Friday, November 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 12 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus

Note:  This is my 38th 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

Putin Using Sochi to Keep Himself in Power, BBC Program Says. All host countries use the Olympics to boost themselves internationally, but “Russian President Vladimir Putin is also taking the opportunity to cement his own position in the world’s largest country,” according to the BBC.  But he has so strongly identified the games with himself that many who oppose them view the competition as “Putin’s games” rather than Russia’s.  Many Sochi residents are outraged by what has happened in their city.  “We don’t know what to do,” one of them says. “We would like to petition God but we haven’t got his address. He’s the only person we haven’t petitioned yet.”  Another asks “how can you have a positive attitude toward the Olympic Games when you are sitting at home with a candle.  There is no light,no water, and in the distance ou see the Olympic Park and it is always illuminated …So you end up with the feeling that everything is being done for the Olympics and not for the residents” (

Another Terrorist Attack in the North Caucasus.  Seventeen people were wounded and one killed as a result of the latest terrorist attack in the North Caucasus, this time in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, Kavkaz-Uzel reports in its ongoing chronology of violence in the region near Sochi (

Kostroma Residents Organize Anti-Sochi March.  Residents of Kostroma were prevented from carrying torches to a demonstration protesting Vladimir Putin’s spending of billions on the Sochi Olympiad but doing little or nothing to promote sports among children.  The police said that carrying Olympic-style torches represented a fire hazard. Consequently, the protesters carried kerosene lanterns instead (

Kamchatka Resident Protests Sochi’s Cost – And Almost Loses Her Shirt.  The arrival of the Olympic torch in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy was met by the largest crowd in that Far East city’s history. Among it were protesters like Natalya Butova who carried a sign denouncing the high cost of the Olympiad and the consequent failure of the authorities to support the population.  After that sign was taken away from her by the police, they discovered she was wearing a t-shirt saying “For Russia without Putin.” They tried to take that off, apparently unsuccessfully. This case prompted an Ekho Moskvy blogger to suggest that the massive presence of siloviki along the torch route was not intended to protect the Olympic flame but to suppress any dissent (

Sports Events like Sochi Costing Russians Their Pensions, Moscow Analysts Say. Commentators in Moscow suggest that the Kremlin is raiding the pension funds of Russian citizens to fund things like the Sochi Olympiad and that after the games, there won’t be enough money left to pay Russians what they are owed.  Recent Russian government proposals to reduce pensions in the future have lent credence to these charges (

Moscow’s Use at Home and Abroad of Anti-Gay Position Undercuts Claims about Sochi.  Russian officials, and echoing them, IOC officials, have suggested that Russia’s anti-LGBT propaganda law is strictly limited and in any case will not be applied to competitors or fans at Sochi.  But Moscow’s use of its position on gay rights in its effort to increase its influence in Eastern Europe and its tolerance of anti-gay violence at home undercuts that argument.  Russian officials frequently find themselves trapped between these claims and this reality as when Moscow city fathers banned a pro-Putin demonstration by Russian gays in the Russian capital ( and

Gay Rugby Star Says Gay Athletes Should Compete and Win at Sochi … Gareth Thomas, a former rugby great who is openly gay, says that “nothing should hold back” gay athletes from going to Sochi and winning.  “If I was part of a squad going to these countries, I would go there as a gay man and be the best at what I was doing and prove that their laws cannot stop me at being the best I can be in my sport.  Athletes often have only one chance to be the best and they have worked so hard to get there that nothing should hold them back” ( ).

