Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – 7 Weeks to the Olympiad in the North Caucasus
Note: This is my 43rd 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 firstname.lastname@example.org Allow me to express my thanks to all those who already have. Paul Goble
Circassians Thank German President for Deciding Not to Go to Sochi. Leaders of the Circassian community in the diaspora have sent an open letter to the German president thanking him for taking the lead in announcing that he will not attend the Sochi Olympiad and thus prompting more debate about that event and its historical meaning (natpress.ru/index.php?newsid=8600).
Moscow Patriarchate Condemns Foreign Leaders Not Coming to Sochi Because of Anti-LGBT Law. Metropolitan Ilarion, head of the synod’s external relations department, said that those foreign leaders who are staying away from the Sochi Olympiad should be focusing on real problems in their own countries or among Christians in the Middle East than engaging in criticism of Russia. Many Europeans are now infected with "satanic” ideas, he continued, and Russia is absolutely right to defend its own and Christian values (interfax-religion.ru/?act=dujour&div=158).
ICG Sees Crackdown Spreading from North Caucasus to the Rest of Russia. Ekaterina Sakiryanskaya, an expert at the International Crisis Group, said there is evidence that Moscow’s crackdown in the North Caucasus is now spreading to other parts of the Russian Federation and may even be taking on more extreme forms as it does so (golos-ameriki.ru/content/sochi-extremism/1813310.html).
Russian Arrests of Circassian Activists ‘Catastrophe’ for All of Russia, One of Their Number Says. Ibragim Yaganov said the arrests were connected with the Olympics. Russian officials "are trying to ensure security, only security from the wrong people.” The result of such heavy-handedness will be "catastrophic not just for Circassians but for all Russia” because it will lead many who have been silent to raise their voices in protest. Russian officials arrested, then released, and then called back for question at least a dozen Circassians. Officials suggested that they were linked with the Wahhabis, something totally false (sports.yahoo.com/news/russia-detains-caucasus-activists-ahead-olympics-190701475--oly.html).
Russia’s Arrest of Circassian Backfiring, ICG Expert Says. Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, an expert at the International Crisis Group, says that the arrest of Circassians on false charges is backfiring, that the Circassians will become more active, and that their demands will receive more attention not only in the region but around the world (caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=21220).
Wave of Arrests May Prompt Circassians to Hold Congress. Mukhamed Cherkesov, the chairman of Adyge Khase, says that the sweeping crackdown on Circassians Russian officials are conducting, including the recent arrests of more than ten activists on false charges of extremism, may prompt the Circassians to convene a congress to decide on their next steps (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235195/).
Shapsugs Say Russian Officials Blocking Their Efforts to Find Ancestors’ Graves. The Shapsugs, a subgroup of the Circassians who were native to the Sochi area and who suffered the greatest proportional losses of that nation during the 1864 genocide conducted by Russian forces have again had their request to look for the graves of their ancestors turned down by Russian officials (lenta.ru/articles/2013/12/17/circassian/).
Expert Says Moscow Won’t Allow More Syrian Circassians Back to Caucasus. Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Russian Foreign and Defense Policy Council, said that Russia’s special services oppose allowing Circassians from war-torn Syria to return to the North Caucasus out of fears that their return would open a corridor for the entry of extremists (.golos-ameriki.ru/content/sochi-extremism/1813310.html).
... But Indicates Internet Access There Isn’t. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev complained, as others have, that Internet connectivity, despite official promises, is not that good or comprehensive in Sochi and called for more work in that sector (sochi2014.rsport.ru/and privetsochi.ru/blog/TELECOMSCH/39258.html).
Sochi Security to Be Like in Moscow in 1980 but More Extensive and Expensive. Experts say that Moscow will be imposing security arrangements in Sochi much like those it did during the 1980 games but that it will be using new and more expensive technology, such as drones and Internet and phone monitoring. Among the similarities between the two games, they say, will be a crackdown on dissidents prior to the Olympiad, undercover operatives who will infiltrate those who attend or take part, and severe limitations on movement that will cause long lines and delays (businessinsider.com/sochi-olympics-to-see-soviet-style-security-2013-12 and vocativ.com/12-2013/sochi-olympics-inside-russias-extensive-security/).
Regional Media Site Drops Report on Pakhomov Poll. According to Blogsochi.ru, the website of "Delovaya gazeta.Yug” initially posted a report about the poll showing low levels of trust in Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov and then took the report down, apparently as a result of official interference (blogsochi.ru/content/tsenzura-v-izdanii-%C2%ABdelovaya-gazeta-yug%C2%BB).
Meeting Calls for Ouster of Mayor Pakhomov. Approximately 100 residents of Sochi showed up at a meeting outside Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov’s office to demand his ouster because of his failure to defend them against Sochi construction or to respond to their demands for the restoration of basic services. Some observers suggested that the meeting itself was a provocation intended to give Pakhomov an excuse to crack down on the opposition (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235178/).
