few in it are prepared to lose any of that in order to promote the rights of LGBT people, according to an analysis of financial flows into the IOC, national Olympic commitees, specialized training groups, and athletes (policymic.com/articles/64021/sochi-2014-the-real-reason-the-olympics-are-caving-to-russia-s-anti-gay-law).
Moscow Not Meeting Its Commitments on Accessibility. In a 118-page report, Human Rights Watch has documented the ways in which Moscow has failed to live up to its commitment to make Olympic venues accessible for people with disabilities (themoscowtimes.com/olympic_coverage/article/russias-disabled-face-uphill-battle/485954.html, kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229977/ and sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%B2-%D0%BA-%D0%B1%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%8C%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%83/)..
Fourth Russian Elected to IOC Despite Large No Vote. Aleksandr Zhukov was elected to the International Olympic Committee despite 29 votes against him. Sochi Games chief Dmitry Chernyshenko says that his election “speaks indirectly of recognition from the side of the IOC of the contribution of [Russia] to the development of the Olympic movement” (en.rsport.ru/olympics/20130910/686270441.html).
Gazprom Becomes FIFA Sponsor, Moscow Proposes to Host Euro 2020. Russia’s Gazprom will sponsor FIFA from2015 to 2018, officials have announced, and the Russian football association says that it will nominate St. Petersburg to host the Euro 2020 competitions (thenewstribune.com/2013/09/15/2785951/russias-gazprom-signs-sponsorship.html anden.rsport.ru/football/20130912/686273236.html).
IOC Refuses to Register Abkhaz and South Osetian Olympic Committees. The IOC has voted to refuse to register the Olympic committees of the two breakaway republics and thus athletes from there will not be allowed to participate in the competitions (insidethegames.biz/olympics/winter-olympics/2014/1016087-exclusive-we-do-not-recognise-nocs-for-abkhazia-or-south-ossetia-says-ioc-official).
Moscow Brings in French Experts to Help Produce Ice for Sochi. In what has to be a major embarrassment, Russian officials have imported ice-making specialists from France to ensure that there will be ice at the Olympic venues for competiions (blogsochi.ru/content/v-tsentre-sannogo-sporta-%C2%ABsanki%C2%BB-namorazhivayut-olimpiiskii-led).
Ecologists Say Environment Harm at Sochi Will be Long-Lasting. Leaders of he Ecologial Watch for the North Caucasus say that the environmental destruction Olympic construction has inflicted on the region will be especially long-lasting because there are no plans on compensating forit after the games are over (blogsochi.ru/content/bystree-vyshe-silnee-protiv-prirody).
Russian Oligarchs Pressing to Get Their Money Back. Russian oligarchs who were pressured into investing in Sochi are now demanding that they be paid even more than they have been, implicitly threatening to walk away from construction unless that happens(sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B3%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%85%D0%B8-%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B0%D1%8E%D1%82-%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BD%D1%83%D1%82%D1%8C-%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%8B-%D0%BD%D0%B0-%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%BF%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%B4%D1%83/).
Moscow Plans to Send 5-10 Billion Rubles More to Sochi for Construction.Vneshenkonbank says that Moscow will sent 5-10 billion rubles 160-320 million US dollars) more for Olympic construction. Whether this will go for new building or to pay off existingcontractors is not clear (ria.ru/sochi2014/20130918/964074030.html#ixzz2fJvuRezp).
Russian Navy Ships to Be Shifted from Syria to Sochi. In order to provide security for the Olympiad, Moscow is four two navy ships from the coast of Syria to the waters off Sochi, officials say (newsru.com/russia/19sep2013/shtil.html).