Friday, August 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 24 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 26th 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  Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble

Moscow Tells IOC Olympic Rules will be Followed But Russian Laws Will be Enforced.  In response to an International Olympic Committee requet for clarification as to the meaning of Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, who is overseeing the Sochi Games, set a letter saying that "the Russian Federation guarantees the fulfillment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety" but that Russian laws prohibiting anti-gay propaganda, which he said “cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation” will be enforced.  IOCPesident Jacque Rogge said that this statement means that “everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation.” Others are less likely to be certain what Kozak’s statement actually means, and the controversy is certain to continue. This statement and Moscow’s shifting commentary in the past do not provide any clear answer as to how the Russian authorities will in fact act in Sochi  ( and

Russian Sports Minister Lumps Homosexuality with Drug Abuse.  In a comment that has sparked anger both in Russia and elsewhere, Russian Sports Minsiter Vitaly Mutko said that Moscow’s anti-gay legislation is all about protecting members of the younger generation “whose psyche has not been formed” and that the government “wants to protect them against the propaganda of drunkenness, drugs, and non-traditional sexual relations. When they grow up and become adults, they have to define what they want for themselves.” In other comments, he suggested that the entire issue had been creted whole cloth by the West (  and

Russian Athlete Denounces Critics of Anti-Gay Law…  Yelena Isinbayeva, a Russian pole vaulter who is so popular that she has already been named mayor of Sochi’s Olympic Village, criticized Swedish competitors for painting their nails in rainbow colors to show support for LGBTs in Russia.  "We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys ... it comes from the history. "[The protests are] disrespectful to our country. It's disrespectful to our citizens, because we are Russians...Maybe we are different than European people and people from different lands. We have our law which everyone has to respect. When we go to different countries, we try to follow their rules. We are not trying to set our rules over there. We are just trying to be respectful" (

… Even as More Athletes and Others Protest. Nick Simmonds, an American competitor in the World Championships in Moscow, dedicated his silver medal in the 800 meters run to the LGBT cause. Two female athletes were seen kissing, although the meaning of this was subject to dispute as was Isinbayeva’s English and future plans. And some fans displayed gay flags. All of which provoked disputes both in Moscow and the West over who is responsible and who should be blamed (,, and

Kasparov Calls for Sponsors, Fans and World Leaders But Not Athletes to Boycott Sochi.  Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov says that Sochi should never have been awarded the games in the first place but that now the best way forward is for corporate sponsors, fans  and world leaders to boycott the competition even while allowing athletes to compete. “Do not come to Sochi to sit next to Putin in his stately pleasure dome, pretending it is a world apart from the police state he has created. Let the stadiums sit vacant, especially the VIP sections Putin hopes to fill with presidents and prime ministers,” he writes. “Giving dictators what they want in the hopes of getting on their good side always fails. It drags you down to their level and makes you an accomplice to their crimes. Putin seeks similar adulation in Sochi and he must not receive it. Let him fill the seats at his side with the oligarchs and flunkies he pays so well and not the leaders of the free world. Shun him and shame him for his bigotry and cruelty. Politicians must not be allowed to use the athletes as shields for their own cowardice. The world will be watching (

Old Believer Cemetery Protected in Sochi, but Mass Graves of Circassians Ignored.  The New York Times has reported that an Old Believer cemetery where the members of a denomination with deep roots in Russian history are buried has remained undisturbed even though it is in the middle of Olympic construction. What that paper and most others have not talked about is that Russian construction companies have done nothing to protect or honor the mass graves of Circassians killed in 1864 during the expulsion that Circassians refer to as a genocide (

Putin Orders Special Security Zone for Sochi.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed an order settin up a special security zone in and around Sochi before and during the Olympics. Under its terms, more siloviki will be sent to the region, access to the city will be limited especially to cars, and many streets will be blocked and with check points. Russian officials say they expect the system to work well because it has already been tested at several other international competitions in the country over the past year ( At another meeting, Putin called for particular attention to be devoted to controlling Russia’s state borders in the Caucasus ( Other Russian officials said that the situation in Sochi with regard to security is well in hand (

