Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 22 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus
Note: This is my 28th 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 knowlege 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 Insists Gays Not Subject to Discrimination in Russia… Russian President Vladimir Putin says that LGBT people in Russia are not subject to any discrimination in Russia.“We don’t have any laws pointed against persons with a nontraditional sexual orientation here in Russia.” But “Russia has adopted a law that prohibits the propaganda of unconventional sex relations among minors, which is a completely different case.” “I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields,” adding that “We have absolutely normal relations and I don’t see anything out of the ordinary here.” He also said that Russians loved Tchaikovsky even though the composer was said to have been homosexual. “Truth be told, we don’t love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music.” (www.nzweek.com/sport/no-discrimination-in-sochi-vows-putin-76243/ and theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/04/vladimir-putin-gays-russia-discrimination).
… Lashes Out at Western and Especially US Criticism … Putin says that Western commentators are distorting Russia’s record on gay rights as well as on other issues in order to “discredit the conduct of the future Olympic Games” and that “unfortunately wesee these attempts, including from the US” (www.interfax.ru/russia/news.asp?id=326921&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed,
… And Contradicts Himself on Sochi Costs. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest figures on the costs of the Olympics contradict figures that he and his government have been putting out over recent months. Not only has he said that Moscow is spending 29 billion rubles (1 billion US dollars) less than he did several weeks ago, but he suggested this week that private companies were picking up more of the burden than he had indicated earlier. And in his most recent remarks, he left out of account altogether the costs of maintaining the structures after the Olympiad is over. Indeed, Russian officials announced this week that government subsidies have increased rather than fallen as Putin suggests (sochi-24.ru/politika/putin-udeshevil-olimpiadu-v-sochi.201394.67633.html andsochi2014.rsport.ru/sochi2014_news/20130903/684686090.html).
Moscow Media Continue to Say Kremlin is Paying for Sochi by Cutting Benefits to Russian Citizens. Despite upbeat talk by Putin, Russian news outlets are continuing a drumbeat of articles suggesting that the only way the Russian president has been able to find money for his pet project is to cut funding for mothers and children and the elderly. For a survey of such articles, see hekupsa.com/novosti/rossiya/1174-itogi-olimpiady-sochi-2014-uzhe-izvestny and
IOC Says Sochi Will Be Ready, But Observers on the Scene Have Doubts. IOC PresidentJacque Rogge says that “Sochi will be ready for the Olympic Games,” but Sochi residents have their doubts and say that he should be sent a packet of pictures of still far-from-finished sites and of others that have been declared completed but that need far more work to be serviceable (vestnikkavkaza.net/news/sport/44725.html blogsochi.ru/content/dobro-pozhalovat-v-sochi-ili-postoronnim-vkhod-vospreshchen and blogsochi.ru/content/zhak-rogge-vse-neobkhodimye-dlya-olimpiiskikh-igr-v-sochi-obekty-gotovy).
Infrastructure Problems, Construction Accidents Leave Much of Sochi without Power or Water but With Trash and Sewer Smells. Ever more Sochi residents lack regular supplies of water and electricity because of the collapse of infrastructure or accidents caused by incautious approaches to construction. Two things they do have in abundance, however, are mounting piles of trash which no one seems to be prepared to take away and sewage smells as a result of bad hook ups of pipeline or construction damage (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/05/ , blogsochi.ru/content/plyazh-v-mikroraione-golovinka ,
blogsochi.ru/content/kogda-zhe-eto-vse-zakonchitsya, blogsochi.ru/content/327-domov-i-38-sotsialnykh-obektov-v-tsentre-sochi-na-mesyats-ostavyat-bez-goryachei-vody, blogsochi.ru/content/pochemu-gorod-kurort-prevrashchaetsya-v-gorod-svalku, sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/08/30/, sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/04/,
www.sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/03/, blogsochi.ru/content/pochemu-i-kuda-ukhodyat-dengi-i-voda, vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/19451-voprosy-utilizacii-olimpijskogo-musora-v-centre-vnimanija-tkacheva and blogsochi.ru/content/techet-kanalizatsiya).
