Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown — 27 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus
Note: This is my 23rd 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 email@example.com Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
IOC Says ‘Highest Level’ in Moscow Promises Anti-Gay Propaganda Law Won’t Be Enforced in Sochi… The International Olympic Committee says that it believes that the Olympics should take place “without discrimination toward athletes, officials, fans and journalists” and that it has been assured “at the highest level” in Moscow – presumably Russian President Vladimir Putin – that Russia’s new and extremely controversial anti-LGBT laws will not be enforced in Sochi during the February 2014 games (newsru.com/russia/28jul2013/freehugs.html andthemoscowtimes.com/
… But Author of Russia’s Anti-Gay Law Says Measure Will Be … Vitaly Milonov, the Duma deputy who drafted Russia’s anti-gas law, says that there is no reason to believe that the law will not be enforced during the Sochi Olympics. “If a law has been approved by the federal legislature and signed by the president, then the government has no right to suspend it. It doesn’t have the authority.” Milonov’s comments follow statements by the International Olympic Committee that it has been assured by “the highest levels” of the Russian government that competitors and fans in Sochi will not be arrested or prosecuted under the terms of this law. At a minimum Milonov’s comments raise new questions about what might happen to openly gay competitors or fans (huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/30/russia-anti-gay-olympic-games-sochi_n_3676311.html?ir=Gay+Voices and inquisitr.com/879857/russian-official-says-gay-athletes-could-be-arrested-at-2014-sochi-olympics/).
…As Does Russian Sports Minister. Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s minister for sports, said that both athletes and fans at the Sochi Olympics will be subject to Russia’s law against “propagandizing” homosexuality. “No one is forbidding an athlete with non-traditional sexual orientation from coming to Sochi, but if he goes onto the street and starts propagandizing it, then of course he will be held accountable,” Mutko said, thus contradicting what the IOC said was its understanding and setting Moscow and the world’s LGBT community on a collision course (en.rsport.ru/olympics/20130801/677412795.html).
US State Department Says Washington Does Not Support Sochi Boycott. Jen Psaki, a US State Department spokesperson, said the United States does not support a boycott of the Sochi Olympics. “That’s certainly not what we’re calling for,” she said at the daily press briefing, adding that “the US of cours e places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people” (washingtonblade.com/2013/07/26/u-s-opposes-boycott-of-sochi-olympics/).
Online Petition Seeks to Put Authors of Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law on Magnitsky List.An online petition to US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to gather 100,000 signatures by August 25 to put Vitaly Milonov and Elena Mizulina, the two Duma deputies behind the Russian anti-gay legislation on the Magnitsky List, a step that would block their travel to the United States (petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/put-elena-mizulina-and-vitaly-milonov-visa-ban-list-their-role-creating-russias-ban-gay-propaganda/mYMFcF9W).
Were Putin Targettng Jews Rather than Gays, World Would React Swiftly and Surely, Guardian Commentator Says. “Had Putin reignited Russia’s abuse of its Jewish citizens,” Nancy Goldsteiin writes in The Guardian,” it would have been unthinkable fo rhte IOC to issue a statement suggesting that non-Russian Jewish athletes, pundits and spectators could go have blast in Sochi because we’d be spared the anti-Semitic violence sweeping the rest of the country. There’s just no way. The American Jewish community and the Obama adminsitraiton would have (rightly) enacted trade sanctions instantly. There would have been no statement from the State Department like the one issued the same day as the IOC announcement saying that it does not support a boycott of the games.” She continues “So how does a pogrom against LGBT people and our allies pass muster in 2013? Twenty-first century queers aren’t going to wait quietly for a diplomatic solution while each month more of us are tortured and more of us are murdered” (theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/29/russia-war-on-gays-sochi-olympics).