Russians Will Require Notorious Fan Passport for Sochi Visitors.  After announcing it and then denying it would be used, Russian Olympic officials now say, in the name of security, that they will require each fan to have a fan passport that will contain a range of personal information and will be checked by the FSB. Having a ticket will not be enough to gain access to venues, officials say; everyone will have to have a fan passport. They add that his special measure will help speed access as well as guaranteeing security (

Environmental Activist Arrested after Reporting on Sochi. Natalya Kalinovskaya, a member of the Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus, has been arrested at an Abkhazian border crossing point after she reported on the environmental depradation of the Sochi region by Olympic contractors (

Rosneft, Gazprom Destroying Environment in Sochi.  Two of Russia’s largest companies, Rosneft and Gazprom, are destroying natural habitats and leaving a mess behind, residents and environmental activists say. But Gazprom spokesmen say that the company is living by the rules and has nothing to apologize for (,, and

Russian LGBTs Say Moscow Has Given ‘Green Light’ to Bullying and Worse. Bullying and mistreatment of LGBT teenagers happens around the world, but Russian activists say, according to “The Moscow Times” that “the proble has been made worse in Russia” by the new law against “pro-gay ‘propaganda’ among minors.” They say this law “implicitly gives a green light to vigilantes for such activities” (

Human Waste Flowing in Open Stream Past Putin Palace as Well as Through Sochi Neighborhoods.  Human waste is flowing into streams that pass by the residence Vladimir Putin will use during the games, creating a terrible smell and undermining “the image of Russia,” according to a Moscow paper. Meaning, Sochi residents who have been suffering with this problem for months now call it “the Olympic smell” and have published a map showing where it is especially bad ( and

Cartoonists Having Field Day with Olympic Protests. The last week has seen an explosion of political cartoons about the Sochi Games and especially protests against Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law. Three of the most widely distributed show the Russian athlete who defended the law holding up a swastika-decorated metal (, Putin facing falling dominoes that begin with the anti-gay law and end with a Sochi boycott (, and a picture of Putin welcoming people to the “GULAG Olympics” and standing in front of a jail cell saying to gays, “I Have much better closets for you in Russia” (

World Championships in Moscow Suggest Most Problems in Sochi Will Be Off the Track.  Journalists covering the nine days of the World Athletic Championships in Moscow say that the competitions worked more or less well but that problems beyond the venue sites are a harbinger of problems at Sochi. Among the most serious are tensions about Russia’s anti-gay legislation, bad transportation, and poor signage (

Confrontation Seen Becoming Olympic Sport at Sochi.  The Russian government, the IOC, and major international sponsors, on the one hand, and LGBT and human rights activists, appear to be digging in their heels, setting the stage for confrontation in Sochi and leading to increasing speculation about just what forms that will take.  An AP commentator, for example, asks "Does the IOC or a National Olympic Committee, for example, step in and risk the embarrassment of sending an athlete home for a political gesture? Or stand by and say nothing while the local authorities bundle him or her onto the first flight? Do major sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa, Dow, Omega and Panasonic threaten to pull out? Does NBC report aggressively on every incident? Take the under on those bets." Jim Littke added that he sees little hope that the IOC will intervene on behalf of gays the way it did on behalf of women from Muslim countries in advance of the London Games (

Russian Students Brought in to Do Construction in Sochi Return Home.  The latest group of Russian students have returned home after a summer of helping work on Sochi construction sites. Some 3,000 students have been involved in this project since 2007. Many of them have no construction skills and are used only for menial tasks (

Sochi Residents Increasingly Angry about Detours and Delays.  In the rush to complete Olympic venues and support facilities, Russian contractors have blocked streets for days at a time, destroying any possibility that local residents can move around as they normally do. The anger of the latter is increasing, and there have been several small protest demonstrations over the past week ( and