Sochi Emergency Phone System Still has Only One Line. One part of Sochi infrastructure that is definitely not ready for a massive influx of people is the police emergency number. It has only one line, something that makes it almost impossible for those who need help to get through. This problem may not be as visible as stadiums, but Sochi residents say that it is just as critical and will have to be expanded before visitors will feel secure (blogsochi.ru/content/olimpiiskaya-politsiya-vozmi-trubku).
Some Construction Sites in Sochi So Disastrous that Anti-Vandalism Laws Could Apply. Some of the Olympic support sites are now in such disrepair that local people say they believe – and they provide pictures to support their contention — that Russian laws against vandalism could be brought against those who have built them because the sites look like something vandals have attacked rather than builders built (blogsochi.ru/content/statya-214-uk-rf-vandalizm).
Sochi Region Deeply Conservative. Those concerned about how LGBT people and others will be treated by Sochi residents are likely to be concerned by a new push by Krasnodar Aleksandr Tkachev and his supporters to make that kray “a territory without abortions and civic marriages,” an indication of just how deeply conservative and likely oppsed to gay rights the population there is (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/09/04/).
Russian Officials Roundup Illegal Workers in Sochi Pending Deportation. Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev is supervising the launch of a roundup of illegal workers in the Sochi area, putting them in barracks and tents pending their deportation to their homelands. Conflicts between these workers who number more than 70,000 and contractor are continuing, and Moscow has pledged that all of them will go home in the coming months (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229532/, sochi-24.ru/obshestvo/v-sochi-startuet-zachistka-zhilogo-sektora-ot-nelegalov.201392.67518.html, and sochinskie-novosti.com/).
Moscow Arrests Official who Defrauded Olympstroy. Russian officials have arrested Viktor Matveyev, head of the Tekhnoprom engineering company, for defrauding Olympstroy by stealing 1.6 million US dollars, the latest in a series of such arrests which highlight how much corruption and mismanagement there is in the course of preparations for the games (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229458/, rapsinews.com/judicial_news/20130903/268738636.htm,news.asiaone.com/news/sports/olympics-sochi-contractor-arrested-204-mn-fraud andblogsochi.ru/content/arestovan-podozrevaemyi-v-khishchenii-denezhnykh-sredstv-gk-%C2%ABolimpstroi%C2%BB).
Sochi Adminstration Comes Up with Plan to Legalize Some Illegal Construction.Orders from the city to tear down buildings put up without approval have attracted a great deal of attention, but now the local officials have come up with a procedure so that some of this construction can be legalized after the fact, an arrangement likeliy to be used for those with connections or who are prepared to pay for the privilege (blogsochi.ru/content/sochi-gorod-garmonichnykh-samostroev and sochi-24.ru/nedvizhimost/canatorij-kavkazskaya-rivera-obyazali-snesti-vse-samostroi.201393.67565.html).
Sochi Mayor Keeps Part of His Promise to Make Sochi ‘Unrecognizeable.’ Sochi Mayor Aleksandr Pakhomov has often promised to transform his city into something unrecogniezable. Residents say he has now done that in one place at least albeit in ways he perhaps didn’t want. His plans for a fountain in front of city hall have fallen through; instead there is a large muddy lake because of inadequate drainage (blogsochi.ru/content/ploshchad-pered-gorodskoi-meriei).
Heavy Rains Flood Sochi Streets, Underpasses, Hotels, Rail Station, Airport. The first heavy rains of the fall have flooded much of the city, leading some to ask in desperation, “is Sochi about to become Venice?” The downpours have highlighted just how poorly drained the city is and how Olympic contractors have filed to prepare for any but the very lightest precipitation (blogsochi.ru/content/vnov-zatopilo-podzemnyi-perekhod-vozle-gostinitsy-%C2%ABmoskva%C2%BB , blogsochi.ru/content/venetsiya-net-%E2%80%93-sochi , blogsochi.ru/content/v-mezhdunarodnom-aeroportu-sochi-polnostyu-ustraneny-posledstviya-moshchnogo-livnya, blogsochi.ru/content/potop-v-sochi-na-ulitse-yana-fabritsiusa , blogsochi.ru/content/potop-na-zheleznodorozhnom-vokzale-st-sochi ,blogsochi.ru/content/pervyi-osennii-liven-podtopil-mezhdunarodnyi-aeroport-sochi , sochi-24.ru/proishestviya/dozhd-zatopil-federalnuyu-trassu-sochi-gorod-plyvet.201395.67669.html,regnum.ru/news/economy/1702863.html and regnum.ru/news/accidents/1702902.html).