… But Gay Commentator Says World Must Not Repeat Mistakes of 1936.  Lorelei Erisis, who identifies herself as a transwoman, says that the international community must boycott the Sochi Games to demonstrate its solidarity with and support for LGBT people in Russia.  “In 1936 we chose to ignore the plight of Jewish people in Germany in favor of ‘good sportsmanship.’ We all know how well that worked. Let’s hope we don’t repeat the same mistake today” (

Russian Commentators Attack Circassians for Opposition to Sochi … Russian writers have stepped up their attacks on the Circassians, arguing that Greater Circassia never existed, that no genocide ever occurred against them, and that all claims to the contrary are simply propagandistic inventions of those who forget that the Americans wiped out the Indians, an argument often invoked by Soviet authors against criticism of Moscow’s policies (, and

 … But Divide on Whether a Genocide Occurred in 1864 … Most Russian authors despite the existing evidence deny that the Russians engaged in an act of genocide by forcing out the Circassians from their historical homeland and killing many of the members of that nation in the process. But a small number of Russian writers are beginning to acknowledge that the Russian forces in the 19th century engaged in what would now be called ethnic cleansing and that the events of 1864 were a tragedy all around. Most Circassians have objected to the Sochi Olympics precisely because that city was the center of this Russian action and because the Games will occur on the 150th anniversary of that event, something that for many of them only adds insult to injury  (,

Circassians from Syria Help North Caucasian Circassians Revive National Culture.  Officials, scholars and activists in the North Caucasus say that the Circassians returning to their homeland from wartown Syria are helping their co-ethnics to revive their national culture because in the words of a hotel operator in Nalchik, “they possess cultural values we lost in the Communist era” (

Despite the violence, Circassians say they feel comfortable in their ancestral homeland.
Hamzeh Labeeb, a native of the Syrian city of Homs, came to Nalchik in 2002 to study at a local university — and decided to stay."They've always treated me like their own," said the bespectacled 29-year-old computer engineer.Meanwhile, locals think that their arrival benefits Russia. "They possess cultural values we lost in the Communist era," said Vladimir Kaskulov, general director of the hotel chain in Nalchik that hosted more than 150 Syrians free of charge.

Circassians Urged to Look Beyond Sochi.  Tiago Ferreira Lopes, a specialist on international security, says that the Circassians need to look beyond Sochi and “reshape” their ethnonational agenda.”  If they do so, they still have the chance to achieve “an autonomous republic or independent Circassia,” even though they have not succeeded in their efforts to promote a boycott of the Olympics (

Russian Ethnographers Describe How Sochi Ceased to be Circassian and ‘Became Russian.’  V.V. Trepavlov and L.S. Gatagova, two scholars at the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, have published a new study entitled “The Resettlement of the Circassians into the Ottoman Empire – or How Sochi Became Russian [in Russian].”  Thus study describes the expulsion and deaths of the Circassians during that process but does not characterize the event as a genocide.  However, in contrast to many Russian articles, it does acknowledge that the memory of those events remains powerful in both the Circassian diaspora and in the Northwest Caucasus” within the Russian Federation” (

Circassians are the ‘Real’ Torches of Sochi, Artist Suggests. In a new painting, an artist suggests that the Circassians who died in Sochi and those who live there and in the diaspora now are the “torches” of Sochi unlike the Russian Olympic torch which continues to go out (

Circassians in Turkey Call for Recognition of 1864 as Genocide.  A group of Circassian activists and their supporters in Turkey are circulating a petition calling on Ankara to officially recognize the1864 mass killings and deportation of Circassians from the North Caucasus by Russian forces as an act of genocide (

Putin Says Russians Visiting Sochi Will Have to Register with Police Within Three Days.  President Vladimir Putin has issued an order requiring that all Russian citizens visiting Sochi between January 7 and March 21 but not saying in hotels or other public accomodations will have to register with the police if they remain in the Olympic city for three days of more.  Such registration which recalls that of Soviet times is clearly intended to help combat the possibility that militants will infiltrate the city. The order, however, could also be invoked to arrest and remove anyone the Russian government deems undesirable (

Russian Officials Promise Electric Power Won’t Go Out During Games.  Because power shortages and blackouts in Sochi have been widely reported and the failure of the Olympic torch to stay lit has received even more attention, Russian officials are promising that they will have enough electricity in Sochi during the games to ensure that the lights will be on. It is not clear whether their promises refer to the Olympic facilities alone or to the entire urban area where many residents remain without regular electric supplies ( and

