As Western journalists have flooded into Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, they have taken to Twitter to howl about the state of disarray in their hotel rooms. The curtains are broken, the elevators are breaking, the pillows are deficit goods, the water is yellow and cold, and it’s all an unmitigated clusterfuck.
I Want the Olympics to Succeed. On TV, the Opening Ceremony Did. By T.A. Frank. The New Republic, February 8, 2014.
In Praise of Sochi Schadenfreude. Here’s why we should celebrate Russia's failure. By David Harsanyi. The Federalist, February 7, 2014.
A few months prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics games in Beijing, there was an Olympic torch running ceremony in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. There, the nation’s Communist Party leader, Zhang Qingli, declared that “China’s red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above this land” before dropping a bit Jesse Myerson-ish rhetoric on folks, explaining that China would “totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.”
Whatever might be said for that idea in theory, it hasn’t panned out in practice. The ostensibly apolitical Games have been marred by several boycotts — of Montreal in 1976 (by African nations protesting apartheid), of Moscow in 1980 (by the United States and other Western countries protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and of Los Angeles in 1984 (by communist countries retaliating for 1980).
The Games also have created a target for extremists, from the Palestinian terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972 to ultra-rightist Eric Rudolph, who placed a deadly bomb at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Consequently, these celebrations of international conviviality proceed under heavy military guard.
On the bright side, Sochi has been utter embarrassment for Vladimir Putin – or, in other words, though it’s hardly started, it’s been the rare entertaining Olympic experience. (update: Yes, this includes opening ceremonies, with its Cirque du Soleil celebration of 20th-century tyranny.)
There’s a fine line between fair criticism and schadenfreude, and the Western press has been largely well on the side of the latter. I’d also argue that there’s something chauvinistic, even Russophobic in it.
Russophobic? As in harboring negative prejudices, dislikes and fears about Russia and Russians? The place that gave us Dostoyevsky, Stravinsky, Solzhenitsyn and so on and on and on . . . ? Hardly. Is it Russophobic to have a good laugh at the expense of a crooked government that squanders an estimated $50 billion on a publicity party when its per capita income is less than that of Equatorial Guinea or Gabon? A country that is 140th in on the economic freedom index, according to Heritage Foundation, slotted between Tajikistan and Burundi.
Do not mistake the epic graft in Sochi as unusual or incidental. Corruption is the overriding principle of Putin’s 14 years in power and looting the Russian treasury and the Russian people is itself the goal. For all the foolish attempts to interpret Putin’s geopolitical strategy and personal ideology, the common denominator is always whether or not an action helps him maintain the cash flow that in turn enables him and his clique to stay in power.
We don’t even have to bring up the fact that Putin has consistently undermined American interests, abetting brutal dictatorships in Syria and North Korea – not to mention, shielding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Surrounded by an army of 40,000 soldiers and police in a “ring of steel,” Bob Costas can whitewash his host’s misdeeds, but Russia’s government is not only corrupt, and not only is it intolerant of gays, but according to Amnesty International, human rights violations by the government include killings, enforced disappearances and torture, and they are “frequent.” According to Freedom of Information index by Reporters Without Borders, Putin belongs on a list with Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Italian Mafia and Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov.
Sochi 2014 opening ceremony: Ernst delivers disco-led paean to the past. By Owen Gibson. The Guardian, February 7, 2014.
But after all the talk of oppressive security, the disgrace of recently introduced anti-gay laws, Russia’s human rights record and Putin’s macho shows of strength, it was somehow refreshing that Konstantin Ernst chose to at least try to highlight another side of the country’s character.
Sochi’s Opening Ceremony Forgot to Mention a Few Things About Russian History. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 8, 2014.
Irina Rodnina, the Woman Lighting the Sochi Olympic Flame, Tweeted a Racist, Doctored Picture of President Obama. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 7, 2014.
Irina Rodnina, Former Russian Skater Who Lit Olympic Flame, Tweeted Racist Obama Photo. By Andrew Hart. The Huffington Post, February 7, 2014.
Russian MP Irina Rodnina’s Obama with banana picture sparks racism debate. By Shaun Walker. The Guardian, September 16, 2013.
Welcome to Sochi: Beware the Water. By Stacy St. Clair. NJBR, February 5, 2014.