More than 500 Anti-LGBT Groups Have Been Formed in Russia. More than 500 online groups have been created on the Vkontkte network to attack LGBT people in the Russian Federation. Some of these groups have tortured gays, but none of them have been the subject of prosecution (bilerico.com/2013/07/russian_skinheads_entrapping_torturing_lgbt_teens.php and
locallawenforcementcondoneshomophobia). A particularly horrific example is documented at americablog.com/2013/07/boycott-russia-stoli-vodka-gay.html and vocativ.com/07-2013/russian-cops-sodomize-olympic-construction-worker-in-dispute-over-600-in-back-pay/.
Can Anyone Really Believe Russian Skinheads Will Torture Only Russian LGBTs?In a commentary in The Guardian, Nancy Goldstein says that the IOC and Putin aren’t “kidding” anyone with their assurances that foreign LGBT people will be safe in Sochi. Do they really think “That we can’t recognize Third Reich-style politics or bureaucratic complacency? That, per the IOC, “it remains to be seen whether and how” the recently-passed legislation “will be implemented”? Gentlemen, guess again. Because we have access to the internet, Facebook, and Twitter (where John Aravosis of AmericaBlog aptly snarked, “The IOC has promised ‘safe passage’ for gays attending the Sochi Olympics in 2014 – the skinheads will reportedly only beat up Russian fags.”) We are already “affected” by a steady stream of articles, images, and videos coming out of Russia that very clearly document what implementation of these first stages of Putin’s final solution looks like” (theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/29/russia-war-on-gays-sochi-olympics).
Parallels with Hitler’s 1936 Olympic Games. As part of an exhibit on the 1936 Berlin Olympics, entitled “The Façade of Hospitality,” the US Holocaust Museum pointed out that “in anticipation of both the Witner Olympics and the Summer Games, Hitler directed that signs stating ‘Jews not wanted’ and similar slogans should be removed from primary traffic arteries … Also in preparation for the arrival of Olympic spectators, Nazi officials ordered that foreign visitors should not be subjected to the criminal strictures of the Nazi anti-homosexual laws,” steps taken when there were threats of a boycott of the games after Hitler initially declared that blacks, Jews, aand homosexuals would not be allowed to take part in the competition (ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/olympics/detail.php?content=facade_hospitality_more&).
US Olympic Committee Tells Sports Groups It Seeks to “Ensure Safety” of All at Sochi. In a July 25 letter to the heads of US sports organizations, the US Olympic Committee says it is working with the IOC and the US Department of State to “ensure the safety of all attendees and participants at the Sochi Olympics” (joemygod.blogspot.com/2013/07/us-olympic-committee-were-working-to.html).
Despite Appeals, NBC Says Only It Will Cover Gay Issues if ‘Relevant’ to Sochi Games. The Human Rights Campaign has appealed to the NBC television network to focus on Russian attacks on LGBTs not ony in Sochi but across Russia, but the network has responded that it will deal with human rights issues only “as they are relevant at the time of the Games” and will not address the broader implications of Russian policies directed against LGBTs elsewhere in Russian society (blogs.denverpost.com/ostrow/2013/07/27/nbc-2014-sochi-olympics-plans/15635/ andhrc.org/files/assets/resources/ChadGriffin_NBCUniversal_07242013.pdf).
Video Goes Viral on ‘How Not to Act Too Gay During the Sochi Olympics.’ A video purporting to be a “Putin Airlines” flight safety film provides some humorous guidance for LGBTs who may be thinking about visiting Sochi and want to avoid running afoul of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law (americablog.com/2013/07/putin-airlines-russia-gay-olympics-boycott.html).
Russian Gay Activists Say Allies Abroad Must Make Trips by Senior Russians ‘Hell.’ Twenty gay activists in Russia have called for international pressure against Russian officials and businessmen. One of them, Masha Gessen, said that the group’s goal is “that any foreing trip made by Russian officials or representatives of big Russian companies becomes hell.” Other activists called for boycotting Russian brands such as Stolichnaya vodka (sportsillustrated.cnn.com/more/news/20130729/russia-anti-gay-laws-sochi-olympics.ap/).