Sochi Shows How Moscow is Alientating North Caucaus, Israeli Expert Says. Avraam Shmulyevich says that preparations for the Sochi Games, the corruption and the use of force they have involved, are alienating people in the North Caucasus and demonstrating that Russia’s approach to rule there has “completely exhausted itself.” As a result, he suggests, “the 200-yar-long colonial presence of the Russian Empire in the North Caucasus is coming to its logical end” (apn.ru/publications/article29992.htm Авраам Шмулевич ).
Torture in Sochi So Bad Moscow Takes Up Case. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights rarely focuses on individual cases, preferring to look at large categories instead, but a case in Sochi involving torture by police of a worker, Mardiros Demerchyan is so horrific and has received so much attention that the Council has made an exception and is looking into it (ng.ru/politics/2013-09-03/3_sochi.html).
Supporters of Cyrillic ‘Россия’ Stage Demonstration in Sochi. Russians who would like to see Russian athletes wear uniform with Cyrillic rather than Latin script as they usually have in international competitions held a smll demonstration in Sochi to press their case (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229498/ and blogsochi.ru/content/malenkaya-aktsiya-s-bolshimi-posledstviyami).
Some Olympic Construction Ignoring Fire Protection Norms. Officials have found that several buildings in the Olympic area have gone up without the fire protection arrangements that Russian law requires and ordered that the construction be retrofitted to make them safe (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/229366/).
Human Rights First Calls on US to Defend Gay Rights in Russia. HRF nd its leader Innokenty Grekov says that the United States should “live up to its ideals” and put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to scrap the country’s anti-gay legislation and enforce laws protecting individuals from abuse. The group notes that President Barack Obma has “pledged leadership on LGBT rights” and says that such “leadership is needed now” (huffingtonpost.com/erwin-de-leon/syria-sochi-and-gay-rights-at-the-g20-summit_b_3855984.html).
Voice of Russia Says Moscow has Improved Environment around Sochi. Despite widespread criticism by local people and often-harassed groups like Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, the Voice of Russia channel says that Sochi is a model of sustainability, environmental protection, and even ecological restoration (voiceofrussia.com/2013_09_04/Sochi-2014-sports-sustainability-and-protection-of-nature-1882/ and voiceofrussia.com/2013_09_04/Why-Olympics-do-not-cause-damage-to-the-environment-3141/?from=menu).
IOC Rules Intended to Protect NBC May Put LGBT Athletes at Risk. IOC rules prohibiting athletes from filming or uploading film about the events at Sochi may put LGBT athletes at risk if the latter take still pictures, allowed under the rules, and then post them in ways that could allow someone else to “stitch together” a moving picture of the event, commentator says. That would give the IOC yet another supposedly neutral tool to enforce Russian prohibitions (huffingtonpost.com/julio-fernandez/post_5527_b_3850708.html).
Human Rights Watch Says IOC Must Consider Rights Issues in Awarding Games. Given the problems with human rights issues in Beijing and now in Sochi, HRW’s Minky Worden says, “you cannot have a successful Olympics where you have major human rights abuses” and consequently the IOC needs to factor in such issues in its decisions on where competitions will beheld in the future (usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2013/09/03/ioc-human-rights-issues-bid-cities/2760625/).
Lady Gaga Repeats Call for Boycotting Sochi. Singer Lady Gaga says that the international community should boycott Sochi and boycott Russian goods given Moscow’s anti-gay atttitudes and law. “I care so much about these issues, and I don’t think we should be bringing any commerce to a country which enforces such a lack of equality and a lack of human rights. … How can we bring so much attention to that part of the world and reward them for that?” (ontopmag.com/article.aspx?id=16298&MediaType=1&Category=22).
Sochi Journalist’s House Arrest Extended. Nikolay Yarst, a journalist who got in trouble with the authorities for his coverage of Sochi problems, has had his house arrest extended for yet another month by the courts there (blogsochi.ru/content/nikolayu-yarstu-prodlili-domashnii-arest-na-mesyats).
Sochi Road Builders Working Round the Clock. Far behind schedule, contractors building roads in the Sochi area are now working 24/7 in the hopes that they can complete the work (blogsochi.ru/content/roman-starovoit-otsenil-tempy-rabot-na-trekh-olimpiiskikh-obektakh-rosavtodora-v-sochi).
