Friday, August 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown -- 26 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 24th 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

Kozak Says ‘No Diminishing of Rights Based on Sexual Orientation’ at Sochi or After.  Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s deputy prime minister and superivisor of the Olympics, says that “there will be no diminishin of rights based on sexual orientation at the Olympics, neither before or after. No one should have any concerns whatsoever. People can get on with their private lives and spread their respective advantages and attraction among adults. The main thing is that this doesn’t touch children” ( ).

Gay Man in Russia Dies after Being Raped by Russian Neo-Nazis in Volgograd.  Russian officials announced that a gay man who had been sexually assaulted by members of a neo-Nazi group who used beer bottles to rape him and then smashed his skull with a stone has died. Other anti-gay incidents in  Russia over the last week have also featured violence but no deaths have been reported (

Records of Kozak Meeting on Sochi Show Situation Much Worse than He Claims.  A copy of the minutes of a meeting Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak held in June about Sochi shows that the situation in Sochi with regard to completion of construction and environmental contamination is far worse than he and other officials have admitted in public ( and ).

IOC Accepts Moscow’s Reassurances ‘for the Time Being’ The International Olympic Committee says that it accepts Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak’s reassurancs on the application of Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law in Sochi, at least for the time being, in the words of USA Today ( Senior IOC officials express confidence that “quiet diplomacy” will get the job done (  and

… But Activists Say They Need More than That. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign says that Moscow’s statements are not enough: “Mere verbal assurances from the Russian government that foreigners will be exempt from their repressive laws are not enough. The IOC must obtain ironclad written assurance from President Putin” (

Obama Says Moscow Has ‘Big Stake’ in Making Sure Sochi Games Work.  US President Barack Obama says that he has “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in a way that intimidates them or is harmful to them,” but he said he thinks that Russia’s anti-gay law will “not be an issue” by February 2014 because “Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work and they understand that most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently” (

88 US Congressman Appeal to Secretary of State Kerry to Protect LGBT Athletes at Sochi.  Eighty-eight members of the US Congress have signed an open letter to the US secretary of state calling on him to ensure the safety of LGBT athletes at Sochi. Some activists and commentators are asking why the other 437 members of Congress haven’t signed (  and

Russian Deputy Says Moscow Will be ‘as Politically Correct and Tolerant as Can be’ at Sochi.  Igor Ananskikh, chair of the Duma committee on sports, says that “the Olympics is a major international event. Our task is to be as politically correct and tolerant as we can be. That’s why we made the decision not to raise this issue during the Games.” (

Moscow Seeks to Charge Lady Gaga and Madonna for Visa Violations. Following their criticism of President Vladimir Putin and the Sochi Games over the issue of LGBT rights, Lady Gaga and Madonna are being investigated for criminal violation of visa laws.  Experts suggest this is Moscow’s way of punishing them and potentially others for such statements (

Lady Gaga Taunts Putin about Gay Rights on Social Networks.  Lady Gaga, who along with Madonna, has been critical of Russia’s anti-gay laws, has taunted Vladimir Putin on her Twitter and Facebook accounts: “Why didn’t you arrest me when you had the chance, Russia?” “The Russian government is criminal. Oppression will be met with revolution. Russian LGBTs you are not alone. We will fight for your freedom.” And “Sending bravery to LGBTs in Russia. The rise in government abuse is archaic” ( and

British Broadcaster Calls Putin Hitler of Today, Wants Olympiad Moved.  Stephen Frye, who is both Jewish and gay, says in an open letter to the IOC that the Olympics must be moved out of Russia because Moscow will enforce its anti-gay laws since “Putin is the Hitler of today” and Russia increasingly resembles Nazi Germany (,

Star Trek Actor Wants Olympics Out of Russia. George Takei, best known for his role as Mr. Sulu on Startrek, says that the IOC must “do the right thing, protect its athletes and the fans, and move the 2014Winter Olympics out of Russia.”  He added that holding the competition in that country under current circumstances would “besmirch the Olympics name as well as all the corporate [sponsors]” (

Some LGBT Activists Upset about Focus on Protecting Visitors to Sochi Rather than Russian Gays. Some gay activists are expressing concern that calls for boycotting or moving the Olympics from Sochi suggests that “the main concern” of those who mak them is “the safety of foreigners” who “might be detained and deported” while “the real issue is the lives of LGBT citizens of Russia who live in an increasingly otile environment in which their human rights are violated on a continuous basis” (

Russian Gays Oppose Boycott, Favor Demonstrations at Sochi.  Russia’s LGBT Network says that those who come to the Games will not be endorsing “injustice and discrimination” but rather be putting themselves in a position to protest Russia’s unjust laws and show solidarity with the LGBT community of the Russian Federation (