LGBTs Intend to Open Sochi Games with Gay Parade. Nikolay Alekseyev, the leader of the Moscow LGBT movement, said his group plans to open the Sochi Games with a gay parade to call attention to their plight in Russia today and to highlight the hypocrisy of the International Olympic Committee (blogsochi.ru/content/zimnyaya-olimpiada-v-sochi-otkroetsya-gei-praidom and sochi-24.ru/sochi-2014/lgbt-soobshestvo-namereno-provesti-gej-prajd-na-olimpiade.2013729.66005.html).
US Media Debates Russia’s Anti-LGBT Laws and Sochi Games. The New York Times has called for the United States and the International Olympic Committee to take a “more forceful” position against Russia’s anti-gay laws. Other media outlets also are discussing what the US should do with regard to Sochi. Two gay-rights groups, All Out and Athlete Ally, called for a “speak out, not sit out” campaign to “encourage gay-rights activism before and during the Games,” Sports Illustrated reported. “Staging the Games in Russia with these laws in place is like holding the Olympics in Johannesburg (South Africa) at the height of apartheid,” it quoted Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, as saying. “President Putin will risk his country’s international reputation if these Games go ahead with laws in place that are in fundamental opposition to Olympic values” (sportsillustrated.cnn.com/more/news/20130729/russia-anti-gay-laws-sochi-olympics.ap/).
Freedom House Head Says Athletes Should Go to Sochi But Obama and Western Leaders Shouldn’t. David Kramer, president of Freedom House, argues that the situation in Russia with regard to democracy and human rights has deteriorated so far that while US athletes should show the flag in Sochi, neither US President Barack Obama nor other Western leaders should be present to lend their authority to “Putin’s oment of glory” (the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1467#sthash.tJXTnPoy.dpuf).
Canadians Debate Boycotting Sochi over Russia’s Anti-LGBT Stance. Canadian commentators and politicians are engaged in an intense debate over how best to protest what VladimirPutin and the Russian government are doing with respect to LGBT rights. At present, those arguing for taking part and protesting in Sochi appear to have the upper hand (www2.macleans.ca/2013/07/29/on-whether-or-not-to-boycott-the-sochi-olympics/,straight.com/life/404616/vancouver-mayor-gregor-robertson-expresses-alarm-about-russias-antigay-laws-and-sochi-winter-olympics and globalnews.ca/news/741858/boycotting-sochi-olympics-would-hurt-athletes-not-russia-tewksbury/).
Reykjavik Mayor Wants to End Sister City Ties with Moscow. Jón Gnarr, mayor of Iceland’s capital, has called for ending that city’s ties with Moscow because of the anti-gay policies of the Russian government (advocate.com/news/world-news/2013/07/15/icelandic-mayor-wants-cut-ties-moscow-over-gay-propaganda-ban).
West Urged to Offer Asylum to Russian LGBTs. Ari Ezra Waldman, writing onTowleroad.com, argues that Vladimir Putin’s hateful policies toward LGBT can best be countered by demonstrations in Sochi like Jesse Owens in Hitler’s Berlin in 1936 and by the advertisement of an offer by Western governments to give asylum to Russian LGBTs who are threatened by Putin’s regime (towleroad.com/2013/07/russian-hate-an-american-boycott-and-the-sochi-olympic-games.html).
Petition Calling for Sochi Sponsors to Pull Out Garners 40,000 Signatures in Days. An petition calling for major corporate sponsors of the Sochi Games such as Coca Cola, Panasonic, Visa, Samsung and Proctor & Gamble because of Russia’s anti-LGBT laws attracted 40,000 signatures in the first several days it was online (https://www.change.org/petitions/stand-against-russia-s-brutal-crackdown-on-gay-rights-urge-winter-olympics-2014-sponsors-to-condemn-anti-gay-laws#share).
Stolichnaya Tries to Limit Boycott of Its Vodka. Faced with a boycott of Stolichnaya vodka in gay bars in the West, the Stolichnaya company has launched an ad campaign saying it stands with the LGBT community and is in fact produced in Latvia. But that effort is being dismissed by most because Stolichnaya advertises itself as an “iconic” Russian product, is made from Russian raw matrials and is owned by one of Russia’s richest men (slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2013/07/24/why-im-boycotting-russian-vodka andwww.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151744572421162&set=a.10150706106991162.422247.91352931161&type=1&theater).
