Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Even Russian Orthodox Priests Now Doubt Value of Sochi Games

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 9 – In an indication that ever more Russians are questioning the value of the Sochi Olympiad given their price tag at a time of scarcity, some Russian Orthodox priests, long assumed to be the chief ideological supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s conservative social policies, are openly casting doubt on the value to Russia of his signature event.

            The mainstream portal, “Pravoslaviye i mir,” yesterday published the responses of six Russian Orthodox clergymen to the question “Is the Sochi Olymiad of 2014 a clear indictor of the prestige of the country or is it an expenditure of enormous sums of money on banal vanity?”

            The fact that this question is even being asked of an event Putin has made the centerpiece of his third term is interesting and that is being asked so prominently by a Church publication is even more so.  But most interesting of all are the responses of the clergymen: Only three of the six back the games, two oppose them, and one says he doesn’t know enough to judge.

            Archdeacon Andrey Kurayev, one of the most outspoken members of the Orthodox clergy, says that the Church supports physical culture but has a more ambiguous attitude toward professionalism in athletics.  The Olympics, he said, fall into the latter category have have become “a chemistry competition,” one in which those taking part try to win using illegal drugs.

            Consequently, he continued, he believes that the money that has been spent on Sochi “would have been better spent on the construction of sports fields and stadiums in each district” so that more people could participate in athletics.

            Archpriest Aleksandr Ilyashchenko said that Russia doesn’t need the Sochi Games.  “The money being spent on the Olympiad could be spent on entirely different needs,” not to speak of the money going into the pockets of corrupt businessmen and officials.  Russia has “so many poor and hungry people who need housing.”

            Instead of helping them, “billions are being spent on such doubtful program. It seems to me,” Father Aleksandr  said, that this is “simply a feast at the time of the plague.”

            Unfortunately, he continued, at present, “money decides everything,” and while “among the rich there are not a few kind, generous and sympathetic people who look on their wealth as an occasion for service, they are not the rule but the exception.”

            Archpriest Maksim Pervozvansky said he was “insufficiently competent” to respond, “but in general any major sports competitions are a surrogate for war.” Such games thus lower the level of aggression and give a nation a greater feeling of unity. In that sense, they are “an important thing.”

            From what he can see, Father Maksim said, there are many pluses and minuses in Sochi.  But he added that he did not want to fall into the now common trap of using his expertise in one area to speak on others in which he does not have similar expertise.  Clearly, the games will have some good consequences, but the money spent on them could have been used more effectively for other purposes such as the construction of a new cosmodrome.

            Father Sergey Kruglov said he wanted “to say a few words in defense of the Olympiad.”  Those who say that the money spent on Sochi could be better spent elsewhere need to ask themselves if the alternatives are in fact better.  “For example, why should we support public libraries if everyone has the Internet? Why should money be spent on culture?”

            The Olympics are a good thing, he continued. They don’t have the “romantic” aura they did a generation ago. Now they are “more a show, whose participants can get along without viewers.  Viewers feel this and express protest. I understand them.  It is sad when things that are remarkable degenerate, when sports becomes show business.”

            Father Svyatoslav Shechenko said that holding the games is “a great honor” especially now. Moscow’s contribution to the resolution of the conflict in Syria shows that it is truly an Olympic peacemaker.  And as a result, the Sochi games “will have for our country no less geopolitical value than did the Olympiad of 1980.”

            Moreover, they will unite the Russian people, the priest said, adding that he is “always surprised when people begin to calculate spending on some construction project in terms of the number of kindergartens, hospitals and other necessary institutions” that could have been built. “With such logic, we would never building anything in our country.”

            And Archmonk Makariy said that “protests against the Olympics are like a dose of illegality.”  He pointed out that there is a big difference between democracy  and mobocracy and that there are forces which would like to see Russia run by the latter rather than the former and use opposition to events like the Sochi Games to promote that.

            The decision to hold or not hold events like the Olympiad is properly that of “the organs of state power.”  If there is enough money collected in taxes and not taken from the Church, then, the archmonk said, it is not our affair.  “In our state as in any other, there are many shortcomings. Nevertheless, it is a democratic legal state no worse than any other.”

            If someone doesn’t like the games, then they should “organize political parties, nominate their on candidates, and convince the voters that you are better than the others.  They will choose – if you please – they will conduct another policy and spend money in their own way.  We shall see what will happen.”

            Everyone has the right to his own opinion, Makariy said, but pushing it too far can be fatal for Russia.  That country is “distinguished by inexperience and the absence of stability in its economic and political structure.  Therefore promotion of hatred and anger causes us much more harm than in countries here the political system is firmer and legal consciousness is higher.”

            The archmonk ended his comment by referring to a Norman Rockwell painting of two parents discussing how to vote while their child was crying nearby.  That is, Markariy said, “a remarkable caricature, one very precisely characteristic of America.”

            “But,” he continues, the day after this picture, the parents “like millions of other real Americans” will vote and then “live peacefully until the next election: for them this is like a football match.  In Russia however and unfortunately, circumstances are entirely different. All these fights are directed at destroying the house which we are building with such difficulty.”


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