Sochi Officials Violate Constitution and Laws on Local Self-Administration. The Sochi city government is running roughshod over Russian law governing local self-administration, ignoring the rights of these organizations and the protests of citizens who have organized a Law and Order group in order to do whatever it and Moscow wants. According to Blogsochi.ru, anger about this is intensifying (blogsochi.ru/content/rastoptannoe-samoupravlenie-sochi and
Moscow Works Hard to Protect Olympic Brand. Russian officials have seized 38 major shipments of tourist goods that illegally use the Sochi brand. They had expected this flow to come primarily from China and Asia but now say much of it is coming from Poland and Ukraine (itar-tass.com/c20/862606.html).
‘Boycott’ Enters Russian Language, Moscow Portal Says. Snob.ru in its monthly survey of new terms Russians are using says that in August “boycott” was near the top of the list because of demands by LGBT and human rights groups that the West boycott the Sochi Games (snob.ru/magazine/entry/64617).
Canadian Hockey Star Says She Will Speak Out. Hayley Wickenheiser, former Olympic gold medalism and someone routinely described as “the greatest women’s hockey player of all time,” says she will speak out in defense of LGBT rights in Moscow this fall and in Sochi next February (examiner.com/article/wickenheiser-adds-voice-to-anti-gay-laws-russia).
Moscow Journalist Says Sochi Opponents Should Boycott Sponsors’ Products. Aleksandr Plushchev says that those who oppose holding the Olympics in Sochi because of gay rights issues or any other reason will have the best chance to promote their views by boycotting not the games themselves but the products of their sponsors. Boycotts of that kind will get the attention of corporations, and the corporations in turn will put pressure on the IOC and Moscow (echo.msk.ru/blog/plushev/1148286-echo/).
Official Sochi Sponsors Losing Race with Non-Affiliated Rivals. The Global Language Monitor says in a report that the official sponsors of the Sochi Olympics are not succeeding in the ways their predecessors have. Not only do they not appear to be getting the bounce such sponsorship usually provides, but they are regularly being beaten out by non-affiliated rivals in promoting Sochi Olympics brand awareness (euronews.com/sport/2094834-sponsors-in-branding-battle-for-sochi/).
Saakashvili Organizes Movement to Boycott Games. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s party has organied a new movement calling for the boycott of the Sochi Games, in the first instance, to call attention to the fact that “Russia is occupying Georgian territory” (kavpolit.com/partiya-saakashvili-formiruet-dvizhenie-protiv-olimpiady-v-sochi/kavpolit.com/cherkesy-pomogut-gruzii-sorvat-olimpiadu/ and izvestia.ru/news/556374).
Transportation Limitations May Make Supplying Food During Games Difficult.Russian officials are trying to figure out how to ensure that trucks bringing food into Sochi will be able to continue to do so under the draconian restrictions President Vladimir Putin has introduced in the name of security. At present, more than 2,000 trucks bring in food every day, a number certain to go up at the time of the Games (sochiadm.ru/press-sluzhba/19369/).
Sochi Play for London Stage Ready in 17 Days. Tess Berry-Hart, who was commissioned to write a play for the London stage on the problems of LGBTs and Sochi, finished her draft in just 17 days. The play will now be shown at the King’s Head Theatre in north London (independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/news/gay-russia-finds-a-voice-in-london-play-8793026.html and gaystarnews.com/article/sochi-2014-play-highlight-plight-gay-people-russia010913).
Swedish Olympic Committee Orders Its Athletes Not to Demonstrate in Any Way at Sochi. After several Swedish athletes painted their nails to show support for gay rights at the World Championships in Moscow, Swedish Olympic officials issued an order to its athletes that they must not do so in Sochi, yet another indication that the IOC will be enforcing much of Moscow’s policy in this area (icenews.is/2013/09/01/sweden-bans-rainbow-painted-nails-for-russia-winter-olympics/).