Sochi Residents Cover Decaying House with Russian Flag.  To protest the failure of the city to repair their residence,a group of Sochi residents found an unusual use for the Russian flag. On flag day, they purchasd one large enough to cover their entire building, something that has attracted more attention to its decay than the unadorned apartment building had earlier (

Sochi Officials Plan to Cover Run-Down Buildings with Banners During Games.  Rather than fix decaying buildings in the city, Sochi officials have announced plans to cover the worst of them with large Olympic-related banners to hid the problem from visitors.  But residents say that there could be so many such banners that this will have exactly the opposite effect (

Sochi Mayor’s Wife Twice Twice as Rich as Putin and Medvedev Together.  Anatoly Pakhomov had a declared income last year of 780,000 rubles (26,000 US dollars) but his wife took in 9.5 million rubles (300,000 US dollars), a pattern that is true in the families of many in the Russian elite and designed to hide the real state of affairs. Elena Pakhomov’s income is truly large, and many suspect it reflects the corruption of both her and her husband.  Perhaps as penance, she has founded a Russian Orthodox church in the city  ( and

Sochi Service Buildiings Up but Hardly Finished.  Many buildings that officials have declared finished in their reports to Moscow are indeed up, but they are hardly finished. A recent visit to one with shops and theaters found that it had no air conditioning and had a terrible smell that caused visitors to leave as soon as they could ( Other more critical infrastructure is not close to being ready often because of the shortage of construction materials (

Russians Want Pоссия, Not Russia, on Olympic Unforms.  Reflecting  increasing nationalism among Russians, a group in Sochi is calling for the Russian Olympic Team to replace the Latin script name “Russia” with the Cyrillic “Pоссия” on all uniforms. Such a change, which would be unprecedented in international competitions, looks “better and more patriotic” according to activists (

American Gay Reporter Criticizes Russian Law on Russia Today Before Being Cut Off.  Jamie Kichick, an American journalist who is gay, said on Russia Today television that he didn’t want to talk about the Bradley Manninng case butrather about Russia’ repressive laws concerning LGBT people. He said the Russian channel devotes 24 hours  day to “lying about the US and ignoring wha is taking place in Russia” and that he wants to show “Russian gays and lesbians that they have friends and allies across the world who support them.” After he made this statement, which has been circulating on Youtube, he was asked to leave the broadcast booth (, and

Bubka Say Moscow Will Avoid Harassing Gays to Avoid Attracting Attention to Law.  Sergy Bubka, an Olympic pole vaul champion who is in the race to become IOC head, says that the IOC charter means that “we protect everyone,” that there are currently “quiet discussions” with the Russian government and that “the last thing [those] officials want is an incient during the Olympics that would draw attention to the law and thereby hurt Russia’s future Olympic interests” (

Moscow Rents Five Cruise Ships to House Competitors, Visitors and Security Staff.  Faced with a seirous hotel shortage – some hotels won’t be ready, and some firms have pulled out completely – Moscow has rented five cruise ships to house 40,000 competitors, visitors, and security staff during the Games. One of the ships belongs to the company which owned the ship that ran aground and sank off of Italy last year ( and

New York Activists Want Metropolitan Opera to Dedicate Gala to Gays.  Activists in New York are petitioning the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening-night gala performan of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ to the support of gay people in Russia. They believe this is an especially important sign of support for Russian LGBTs because Tchaikovsky was himself homosexual (

Two NHL Stars Denounce Russian Anti-Gay Law.  Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, both of whom are lkely to take part in the Sochi Games have denounced Russia’s law banning gay propaganda to children as “awful, just awful” and “completely wrong” (

McDonalds, Coca-Cola Refuse to Drop Sochi Sponsorship Despite Protests. Both companies said that they support equality and that, in the words of one, “there’s no room for discrimination,” but they added that they support the IOC and will continue their sponsorship of the Olympiad. McDonalds in particular, however, has faced public protest about its position ( and

