Friday, May 3, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 40 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 12th 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  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble

Circassians in Jordan Call for Boycott of Sochi Games.  The Circassian community of Jordan says in an open letter to the US president that “holding the Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014 over occupied Circassian territory by Russia is a violation of the international Olympic Charter” and that the games should be moved or boycotted (

Circassians in North Caucasus Call on Moscow to Recognize Genocide. Although they say that the Sochi Games must not be politicized, the leaders of several Circassian organizations in the North Caucasus say that Moscow must recognize that a genocide was committed against their people in 1864 and that Moscow must follow international practice and include materials about the Circassians and other North Caucasians in its presentation about the Games (

Circassians in West Call for Demonstrations at Russian Embassies Against Sochi Games.Ten Circassian organizations in Europe and the United States call for demonstrations in front of Russian diplomatic missions on May 21, the anniversary of the Circassian genocide, and say that “despite our objections, Russia is hosting the Olympic Games in the city of Sochi. This event will be used to market the Russian culture and identity and the high characteristics of the Russian people. The Olympic Games will be used to disguise the history of the genocide and to break Sochi’s connection with Circassia. Only the power of the public conscious of the world, and Circassians themselves, will stop this recklessness” (

Tatar Leader in US Calls for US Boycott of Kazan Universiade. Vil Mirzayanov, the émigré Tatar leader in the US who teaches at Princeton, has called on the United States to boycott the Universiade in Kazan, an athletic competition in Tatarstan that has presented itself as the prelude to the Sochi Games (

Estonian Political Figures Urge Boycott of Sochi Games. A group of Estonian political figures, including former prime minister Mart Laar, call for Georgia and other countries to boycott the Olympic competition in Sochi to protest Russian actions in the North Caucasus both  now and in the past (

Georgian Athletes Will Compete at Sochi.  Despite the objections of President Mikhail Saakashvili and some other Georgians, the Georgian Olympic Commttee unanimously approves Georgian participation in the games (

Tbilisi Official Says Turkey Wants to Ship Cargo for Sochi Through Georgia. Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian prime minister’s special representative for relations with Russia, says that Turkey is interested in shipping cargo for the Sochi games via Georgia, an arrangement that “can bring solid revenues to the Georgian budget” (

Russian Police ‘Forcibly Disperse’ Protest at Sochi Olympic Site.  Human Rights Watch reports that Russian security agencies and private firms “forcibly dispersed a group of residents protesting construction at a proposed power site” in Sochi. Several of the protesters were injured as a result ( and

Notorious ‘Fan Passport’ Apparently Not Dead. Although Russian officials earlier said they were dropping plans to require that people attending the Sochi Games provide special information in order to get a “fan passport” as part of security arrangements for the game, a Moscow news agency reports that the idea is very much alive and that those who want to be spectators at Sochi will have to apply for and get one of these in addition to purchasing tickets (

Sochi Officials Press Ahead with Demolition of More Buildings.  Asserting that several hundred buildings in the city have been put up without permission, Sochi officials are moving to tear them down at the expense of those who erected them, something some people in Sochi believe is being done selectively in a way that opens the door to more corruption (

Work on Olympic Sites Accelerates, Officials Ask Residents for ‘Understanding.’  Despite regular claims that everything is under control, contractors who are building Olympic venues and support facilities have increased their work tempos and have asked residents for “understanding” about the dislocations this is causing (

Sochi Contractors ‘Shortchanging Workers in Rush to Complete’ Sochi Construction. The Moscow Times says that contracts working on Sochi sites have failed to pay their workers and have committed numerous violations of labor law “in the rush to complete billions of dollars of construction” (

New Mass Graves Reported in Sochi.  Many Circassians fear that Olympic construction will disturb mass graves of their ancestors, but some Sochi residents report finding a new mass grave, this one including the bodies of Central Asian gastarbeiters who had been working on Olympic construction sites. Journalists are currently investigating these reports (

Even Nature Appears to Be Against Sochi Games, Observers Say. In addition to the problems associated with holding the first winter games in a subtropical zone, Sochi faces the likelihood of earthquakes and flooding, experts say ( Indeed, the city’s mayor is already making plans to evacuate Sochi residents in the event of the latter (