Dateline Sochi, February 8, 2014. A satirical article describes how the Sochi Games might be cancelled. It says that “the Olympic games in Sochi were cancelled after Russian authorities arrested almost three-quarters of the athletes. One of the first to be arrested was a Dutch speed skater whose iPod contained the greatest hits of the Village People. He is currently awaiting bail.The entire US hockey team was arrested en masse, because the Russian authorities deemed their jeans too tight. A clear sign of gayness, according to one unnamed source at the FSB” (examiner.com/article/winter-olympics-cancelled).
Circassians Release 796 Pages of Documentation on Genocide. Given continued Russian denials about the genocide of the Circassian people by tsarist forces in 1864, Circassian groups have released 796 pages of documents in English that show what happened. Most Circassians continue to oppose the games in Sochi because they will take place where the genocide happened and on its 150th anniversary (circassian-genocide.info/Documents/English.pdf).
Sochi is a Circassian Word, Even Russian Sources Admit. Igor Sizov has published in 1500 copies a book in Russian on “The Olympic Names of Sochi.” A native of the city, he has drawn on Circassian and Russian sources and acknowledges that the name Sochi itself is of Circassian origin. A fuller analysis of his book will be the subject of a Window on Eurasia in the coming days (spb.itar-tass.com/c20/862541.html).
Circassian Memorial Day Now Marked in 52 Countries. Since Kabardino-Balkaria adopted a memorial day for the victims of the Caucasus war, the holiday has now spread to 52 countries, where many of those involved are certain to demonstrate against holding the Olympiad on a site sacred to the memory of the victims (natpress.net/index.php?newsid=11096).
Olympic Construction Destroying Shapsug Region. Construction related to the Sochi Games is destroying the place where the Shapsugs, a subgroup of Circassians, have lived from time immemorial, sparking protests but no official change of course (nazaccent.ru/content/8963-iskonnym-mestam-prozhivaniya-shapsugov-grozit-ekologicheskaya.html and zapravakbr.ru/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=134%3A2013-08-21-15-28-52).
Rio 2016 Games Said in Trouble. Russian agencies have picked up Brazilian reports that the Olympics planned for Rio de Janiero in 2016 are short of funds and behind schedule, something that raises the question as to whether they will be held there (itar-tass.com/c20/860202.html).
Sochi Schools Practice Disaster Drills. Sochi schools, which resumed classes early because of the Olympic schedule, now are conducting disaster drills in the event of a natural calamity or terrorist attack (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/08/30/ ).
Illegal Amphetamines Seized in Sochi. More drugs appear to be flowing into Sochi, and officials have announced that they seized a major shipment coming in by train (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/08/29/).
When Gay Rights Were an Issue at Earlier Olympics, Officials Moved the Competitions. A county in the US state of Georgia adopted an anti-gay ordinance just before the Atlantic Games. That sparked controversy. In response, officials moved the venues out of that county to other locations in and around the city of Atlanta (aroundtherings.com/articles/view.aspx?id=44348).
Founder of Hockey’s You Can Play Organization Calls Russian Law ‘Archaic.’ Brian Burke, director of player personnel for the US Olympic Hockey Team and founder of the gay rights organization You Can Play, which he set up in honor of his son, says Russia’s anti-gay laws are “archaic” and must be denounced. “Russia has made the organization founded in honor of my son illegal, and it has attempted to silence our family,” he says. “We refuse to recognize its right to do so. The cruel and misguided legislation will fail — laws based on ignorance, bias and bigotry always do. But until they are repealed, the LGBT citizens of Russia will suffer horribly. It’s time for all of us to stand in support of them” (latimes.com/sports/sportsnow/la-sp-sn-sochi-olympics-brian-burke-anti-gay-laws-20130829,0,6263335.story).
Russian Athletes Increasingly Cautious about Gay Rights Law. One Russian tennis player denied she knew anything about the new law, and another said, “I have my own opinion about this but I don’t know if I should comment.” Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the 2004 US Open, said “you can be whoever you want to be as long as you’re happy,” but “in Russia if you don’t support Putin, you are in big, big trouble” (gaystarnews.com/article/us-tennis-star-quits-speaks-out-russia%E2%80%99s-anti-gay-laws290813).
Ethnic Conflicts Have Often Marked Russian Football Competitions. An article in the latest issue of “Voprosy natsionalizma” documents that ethnicity and ethnic conflicts have long been part and parcel of football matches in the Russian Federation because they are occasions in which people can display their feelings most easily (www.scribd.com/doc/159998034/ ).