Moscow Eases Investment Rules for North Caucasus. In yet another indication that the Russian Federation may be having trouble developing resorts in the North Caucasus, the Russian finance ministry has announced that it will no longer require collateral from those companies seeking to borrow money to develop facilities there ( and

US Olympic Committee Expects Athletes to ‘Respect Russian Law.’ Scott Blackmun, head of the US Olympic Committee, says he expects competitors at Sochi to obey Russian laws, even those they may not like.  He said his group was staying out of the controversy: “We’ll leave the diplomacy on the legal issues to the diplomats and we’re not going to get involved” (

Swedish Olympic Committee Warns Athletes Against Any Political Demonstrations.  Citing the position of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Swedish Olympic Committee head Stefan Lindeberg says that his group will not tolerate any demonstrations of any kind at Sochi. His remarks came after two Swedish athletes wore rainbow-colored nail varnish at the World Championships in Moscow, an action that sparked Russian criticism (

Moscow Writer Criticizes Obama for Failing to Remember Russian Gays Remain Closeted.  In an essay on, Vladimmir Abarinov says that US President Barack Obama was “tactless” in his comments about gays at the Sochi Olympics because neither he nor his aides seem to be aware that “among Russian Olympians, there are no OPENLY gay people: they avoid coming out because of homophobia” in their country (

Sochi Athletes Urged to Do What Jesse Owens Did in 1936. Commentators are saying that athletes from Western countries should go to Sochi and do what Jesse Owens did at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 about Hitler’s racist policies – win and thus highlight what’s wrong with Russian law and policy.  No one should run away from bullies, they say (

Sochi will have “No Chi,” Commentator Says. “In Chinese medicine, ‘chi’ is the term for the universal energy. Universal energy does not discriminate,” Christopher Harrison says. Putin’s anti-LGBT decree means that “there will be no chi in Sochi.” He calls on sponsors to pull out and force the IOC to move the games (

Founder of You Can Play Urges Gay Athletes to Compete and Win in Sochi.  Patrick Burke, founder of You Can Play, calls on gay atheltes to go to Sochi and win. "The Russian Laws are based on the ideas that gay people are somehow weaker or wrong, or lesser. If you a win an Olympic gold medal and you are gay doesn't that show exactly the opposite of that"  (, and

Human Rights Watch Warns that ‘Serious Violations’ Continue at Sochi.  Jane Buchanan, director of HRW Europe and Central Asia, says that despite promises by Russian officials and the IOC human rights violations including those of workers rights and media freedoms continue in Sochi (

ADL Calls for US Athletes to Show Solidarity with Russian LGBTs at Sochi. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, says that the United States should impose sanctions on Russia for its anti-gay laws but that US athletes should go to the games in order to show solidarity with Russian gays and to protest discrimination against sexual minorities (

Russian Media Pick Up on Western References to Hitler’s Olympics. Russian news outlets are picking up, sometimes without negative commentary, Western stories in which the Sochi Games are compared to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin and in which it is reported that Hitler promised the IOC at that time that he would not persecute Jews competing in that Olympiad (

Some Russian Deputies Want to Make Anti-Gay Law Even More Stringent for Foreigners.  Dmitry Vyatkin, a Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia Party, says that the Russian legislature should impose even stronger punishments on foreigners who promote homosexuality than does current law (

Sochi Games Recruiting Russians from Acrosss Russia.  Representatives of the Sochi Olympics organization are visiting cities across Russia in order to hire people to work at the games next winter (

Krasnodar Governor Says Sochi Construction a Mess.  During an inspection trip, Aleksandr Tkachev described Sochi as a mess and called for “an uncompromising struggle” with those putting up illegal or poorly constructed buildings.  He said his soul “ached” for those who are suffering from the construction campaign, and he added that a quarter of all facilities are not yet finished.  Despite his words, Tkachev has routinely put a happy face on developments there in the past and has ignored petitions from Sochi residents (, and