Europe, US Break Sister City Relations with Russian Counterparts. To protest Russia’s anti-gay law, Venice in Italy and 27 cities in the US have announced plans to break the sister city relationships they had with Russian urban areas (  and

Gay Activists Present Petition with 342,000 Signatures to IOC about Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law. All Out, an LGBT group, gathered 342,000 signatures on a petition to the International Olympic Committee demanding that the IOC adopt a tough stance on Russia’s anti-gay legislation (

Medvedev Critical of Infrastructure Shortcomings at Sochi. During a visit to the Olympic city, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says that while he is pleased with progress on Olympic construction, he is upset by problems with infrastructure, including roads, electricity, and water (

Massive Amounts of Construction Debris in Sochi Worries Environmentalists. Leaders of the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus say that contractors and officials are inflicting an “ecological catastrophe” on Sochi because of the massive dumping of trash in various parts of the city, poisoning soil and water and leaving parts of the region a future wasteland ( and

Olympics Must Be Moved if Safety of All Visitors to Sochi Can’t Be Guaranteed.  While most athletes and commentators are opposed to boycotting the Games, calling instead for staging some kind of demonstration in favor of LGBT rights there, an increasing number of commentators are suggesting that the games should be moved “if the safety of all the visitors, gay or merely gay-friendly, can’t be guaranteed” (

IOC Could Send Athletes Home If They Demonstrate for Gay Rights at Sochi.  Under Olympic rules, the IOC rather than the Russian government might be the agency that will send athletes home if they make any “political gesture” such as “wearing a pin, patch or T-shirt in support of gay rights.”  It may be unlikely that the IOC would “inflict such a public relations disaster on itself,” observers say, but the failure of the IOC to take a harder line against Russian laws banning “homosexual propaganda” puts everyone in “an awkward position” ( and

Germany’s Justice Minister Says No Has to Go to Sochi.  Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Germany’s minister of justice, says that Russian anti-gay laws are a violation of the European Human Rights Convention and that athletes, fans and governments retain the right to boycott the Sochi Games. “No one is bein forced to take part,” she says (

Russian Experts Doubt West will Boycott Sochi.  Western anger about Russian policies is likely to remain “at the level of rhetoric” rather than take the form of a boycott of the Sochi Olympiad, Russian experts told Moscow’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” butthey added that this anger may affect investment decisions of some Western companies in the future (

Another Olympic Construction Official Arrested for Embezzlement.  Stanislav Khatskevich, former director general of Krasnaya Polyana construction, has been arrested in Moscow for misuse of funds in his charge (

Moscow Says Boycotts Counterproductive But Adds that Sochi Visitors Must Respect Russian Laws. Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry official responsible for human rights policies, says that any boycott of the Olympic Games would be “counterproductive,” that athletes and visitors will be received with hospitality, but that they and all others must obey Russian laws, including presumably the law banning LGBT propaganda among children (

US State Department Says Russia Must Protect Rights of All Olympic Participants and Guests.  A State Department spokesperson says that Russian officials must observe and protect the rights of all athletes and guests at Sochi, including those who are representatives of the LGBT communities (

Tourism in Sochi Down by Almost Half from Last Year. High prices and the chaos of construction have reduced the number of visitors to Sochi and its neighborhood by 40 percent from last summer, officials says, leaving many residents without their expected high season incomes ( Extraordinarily high Russian domestic airfares, often twice those of routes in Europe of the same distance, are also to blame (

NY Times Columnist Calls for Sochi Ahtletes to Show Support for Gay Rights. Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, calls on athletes from the US and other countries to go to Sochi and, despite the risks, show their support for gay rights, something that would show that “America serves s a beacon to the world, a city on a hill, a champion of human rights” and provide a show of support for LGBTs around the world, including in Russia.  That would be “an Olympic moment to rival any quandruple toe loop. That’s pure gold” (

Environmentalists Who Investigated Putin’s Mansion Near Sochi Given Lengthy Prison Terms.  Four environmental activists who reported on a mansion being built for Russian President Vladimir Putin hve been given terms of between eight and 13 years in a maximum security prison on the basis of what many believe are trumped up charges of extortion (

Circassians are ‘Loudest’ Opponents of Sochi Games, Time Says.  In its survey of international reaction to plans to hold the Olympics in Sochi, Time says that “the loudest opposition” comes from Circassians living abroad whose ancestors “were herded to the same Sochi shore where the Games will be held and waited there for death or exile. In all, some 300,000 died, victims of disease, war and famine. Many fled to the U.S., Turkey and the Middle East” and are now actively involved in opposing the Games (,9171,2099428,00.html#ixzz1e4ci3FNo).

