Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bastille: Pompeii.

Bastille: Pompeii. Video. BastilleVEVO, January 20, 2013. YouTube.

Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. By Julia Ioffe.

Russians Think We’re Engaging in Olympic Schadenfreude. They’re Right. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 6, 2014.


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.
And the Russians have had enough. Noting that the lead-up to the Olympics was full of negative cover stories on Russia—like the Economist’s and, well, ours—Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the Russian rail monopoly, slammed Western journalists for “feeding hysteria about Russia.” And he’s not just bothered by the images of Putin on the covers that upset him, or the stories of mind-boggling corruption, or the warnings of “black widows” and “creating fears that the Games in Sochi will not have adequate security.” It’s the vocal, ungrateful complaining about Sochi’s readiness, “which takes the form of mockery worthy of tabloids and not serious journalists.”  “They are sending their readers signals that are far from sportsmanlike, and the tone they take with the country hosting the Olympics is far from friendly,” Yakunin writes. “Really, this has nothing to do with freedom of speech. Rather, it is a desire to befoul everything about the massive effort to prepare for the Winter Games, and to create a negative atmosphere for the athletes and Olympic guests.”
Now, Yakunin is a massively corrupt official whose company oversaw a massively corrupt Olympic railway project, and I’d never thought I’d say this, but I agree with him.
On one hand, yes, things are objectively dysfunctional and not ready despite the fantastic sums spent, and there is objective photographic evidence of this. On the other, as I prepare for my Moscow-Sochi flight tomorrow, a lot of this complaining does smack of some pretty fantastic schadenfreude. From where I sit—and, granted, I have yet to get to Sochi and encounter the shock of cold water in the shower, and, granted, I’m a fine practicioner of mocking Russian ridiculousness—it does seem like the Western press is on the hunt for evidence of how inept and hilarious the Russians are. There does seem to be something mean-spirited in all of this, as if the Western press came hoping to encounter pillow shortages and rusty water.
Again, the evidence of failure is incontrovertible and embarrassing, but it is also, in the scheme of things, minor. So far, nothing major has happened. Ski jumps have yet to collapse, trains have yet to derail, there’s just some cold water and an upside down toilet lid. It’s inconvenient and, yes, it’s funny, but here’s where I agree with Yakunin: it’s the tone. 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. The Europeans may not be ready for their Olympics, but, okay, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. The Chinese prepare for theirs ruthlessly, but we don’t understand them so whatever. We railed on Romney for daring to criticize the preparedness of our British friends, and we wrote in muted tones about Athens not being ready in time for their Olympics, but with the Russians, we gloat: Look at these stupid savages, they can’t do anything right.
Within hours of arriving in Moscow yesterday, Russian friends, even the Westernized ones, those who are openly, viciously critical of the Kremlin, have expressed their hurt at the Western blooper coverage of Sochi. A whole lot of their tax money has been spent on something they may not have wanted and in ways they find criminally wasteful, and, yes, their government has not done much to endear itself to the West of late, but they’re puzzled by why the Americans and the British are so very happy that the details are a little screwy, the way they generally are in Russia.
The word they use is zloradstvo, literally: evil-reveling.

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.”
Qingli saw the Olympics as optimal moment to launch into some political haranguing, because the Olympics is a political event. Always has been. And sporadically, regimes in various stages of authoritarianism, say the Nazis or the Chinese Communists or the Russian Putinists, use this overhyped and overrated sporting exhibition to try and convince others of the superiority of their regimes. This is why the Germans made a spectacle in 1936, why the Soviets spent decades trying to create Ivan Dragos — and also why, the 1980 United States ice hockey victory over Soviet Union team was, for many of us, the greatest sports moment of all time.
Here’s how Charles Lane put it in a superb column detailing the uselessness of the event:
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.)
We’ve seen an avalanche of tweets from Western journalists about the crude amenities in Sochi, the architectural challenges, the unfinished hotel rooms, the stray dogs, the yellow drinking water, the garbage, not to mention the embargo of imperialist Greek yogurt to American athletes.
Vladimir Yakunin, a Russian plutocrat who, unlike some less vigilant magnates, knows where his black bread is buttered, groused about Western journalists who were “feeding hysteria about Russia.” Some people wondered if it was fair? Here’s Julia Ioffe at the New Republic:
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.
These Olympics might even end up doing the Russians a favor by bringing attention to their plight. Maybe Sochi will be seen as an event emblematic of the deeper problems in the country, As Garry Kasparov puts it:
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.
That’s not to say that Russians, with or without Putin, don’t have a long way to go. It’s not to say that the Russian people don’t have their quirks. But if Sochi is, as Putin claims, a vision a “new Russia,” lots of people around the world will see that the new Russia is extraordinarily similar to the old Russia.
This is his Olympics. We should all get in a good laugh at his misfortune.

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.
“I wanted to present the history of Russia as seen though the eyes of a little girl, who represents the feminine side of Russia,” he said. “The real Russians, untainted by decades of propaganda and the cold war.” Malfunctioning snowflakes aside, he largely succeeded.

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.

My So-Called Revolution. By Julia Ioffe.

Maria Baronova

My So-Called Revolution: The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 2, 2014. From the February 17, 2014 issue. Also here.

He crushed his opposition and has nothing to show for it but a country that’s falling apart.

Why Did Someone Put a Giant Wooden Cock on a Kremlin Critic Katya Romanovskaya’s Car? Buy Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, February 3, 2014.

Maria Baronova: Lady Dada. By Julia Ioffe. The New Republic, August 2, 2012. From the August 23, 2012 issue. Also here.

Maria Baronova: A Face of the Russian Protest Movement. New York Times, June 25, 2012.

Maria Baronova talks with soldiers guarding the Kremlin (in Russian). Video, Vodkerr, May 6, 2012. YouTube.

The Geopolitics of Sochi. By Michael A. Reynolds.

The Geopolitics of Sochi. By Michael A. Reynolds. Real Clear World, February 5, 2014. Also at Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Sarah Brightman: Stranger in Paradise. Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances.

Sarah Brightman: Stranger in Paradise. Live from Las Vegas 2004. Video. Angelheart1959, January 8, 2014. YouTube. Also here. From the DVD Harem: Live from Las Vegas.

Sarah Brightman: Stranger in Paradise. Studio version from Harem. Video. lovechangeall, June 15, 2010.

Sarah Brightman: Stranger in Paradise. Studio version from Harem. Audio. Abrakt, November 1, 2013. YouTube.

Alexander Borodin: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Bolshoi Theatre. Video. Dragoslav S, June 16, 2013. YouTube.

Borodin: Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor. Kirov Opera Company. Video. John J, March 5, 2012. YouTube.

Alexander Borodin: Prince Igor. Complete. Video. Pavel Karmanov, June 19, 2013. YouTube.