Sharapova Says She’s Glad Games Will Take Place in Sochi. International tennis star Maria Sharapova, who lived for several years in Sochi before emigrating to the US, told Russia’s Dozhd’ television channel that she’s “very happy that we’ll have the Olympics” (

Obama, Putin Discuss Security at Sochi.  The White House announces that US President Barack Obama called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “discuss security measures for the Sochi Olympics in light” of the Boston bombing” and “cooperation on counterterrorism and security issues going forward, including with respect to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi” (

Russia Firms to Combat Counterfeit Olympic Goods.  Faced with the likelihood that Sochi may be flooded by goods that violate licensing arrangements for Olympic goods, a group of Russian firms has reached agreement on opposing the appearance and sale of any such products at Sochi (

Journalists Criticized for Linking All Events in North Caucasus to Sochi.  A commentary on the site says that journalists reporting on preparations for the Sochi Games have sparked “alarmism” among the public by linking everything that is happening in the North Caucasus to the Games just as some did in the case of China in August 2008 (

More Doubts Expressed about North Caucasus Resort Plans. Even if they are ever built, local people say, the resorts planned for the North Caucasus are unlikely to be filled with visitors most of the time and instead will be expensive “parasites” on the local economy (

Sochi Shows that Slowing of Russian Economy Result of Internal, Not External Causes. A Moscow commentator says that Sochi demonstrates that the current problems in the Russian economy have domestic rather than foreign sources and that Moscow officials are beginning to recognize that reality (

Was Bilalov Poisoned? Akhmed Bilalov, the former deputy head of the Russian Olympic Committee and former head of  the North Caucasus Resorts project, says that he was poisoned, pointing to the discovery of higiher than normal levels of mercury in his body.  He is currently being treated at a German hospital (,,,, and

Raw Sewage Being Dumped Directly into Black Sea.  Beaches in Sochi are now at risk because raw sewage is being dumped directly into the Black Sea, as a new video shows (

IOC Head Says Security ‘Among the Most Important Priorities.’ Saying that preparations for the Sochi games are “proceeding smoothly, International Olympic Committee President acques Rogge says that ever since the 1972 Munich games, “security is listed among the most important priorities of the IOC” (

Sochi Traffic Jams ‘Worse than Moscow’s,’ Visitor Says.  The traffic jams in Sochi are “worse than in Moscow” because the streets there are so narrow and so many of them are blocked for construction forcing drivers to make detour after detour, a Moscow journalist visiting the city says (

Ingush Athletes Refuse to Stand for Russian National Anthem.  In a move that could presage problems at Sochi, athletes from Ingushetia refused to stand for the playing of the Russian national anthem at a competition in the North Caucasus Federal District, an event that attracted coverage in the Russian media and sharp criticism from local officials ( and

Russian Officials Announce Price Controls for Sochi Games.  In order to prevent price gouging, Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service says it will announce later this month “a list of goods and services, the pricesfor which will be regulated” during the Sochi Olympics (

Were Questions to Putin about Sochi Blocked? A North Caucasus commentator suggests that the reason Russian President Vladimir Putin did not receive any questions about Sochi during his television meeting with the Russian people is that organizers of that event blocked such questions from being passed on to the Kremlin leader (

Moscow Still Hasn’t Brought Sochi Geography Group to Heel.  The Russian Geography Soicety has not been able to “liquidate” its wayward branch in Sochi, Moscow news outlets report, despite the fact that Sochi geographers have protested Olympic construction and the fact that Vladimir Putin is the head of the all-Russian group (

Ingush Leader Says Chechen Head Should Be Focused on Olympic Security.  Instead of engaging in provocations, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the leader of Ingushetia, says, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, should be working to “guarantee the security of the Olympiad” at Sochi (

Homeless Animals Said Still at Risk in Sochi. Despite official promises not to engage in a mass slaughter of homeless dogs and cats in advance of the Sochi Olympics, activist there say that officials are still seeking to get rid of the animals and also seeking to blame the activists for any shortcomings in that effort ( and

Sochi Volunteers Being Trained Across Russia.  For what organizers say is the first time in the history of the Olympics, volunteers who will work at Sochi are being trained “not only on the territory of the organizer city but throughout the entire country,” in some 17 cities (

Putin Says He Hopes Sochi Games Will Make Nation ‘Healthier.’  Russian President Vladimir Putin says that he hopes the Olympics will get more Russians interested in sports and thus make the nation “healthier” (

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