Aeroflot Employees Say Company Must Follow Olympic Principles and Ensure Passenger Safety. Employees of the Russian airline have staged a demonstration in Mosco calling on Aeroflot to observe “basic Olympic principles” of non-discrimination and to stop putting profits above the safety of passengers. The protesters complaints were wide-ranging, but they have clearly used the reference to Sochi to get national and international attention (

Newly-Appointed Krasnodar Official to Oversee Circassian Issue at Sochi Games.  According to Asker Sokht, the president of the Circassian Public Organization of Krasnodar Kray, Mugdin Chermit, the vice president of the International Circassian Association, has been named deputy head of the department of domestic policy in Krasnodar and will oversee Circassian issues, including the issue of the “positive” presentation of the Circassian community during the Sochi Olympiad (

Pussy Riot’s Samutsevich Calls for Boycott of Sochi Games. Yekaterina Samutsevich, who served several months in jail after participating in the Pussy Riot protest against Puti, says that the international community must boycott the Sochi Olympiad just as it did the Moscow games in 1980. "An event which should be purely about sport is becoming highly politicized and rife with conflict. Our authorities are to blame for that," she said, adding a boycott “has to happen because the latest policies go too far." President Vladimir Putin is “obviously tightening the screws. Samutsevich suggested that “a lot of people will boycott” Sochi (,0,3678262.story).

European MPs Concerned about Moscow’s Surveillance Plans at Sochi.  Three European parliamentarians have called on the European Commission to investigate Moscow’s plans to use unprecedented surveillance techniques at the Sochi Games.  Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch member, said that”gGiven that everybody seems to be spying on everyone else these days, it seems legitimate to ask questions not only about the EU and the United States but about Russia as well …  Russia is a particular problem because of the Olympics, which it is using as a pretext for stepping up surveillance, with no court oversight” (

Sochi Geography Society Says Real Crackdown Will Come After Games When No One is Looking.  Maria Reneva, the head of the Sochi branch of the outspoken Russian Geographic Society that Moscow has harassed and tried to close in recent months, says that the real crackdown against groups like hers will come only after the conclusion of the Sochi Games. Then, no one will be paying attention to what the Russian authorities will do, and they will be free to act as they please (

Moscow Must Actively Oppose ‘Geopolitical Enemies’ Now Exploiting Sochi Games.  A Russian analyst says that “the geopolitical enemies of Russia” are exploiting the Sochi Games to expand their “information war” against Russia.  Consequently, the Russian government and all patriotic Russians must respond harshly to these efforts being conducted by “a whirligig of different forces, organizations and personalities.”  Moscow can only “win” if it “takes an active stand in the ‘Great Game’” now going on in the Caucasus (

Improperly Disposed Trash Harming North Caucasians’ Health.  Builders involved in Olympiad and tourist resort construction are improperly disposing of construction waste, and poisons contained in this trash are leaching into the water supply and harming the health of people in many parts of the North Caucasus (

On the Occasion of Olympiad, Muscovites Can Ride Subway Free if They Do 30 Squats.  In a move intended to call attention to the Sochi Games and to promote public health, the Russian authorities are offering free rides on the Moscow subway to those who do 30 squats or lunges in front of a camera in one station (

Sochi Should Be Renamed Putingrad, Editor Says.  Konstantin Remchukov, editor of “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” says that eventually Sochi should be renamed Putingrad in honor of the Russian president’s investment in the region.  Others might think that such a renaming would be appropriate to highlight the ways in which the Kremlin leader has overseen the Olympiad (

‘Stalin was a Hipster’ T-Shirts on Sale at Sochi Airport.  According to a Facebook post, visitors at the Sochi airport can purchase t-shirts featuring the legend, “Stalin was a hipster” (

Someone is Stealing the Manhole Covers of Sochi.  In addition to all the other problems that plague the Olympic city, thieves are making off with 30 to 50 manhole covers every day and selling them for more than 100 US dollars elsewhere in Russia. Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhmov says that “it’s already become a business that’s seriously harming the city.” The thefts are adding to the problems of driving attempting to navigate the city’s already much-torn-up streets ( and

Could Putin Use Sochi as He Did Beijing to Attack a Neighboring Country? A cartoonist suggests Vladimir Putin may use the Sochi Games as the occasion to use military force against a neighboring country much as he did in 2008 when he sent Russian forces into Georgia while many world leaders were out of their home capitals and at the Beijing Olympiad ( ).