Sochi Residents Call for Russian PM’s Resignation.  A group of Sochi residents of the KPRF held a small demonstration and circulated a petition calling for the resignation of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ( Other Sochi residents say that Medvedev at least has got one thing right: he pointed out that because of construction, few people are visiting the Olympic city this summer ( After his recent visitor, however, Medvedev called for stepping up the pace of that construction (

Ever Fewer Russians Proud to Be Hosting Olympiad. Levada Center polls show that fewer Russians today are proud that their country is hosting the Sochi Games than were a year ago, 61 percent as compared to 68 percent, while the number not proud has risen from 24 percent to 29 percent ( Moreover, some Russian commentators blame what they see as the increasing tendency of Russian liberal media to criticize the games for this trend (
Former Olympians Divided on What to Do about Sochi. Surveys of former Olympians and Olympic hopefuls in Canada and the United States find them divided on how athletes should respond to Russia’s anti-gay laws. Most oppose boycotts as ineffective or counterproductive, but nearly all say that athletes should speak out in defense of the common human values that the Games are supposed to promote  and

Moscow Plans to Pursue Hosting More Olympiads in the Future.  Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, says that Moscow wants to ensure that Sochi is a success because it plans to pursue hosting more Olympiads in the future (

Western Analyst Says Boycotting Olympics Would Help Putin.  Alexander Kliment, a Russian analyst with the Eurasia Group, says that a boycott would not help gays in Russia but that “Putin, and most of Russia, relish this kind of reproach from Europe or the U.S., because they view it as confirmation of Russian ethical and spiritual fortitude in the face of decadent Western naggers. So the frame of reference is entirely different. This is not a human rights issue for Russia; this is a religious and cultural issue for Russia, just the way gay rights and gay marriage are cultural and religious issues for the right in the U.S." (

Moscow Blogger Urges Russian Gays to Speak Out.  Viktor Myasnikov says that Russian gays should speak out in advance of Sochi and show that they are not subject to discrimination. That may be harder for some in the provinces, but those in the major cities have been able to function quite well, he says (

Denmark Warns Russia over Anti-Gay Law.  Denmark’s foreing minister, Villy Sovndal, said that Copenhagen will raise the issue of Moscow’s anti-gay propaganda law at the Council of Europe and the United Nations unless Russia reverses itself.  Prince Frederik, the country’s crown prince, added that Russia is violating the Olympic Charter by passing such laws (

American Who Promoted Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement Faces US Federal Charges.  A Massachusetts federal district judge as ruled that Scott Lively, an American who has promoted anti-gay laws around the world, must face charges of crimes against humanity for his role in Uganda’s campaign against gay people. Lively visited Russia in 2007 to promote anti-gay laws and activism there (

Foreigners Can Continue to Buy Olympic Tickets But Russians Have to Wait.  Russians will not be able to purchase Olympic tickets until the fall although foreigners can continue to do so, another Russian government-imposed distinction that is unlikely to make many Russians happy. But the costs of many tickets are so high that they are likely beyond the reach of most residents of the Russian Federation (

Sochi Participants Should Turn Games into ‘Rainbow Olympics.’ An increasing number of commentators are urging athletes and fans to wear rainbow symbols. The following comment is typical: “The Sochi Olympics have become a gift-wrapped two weeks for those of us who support basic fairness for the gay and lesbian community, athletes or otherwise. Russia, and Russians, can love their nasty little laws all they want. The rest of us can see it for what it is — dangerous hatred directed at an identifiable group — and use these Olympics to promote understanding and peace. And isn’t that supposed to be a major part of the Olympic mission? These, from now on, should be the Rainbow Olympics. Imagine everywhere you turn next February seeing rainbow art, badges, pins and every imaginable representation of the international image for the gay/lesbian community. Not a word would have to be spoken and the message will ring loud and clear. Nobody can stop you from wearing rainbow art. The opening ceremonies will be a perfect place to start. Rainbow images everywhere. Russia has invited this upon itself. The rest of the world should take advantage” (

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