Russian Parliamentarian Calls for Law Allowing Whipping of Gays in Public Squares.  Aleksandr Mikhaylov, a Russian parliamentarian in the Trans-Baikal, has proposed the adoption of a regional law that would call for gays to be “whipped in public squares” to dissuade them from their activities, which he said were analogous to pedophilia.  “In Russia, for many centuries,” he said, “the ass was used for educational purposes and not for love entertainment. So we should use it according to its intended purpose” (

Gay European Tourism Association Demands IOC Prevent Discrimination at Sochi. GETA has launched a campaign to force theIOC to get genuine assurances from Moscow that gay athletes and fans will not be mistreated at Sochi and to urge the Russian government to repeal its anti-gay legislation (

Canadian Foreign Minister Denounces Russia’s Anti-LGBT Law. John Baird, Canada’s foreign minister, says that “As concerned as we are about the Olympics, that's nothing. That's two, three, four weeks for the athletes and participants and the visitors...This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year. It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence … We wanted more than a verbal commitment to the IOC. And now the comments by the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, are of deep concern. The Olympics is a great celebration of international sport, of international co-operation. This type of law being enforced flies in the face of the entire Olympic spirit" (

Former Olympians March in Vancouver Gay Parade as Group Pushes to Shift Games There.  Several former Canadian Olympians with the full approval of the Canadian Olympic Committee take part in a Gay Pride Parade in Vancouver, a step that could get them arrested in Russia, while a group in that city is circulating a petition calling on the IOC to shift the 2014 Winter Games back to that western Canadian city ( and

Bellona Experts Say Olympic Construction Won’t Be Finished in Time for Games. Experts from the Bellona Organization say that among the many “sad records of the Sochi Olympics” is the unfortunate reality that fewer than half of the venues are finished now as the IOC has required and that many will not be ready by next February (

NBC Says IOC Has Gay Issue ‘Covered.’  Pressed by other journalists about how NBC will cover the Sochi Games, an NBC executive said “the IOC’s got it covered.” He added that “right now [Russians] have a law that is the law of their land, and governments across the world have different laws, but as long as it doesn’t affect us or the athletes, we will again acknowledge that it exists, but I don’t know what it’s going to mean to us yet.” In other words, Bob Costas would note, disapprovingly, that the host country considers many of the Games' athletes -- not to mention attendees -- criminals by virtue of their sexual orientation. Then: "And now, Jim, back to the Iceberg Skating Palace!" (

Business Week Opposes Boycott, Says Big Loser Would Not be Putin but NBC.  A commentary in the US business journal Business Week says that a boycott would hit NBC which is covering the games far harder than it would the Russian government. Consequently, if President Obama “were to bar American athletes from competing in 2014, ratings would almost surely sink to historic lows. Ultimately, the biggest potential loser of a US boycott of the Sochi Games would not be Vladimir Puti but Bob Costas” (

Sports Columnist Says NBC Has Obligation to Expose Russian Intolerance.  Michael Bradley of the National Sports Journalism Center says that “Just because the Russian government will suspend its hateful stance toward gay people during the upcoming Winter Olympics is no reason for NBC to ignore the issue. In fact, now that the country has declared its intentions to feign tolerance when the world convenes in Sochi in February, the network has an even greater responsibility to reveal Russia’s policy, the better to show what will happen once the athletes, fans, and most importantly, media leave the resort town” (,edia-news/nbc-must-expose-russian-intolerance-during-sochi-olympics/).
CNN Commentator Recalls How US Coaches Treated Jewish Athletes at 1936 Olympics.  “Usually when we talk about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin we focus on two men -- Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens -- and rightfully so,” L Granderson says. But “it is important that we remember Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. They too left a mark.You see, the day before they were scheduled to run in the 400-meter relay, their coach, Dean Cromwell, replaced them.They were not injured.They did not break any team rules nor were they disqualified for any violations. They were, however, Jewish, and this was Nazi Germany, which had adopted the Nuremberg laws limiting Jewish citizens' rights a year earlier. Apparently, [their coach] along with leaders from the U.S. Olympic Committee, decided it would be best if Glickman and Stoller did not compete …  [Russia’s] new anti-gay laws are disturbingly similar to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws Hitler passed before the 1936 Olympics. And with the Pew Institute finding 84% of Russians believe society should reject gay people, perhaps some saying they object to gays for fear of arrest, the world should question how far Russia intends to go (