Olympic Torch’s Problems are Heaven’s Response to Evil Empire, Russian Regionalist Says. A commentator on the Ingermanland movement website,, says that the problems that Moscow is having keeping the Olympic torch lit reflect the attitude of the Heavens against Putin’s “parody” of an Olympics in “the Evil Empire” (

Cartoonist Uses Gay Matryoshka Dolls to Condemn Putin’s Anti-LGBT Policies.  Cartoonists have used many images to criticize Vladimir Putin’s anti-LGBT policies in advance of the Sochi Games but perhaps none is more telling than a cartoonist who showed two archetypically Russian matryoshka dolls holding hands on an Olympic medal ( Meanwhile, a Georgian artist has photoshopped a picture that shows Olympic medals in the form of gold, silver and bronze handcuffs to make a similar point about repression in Russia today (

Olympic Construction Firms with Friends in High Places Routinely Violate the Law, Activist Says.  “Certain officials of the procuracy and the police in off the record conversations acknowledge that [these] firms have protects in the kray force structures and administration” and that there is nothing that law enforcement bodies can do against them, according to activists in Sochi.  One of the worst consequences of their ability to act above the law has been their use of sand for construction, something that has become so massive and uncontrolled that many of the beaches for which Sochi is famous for have been effectively destroyed (

MVD Will Monitor Most But Not All Visitors to Sochi.  Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokotsev says that competitors and fans at the Sochi Olympiad will be subject to photographic and video monitoring except for those who are deemed special VIPs.  That exception, some security analysts say, could open the way for militants who might want to disrupt the competition.  Iosif Linder, head of the International Counter-Terrorist Training Association, says that there are always such exxceptions, but that many of them can be exploited by terrorist groups (

Sochi Airport Remains Unfriendly to Russians.  Even in third world countries, Russians say, there are special lines for the citizens of those countries at passport control facilities, but in Sochi, the authorities have not opened such lines despite complaints.  Consequently, Russian visitors to the Olympic city have to wait in line far longer than they should, several bloggers say (

Muslim Prayer Rooms Will Be Available for Competitors But No Mosque for Fans.  Askerby Kardanov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Adygeya and Krasnodar Kray, says that there will be a prayer room for Muslim competitors in each of the parts of the Olympic village but that unfortunately there will not be any mosque in the city for Muslim fans who may attend the Games (

Russia to Field 64 Competitors at Paralympics.  The Russian Federation will field a team of 64 for the Paralympics folloing the Sochi Games.  The team has faced some problems in being assembled, but both Russian and international Paralympic officials are pleased that Moscow is sending such a large contingent in contrast to the past.  What officials in both places are now worried about is that ticket sales for this competition are lagging, and many of the competitions may take place in sites with numerous empty seats (, and

Gay NBC Correspondent in Moscow Condemns Russia’s Anti-LGBT Laws.  Thomas Roberts, in the Russian capital to cover the Miss Universe pageant, spoke out at Russia’s law on gay propaganda to children. “I know the law is very vague and still hard to interpret for many people,” but it is discrimination and that’s definitive. And I don’t think that the LGBT population in Russia or anywhere should be marginalized to that degree. We are not asking for special protection. We’re just asking for equal respect” (

Sochi Officials Oppose But Ultimately Don’t Block Anti-Fascist March.  Sochi police initially sought to ban an anti-fascist march there on the basis of President Vladimir Putin’s ban on demonstrations there. But that ban does not kick in until January 7, and after hurried conversations with more senior officials, the police allowed the march to go on (