As Problematic as Sochi Is, 2018 World Cup in Russia Could Be Much Worse. Ben Mathis-Lilley, a commentator for Buzzfeed, points out that as troubling as the LGBT situation in Sochi clearly is, that which will be presented by the 2018 World Cup there will be much worse because the competition will last longer,involve more people, and certainly feature “openly gay world-class soccer players.” That event and its successor in Qatar in 2022, instead of featuring “convergence or at least an uneasy comingling of values … [is likely to be one in which there will be] two worlds moving further apart, one into the darkness and one into the light. If anything good is to come from the Russian government’s recent inhumane behavior, perhaps it’s this: showing how much trouble we’re headed for … while there’s still time to do something about it” (buzzfeed.com/bml/think-the-sochi-olympics-are-a-human-rights-disaster-things).
Putin’s ‘Gangster Olympics’ Seen Becoming ‘A Festival of Corruption.’ Esquiremagazine notes that the Olympics have always involved corruption but that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to push this “to the ultimate extreme” and make them “a festival of corruption.” As a result, he “has become the world’s darkest joke. Sochi will be the punchline. But the joke is ultimately on us, on the rest of the world” because in contrast to past games where “through a combination of taste and fear, the corrupt [sought] to remain hidden,” in Sochi, “the corrupt don’t need to restrain themselves or to hide anymore. That’s truly something worth watching: We’ll finally get to see wha the world would be like if the gangsters ran it” (esquire.com/blogs/news/2014-gangster-olympics).
Russia’s Labor and Migration Laws “Not Operative in Sochi.” Even as the debate rages over whether Moscow will enforce its anti-LGBT laws during the Olympics, one part of the Russian legal code, that governing the rights of workers, is not being enforced there. According to Sergey Simonov, head of the Migration and Law human rights network, “Olympic objects are a zone where migration and labor laws do not operate.” Gastarbeiters are routinely not paid for their work, forced to work extra hours, and kept in inhumane conditions before being expelled. And at least part of these actions are encouraged by local and regional officials who, like Krasnodar Kray Governor Aleksandr Tkachev periodically make openly racist comments about such workers (blogsochi.ru/content/olimpiada-za-besplatno).
Yerevan to Send Armenian Policemen to Help with Sochi Security. Russian Interior Minsiter Vladimir Kolokoltsev says that Armenian policemen will “help their Russian colleagues provide security at the Winter Games in 2014” (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/18644-armjanskie-policejskie-priedut-na-olimpiadu-v-sochi).
Chinese Plan to Build Copy of Sochi as Russian Tourist Destination. The Chinese government has announced plans to build a copy of Sochi in order to attract more Russian touritsts. To ensure that the copy will be “no worse than the original,” Rossiiskaya gazetasays, the Chinese have turned to Russian officials for help with the design (rg.ru/2013/07/30/sochi.html).
Circassian Initiative Group Calls on US Congress to Boycott Sochi Games. The initiative group for the restoration of the work of the Circassian National Parliament has called on the US Congress to boycott the Sochi Olympics and has warned that there are rumors the Russian security services plan to organize “a bloody provocation” in order to discredit the Circassian nation and its demands (facebook.com/circassian.parlament?hc_location=timeline).
Did Moscow Make a Deal with Islamists for Security at Kazan Universaide? One analyst has suggested that there is a possibility that the Russian authorities made a deal with Islamists in advance of the Kazan competitions under the terms of which the Islamists would not organize an attack and the Russian government would not attack them (regnum.ru/news/1689390.html).
Olympics Hasn’t Improved Russian Building Materials Market, Moscow Minister Says. Igor Slyunayev, Russia’s regional development minister, says that the Sochi Olympics has not proved the boon for Russia’s construction industry and has led to little modernization in that sector either (vesti-sochi.tv/olimpiada/18591-olimpiada-ne-stala-katalizatorom-razvitija-rossijskogo-rynka-strojmaterialov).