Online Gay Group Launches ‘Send a Dildo to Putin’ Campaign. To protest Russia’s anti-LGBT laws and practices, gay groups in the West have stopped drinking Russian vodka and pledged not to watch the Sochi games, but now some of them say that this “doesn’t feel like it’s quite enough” and are calling for sending dildos to Putin under the slogan “Help Impale the Vlad!” ( and

NHL, Long a Suporter of Gay Rights, May Pose Particular Challenges to Moscow  in Sochi.  The decision of the National Hockey League to have its players go to Sochi may cause some problems for the Russian government because th NHL has a long and close relationship with You Can Play, a group committed to the elimination of all forms of homophobia in sports.  Some of the league’s top players, including those who are straight, have routinely spoken out about LGBT rights in the past (

Putin Alone Doesn’t Understand Risks Sochi Presents, Delyagin Says. Mikhail Delyagin says that Western analysts have long understood that the Sochi Games present “the most serious challenge” Putin has yet faced, and the Moscow commentator adds that this challenge is particularly great because Putin does not understand that reality. Instead, he resembles the last USSR Prime Minister Nikolay Ryzhkov who famously said “We don’t have time to think; we are taking decisions” (

Russian Gays Plan Appeal to Constitutional Court, European Court. Nikolay Alekseyev, a leading LGBT activistin Russia, says that his group will turn to Russian and then European courts to overturn the anti-gay propaganda law before the Sochi Olympics (

Ethnic Profiling Said on the Rise in North Caucasus in Advance of Sochi.  Experts say that Russian siloviki have stepped up their ethnic profiling of people in the North Caucasus as part of their effort to ensure security at the Sochi Olympics (

US Senator Plans Resolution Against Russia’s Anti-Gay Law.  Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) says he will introduce a resolution in the Senate after the August recess calling on the IOC to condemn Russia’s anti-gay law before the Sochi Games (

Black Sea Fleet May Not Be Ready to Protect Sochi Games.  Russian Defense Minsiter Sergey Shoygu says that the Black Sea Fleet will have the task of ensuring security at Sochi, but he acknowledged that much of the equipment needed is not yet built, an admission that some observers say mean that it won’t be by next February ( Meanwhile, Russian commanders said a special shock battalion from the Novorossiisk mountain division will be send to Sochi (

Sochi Builds Crematorium for Dead Animals, Not Shelter It Promised. Following international outcry against a plan by Sochi officials to kill homeless animals, the city promised to build a shelter. That has not happened. Instead, the city has announced plans to build a crematorium for dead animals, a step that raises the possibility that the city will in fact go ahead with killing animals found on the streets of the Olympic city (

Listening Devices Found in Belarusian Sanatorium in Sochi. The Russian FSB has found listening devices concealed in the walls of a Sochi sanatorium belonging to the Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Some suspect that there are listening devices elsewhere in hotels and sanatoria in that Olympic city (

Putin Friends Get Rich at Sochi But Many Businessmen are Losing Money.  Arkady Rotenberg, a boyhood friend of Vladimir Putin, is among the oligarchs who have gotten sweetheart deals for Sochi construction – in his case for 7.4 billion US dollars of projects – but many business investors who had high hopes for the games are losing money, the Financial Times reports, and plan to pull out as soon as they can to cut their losses ( and ).

Krasnodar Governor in Desperation Turns to Social Networks to Try to Attract Workers to Sochi.  Governor Aleksandr Tkachev is using social networks to try to get workers to come to help finish construction in Sochi. His posts carry a note of desperation given that many workers have come and left, fed up with mistreatment of various kinds and the failure of firms to pay them their promised wages (

Lugar Says Sochi Security Can Lead to ‘Breakthrough’ in US-Russian Relations. Because of security challenges at Sochi, former US Senator Richard Lugar says, the Sochi Games may be “another breakthrough in terms of good relations simply because it’s in a very vulnerable geographical position. Putin is well aware of the problems in the Caucasus with jihadists” (

Many Sochi Hotels Don’t Want to Register with Government.  To meet the needs of the crowds expected at the Sochi Games, officials must rely on private entrepreneurs to supply more than half of the rooms needed, but many smaller operaations don’t want to register with the state because they don’t want to be subject to price restrictions or other rules. Officials say they may seek to compel them to do so ( and

Time Running Out for Moving Olympics from Sochi.  There is little time left for the IOC to decide to move the Olympics out of Russia as some have urged, according to an American columnist.  Consequently, there will soon be more pressure for a boycott, Monica Friedlander says.  But she suggests a better option would be for the US to put pressure on Moscow to repeal its anti-LGBT law and for athletes to plan to go and show their support for LGBT rights (

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