FSB Hosts Security Officials from ‘More than 50’ Countries at Sochi.  Russia’s FSB hosted a three-day conference in Sochi that included representatives of the security services of more than 50 countries to discuss cooperation in advance of the Olympic competition.  The centerpiece of the meeting was the confirmation by the head of Britain’s MI-6 that London has renewed security cooperation with Moscow (

Sochi’s Rivers to Be Monitored for Possible Flooding.  Because of the recent flooding in Sochi, the result of abnormally strong storms and the weakening of the city’s natural defenses because of Olympic construction, officials are installing special monitoring devices in the city’s rivers so that they will be able to issue more timely warnings about any flood threats in the future (

Sochi Residents Protest Plans to Drill for Oil in Black Sea.  Activists from the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus, Green Russia, Yabloko, and the World Wildlife Fund organized a picket in Sochi to protest plans by Rosneft and ExxonMobil to drill for oil in the Black Sea region near Sochi.  The activists said that such drilling threatened an already wounded ecological system ( and

Flap about Smartphones Reflects Language Problems and Russian Contracts.  Reports that Russian officials were going to ban the use of smartphones at Sochi were untrue. They reflected a problem with translation and the fact that Moscow’s contracts with companies covering the games restrict the right of others to film them.  As Russian and IOC officials noted, participants and fans can use social media including taking still photographs as much as they want, but they cannot film the games for commercial broadcast elsewhere (,, and

Russian Orthodox Criticism of Olympic Symbolism Provokes Satirical Response.  Statements by prominent Russian Orthodox clergy suggesting that Olympic symbolism is pagan and therefore not appropriate in a Christian country have provoked a satirical response by Alex Melnikov, a blogger for Ekho Moskvy.  He offers what he describes as a memo to Mr. Zeus, Mrs. Hera and Mr. Apollo about how they should proceed given the Moscow Patriarchate’s opposition (, and

Russian Crackdown Against Ecological and Rights Activists in Sochi Seen Spreading.  Detentions and arrests of activists in the Sochi area are increasing, their organizations say, an indication that the authorities may be planning an even broader crackdown against all civil society groups in the near future in order to prevent them from using the games to call attention to repression in Russia (,,,,,and

Abkhazia Becomes a Problem for Russia Because of Sochi.  Security along the Russian-Abkhaz border nd the resulting lines and delays, Moscow’s failure to push for an Abkhaz team at the games, and some confusion in how Russian commentaries are treating events involving the Abkhaz and the Circassians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have transformed Abkhazia from what many in the Russian capital had hoped would be an asset at the Olympiad into a problem for Moscow because some Abkhazians are now upset about what Russia is doing and not doing on their behalf (,,  and

Sochi has More Cars Per Capita than Does Moscow and Even Worse Roads.  There are 410 cars for every 1000 residents of Sochi as compared to only 297 for every 1000 Muscovites, and the roads in Sochi are not only narrower but torn up from continuing construction.  As a result, getting around is hard and getting harder not easier, despite Russian denials which are further undercut by plans to arrange special transportation for journalists so that they won’t see the traffic tie ups at the time of the Olympiad. The authorities are reducing the problem slightly by seeking to identify and cart off cars that have been abandoned because they no longer work (,,, and

Sochi Residents Said Increasingly Angry at City, Region and Moscow.  The disruptions to electricity, water, sewage, gas, and heat, streets torn up for the installation of new lines, and the unwillingness of officials at any level to respond to their complaints is angering Sochi residents and leaving some of them in what bloggers call an “increasingly revolutionary” mood. Some have indeed protested, but most are simply sharing their anger with each other and with journalists Russian and Western who visit their city ( , ,,,,,,,,,, and