Only One Sochi Resident in 20 Now Supports City’s Mayor for Re-Election. An informal poll found that only five percent of Sochi residents back the re-election of Sochi Mayor Antaoly Pakhomov and not the 75 percent he routinely claims. Pakhomov has angered local residents for his coziness to Olympic construction efforts and his general unwillingness to defend the rights and interests of rsidents (blogsochi.ru/content/reiting-mera-sochi-anatoliya-pakhomova-5).
There’s More than One Russian Bear in the Woods Around Sochi. For the first time in 20 years, officials are conducting a census of bears in the woods around the Olympic venue. They estimate that there could be as many as 200 to 210 bears in the woods (www.sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/07/31/).
Seven New Fast Cutters to Provide Security on the Sochi Waterfront. Seven ships capable for speeds of up to 80 kilometers an hour will patrol the waters off Sochi during the games, Moscow officials say (sochi-24.ru/sochi-2014/v-sochi-dvizhutsya-sem-sudov-dlya-bezopasnosti-olimpiady.2013724.65830.html).
Sochi Cultural-Ethnographic Center Won’t Refer to All Peoples of Russia. Organizer of the Cultural-Ethnographic Center in Sochi say that because there are so many different nations in Russia, the center will not refer to many of them but rather speak in general terms about the culture of the country’s peoples, an indication that the Circassians who have long sought special recognition given the genocide conducted against them in Sochi in 1864 probably won’t be getting it in this Olympics-related facility (sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/07/31).
Snowden’s Father Wants to Attend Sochi Olympics. The father of Edward Snowden, who leaked documents about US intelligence operations and now is in Moscow, says he wants to attend the Sochi Olympiad (https://www.sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/07/31).
Sochi Olympics Most Corrupt Ever, Experts Say. Andre Jennings, author of “Lords of the Rings” says that while the Beijing games were corrupt, they likely were “a little less corrupt than [those in] Putin’s mafia state,” a performance likely to go down in history, David Zinn, another sports expert, says in The Guardian “as perhaps the most audacious act of embelement in human history” and something no “sports fan with a conscience should support.” As for Putin, “if there is any justice, these games will mark the beginning of his end, as the veil is lifted nad the cost of his rule is revealed in stark relief for all to see. Putin’s got to go” (theguardian.com/sport/2013/jun/18/putin-kraft-superbowl-ring-sochi-winter-olympics).
Sochi Authorities Allow Law and Order Movement to Meet But Only Outside the City. The Sochi city administration has given the Law and Order movement the right to hold a meeting but not in the city center as the group had hoped but only beyond the city limits, a restriction that has prompted organizers of the August 3 event to call on residents to “take back [their] city” by meeting where they had intended. That sets up a potential conflict with the city police (blogsochi.ru/content/kruglyi-stol-i-sobranie-grazhdan).
Tourism Down 40 Percent in Sochi This Summer. The number of tourists in Sochi this summer is down 40 percent from a year ago, with many put off by construction and high prices and with some of those arriving more interested in viewing the new sites than in using the beaches and other natural sites (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/227828/).
Sochi Ranks Third in Per Capita Government Spending Among Russian Cities. The Russian government this year is spending 48,000 rubles (1,600 US dollars) per resident in Sochi, putting the Olympic city in third place behind Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to new data. But Sochi residents say their city will decline in this list as Olympic construction subsidies end this year (https://blogsochi.ru/content/raskhody-goroda-na-odnogo-zhitelya).
Shapsugs Ready to Block Highway to Protest Destruction of Their Villages. Shapsugs living in the auls of Bolshaya and Malaya Kichmaya near Sochi, whose native lands have been destroyed by Olympic construction, feel that they now have no choice but to block major highways in order to call attention to their plight (hekupsa.com/anonsy/1088-borba-za-shakhe-prodolzhaetsya).