Foreigners Have Problems Getting Visas and Russians Have Problems with Cost.  Some analysts are wondering whether the Sochi Olympiad will attract as many people as officials project because foreigners are reporting problems with getting visas, despite the opening of special “windows” at some Russian missions abroad and because the costs of attending are beyond the means of many Russians.  Most experts say that 90 percent of attendees will be citizens of the Russian Federation, and they are unanimous in saying that Sochi will not attract as many people after the Olympiad as the Kremlin has suggested in trying to amortize the enormous costs of the games (, and

FMS Told Workers Not to Register; Now It Arrests Them.  The Federal Migration Service told gastarbeiters in Sochi not to register or extend their registration in order to make it easier for construction companies to get the labor they need. As a result, however, many of them have never been paid because they do not have the documents they need. And increasingly, many of them are being rounded up by the very agency that told them not to register in the first place and is now expelling them without their having received their wages ( and

Georgia Remains Undecided on Sochi.  Despite Russian claims, Western pressure and the statements of individual Georgian politician and commentators, Georgia remains undecided as to whether and how it will participate in the Sochi Olympiad ( and

Krasnoyarsk Officials Want the Money But Residents Don’t Want the Universiade …   Officials in Krasnoyarsk very much want the influx of money that holding the Universiade there would bring, but more than 84 percent of the residents are against the idea because of the disruptions in their lives that they believe it would cause, another consequence of reportage about Sochi ( and

… And Sochi’s Bad Reputation Means Munich Doesn’t Want 2022 Games. Meanwhile, Germany’s “Tageszeitung” reports that officials in the Bavarian capital have concluded that they don’t want their city to compete for the 2022 Games.  The paper said that what the officials and people in Munich had heard about Sochi was a major reason for that conclusion (

No Swimming or Flying in Sochi During Olympiad. The FSB continues to issue new restrictions on Sochi residents and visitors. They will not be allowed to swim or fly any kind of plane during the Games.  Meanwhile, the Emergency Situations Ministry says it will add another 10,000 officers to its detail in Sochi to help provide security (,

Moscow Officials Worried about Plunge in Sochi Property Values after Games.  If apartments and land in Sochi are sold off too quickly after the Olympiad, prices could plunge putting at risk residents, investors and the banks. Consequently, Moscow officials are discussing ways to ensure that sales after the games close will proceed more slowly.  The details of just how that might work have yet to be announced, but it is an indication that the Russian government recognizes that it has created a bubble in Sochi and that that bubble could burst, harming some of its supporters and moneymen (,,,,

Sochi in ‘Chaos’ and Still Far from Ready for Games, Residents and Visitors Say.  “Complete chaos” is one of the descriptions of the roads and other infrastructure offered by local residents who say that they do not believe official claims that everything will be ready in advance of the Olympics.  Roads are still torn up. Electric power lines continue to be cut. Water, sewage and heating pipes are not installed. And the interior of many buildings is not finished.  But one blogger, Tivur Shaginurov, says he would not want anyone to think that he had only negative impressions. “That isn’t so. Having fled from [Sochi], I fell in love with the sea and thought: who knows, three months from now there will  not be any Sochi, 30 years from now there won’t be a Russia, and 300 years from now, quite possibly there won’t be any huan beings.  But the sea will remain, unless of course Gazprom has its way” (,,, and

Ongoing Counterterrorism Exercise Elicits Skepticism and Anger.  The Russian siloviki launched a major counter-terrorism exercise in the Sochi area on November 10.  Most residents think it is all for show, but they are annoyed by how it is being carried out – officers playing terrorists are frightening people, schools and transportation are being disordered, and the Russian force structures are using the occasion to throw their weight around, arresting some people and disturbing the peace of others.  Some commentators have used the word “pokazukha” for what is going on, but others say the exercise needs to be described as “a senseless violation of the rights and interests of citizens.” And no independent observer thinks it has been effective or shows that the Russian security services are really able to provide security. There are at least three clear targets: the Circassians and their various subgroups, human rights and ecological activists, and journalists who are being excluded from certain zones in the name of security and thus cannot offer independent assessments of what is going on (,,,,,,,, and

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