Sochi Authorities Arrest and Convict Blogger on Trumped Up Charges. Officials in Sochi arrested, convicted and sentenced Aleksandr Valov, editor of Blogsochi.ru, to 50 hours of public service ostensibly because his blog carried a story about a meeting of local residents angry at Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov. The authorities accused him of organizing the meeting, but Valov pointed out that his blog, which has been a thorn in the side of Pakhomov and others, is an open one and features stories about all kinds of issues from all kinds of perspectives. He rejected the findings of the court, said they were an obvious act of attempted intimidation, and said he would appeal (blogsochi.ru/content/reshenie-suda-budet-obzhalovano andblogsochi.ru/content/v-sochi-zaderzhan-glavnyi-redaktor-saita-%22blogsochi%22-aleksandr-valov).
Sochi Residents Lack Power, Water and Heat as Temperature Falls. Sochi residents in many parts of the city are suffering because of the lack of power, water and heat. Some have not had one or more of these services for more than a week despite plunging temperatures. Moreover, bus service has been cut back, and prices have been increased for certain services in advance of the Olympics when Moscow has pledged such prices will be frozen. One Sochi woman said that "we are simply surviving. The city government doesn’t react at all to our problems.” At least some of the problems have been caused by the failure of construction firms to avid hitting power and water mains. Some residents are calling for protests, and at least one has compared what is going on in his city with "a genuine genocide” (sochinskie-novosti.com/%D0%B7%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B0-%D0%B2%D0%BE-%D0%BC%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BA%D0%B5/, kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235105/,
Queer Nation Put Out ‘Olympic Jive’ Video as Ironic Christmas Present. Queer Nation, a US gay rights group, has put out a video which in the words of one of its activists, "tells the not-at-all inspiring tale of the International Olympic Committee and eleven of the top Olympic sponsors. They have agreed that the ideals of the Olympic charter are expendable platitudes because they interfere with collecting Olympic profits. The inaction by the IOC and the sponsors has reduced the Olympic charter’s assurances of non-discrimination and respect for basic human rights to mere jive talk, and the global LGBTQ community are not at all fooled by it” (youtube.com/watch?v=pE17lylxaVY).
FSB Warns Against Distribution of Nemtsov Report on Sochi. FSB officers have told Russians along the torch route that they will be arrested if they distribute copies of Boris Nemtsov’s report that criticizes the Olympics for their location, security arrangements and cost (echo.msk.ru/blog/nemtsov_boris/1218963-echo/).
Moscow Bank Says Sochi Investors Don’t Have to Pay Loans Until 2016. Faced with complaints that Olympic construction has cost far more than planned, a Russian bank says that the companies involved there will not have to pay back their loans until 2016. But some observers, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said that investors should not be bailed out just because they ask for it. They called for a balanced approach, one that would take into consideration both the companies’ demands and the needs of society (kavpolit.com/sochi-v-luchshix-tradiciyax-kurshevelya/, kommersant.ru/doc/2371793 and kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235224/).
Olympic Competitors Who Give Filmed Interviews to Unauthorized May Be Disqualified. To protect the provisions of their contract with international broadcasters, Russian officials say that any athlete who gives unauthorized interviews on film to someone who then sends the pictures out via cellphone could be disqualified, a threat certain to reduce contacts between competitors and journalsts (sochi-24.ru/sochi-2014/-atletov-diskvalificiruyut-za-olimpijskoe-intervyu.20131219.72021.html).
Olympic Village Apartments to Go on Sale Even Before Games. To raise cash, the owners of the apartments in the Olympic Village in Imeretinsk will be able to sell them starting before the end of 2013. The sales will be down on a closed basis, apparently without public signs advertising the fact or announcements of who the buyers may be (www.sochinskie-novosti.com/2013/12/19/).
Delays and Uncompleted Work Mark Infrastructure Construction. An underpass promised to be available on June 25 was in fact declared completed only at the end of October, but Sochi residents note that it floods – there is inadequate drainage – and has no electric lights, which makes it unsafe at night (blogsochi.ru/content/zatopilo-podzemnyi-perekhod-na-platanovoi-allee).
Many Sochi Roads Remain Unpaved and Deeply Rutted. While the Sochi city authorities and Olympic organizers are justly proud of many new roads in the city center, the situation just outside that district is truly disturbing: many streets and roads remain unpaved and heavily rutted, as drivers seek a way around the traffic jams on the god ones. Residents are documenting this with pictures (blogsochi.ru/content/doroga-na-pyatigorskoi ).
Security Measures in Sochi Lead to Violations of Civil and Human Rights, Activists Say. Many of the measures that Moscow has taken to ensure security at the Olympiad are leading to violations of the civil and human rights of Russians living there. Semen Simonov of Memorial says that the police routinely ignore accepted procedures and that their actions are leading to "total control over citizens” in violation of the Russian Constitution. Aleksandr Valov of Blogsochi says that the police work not for the population but for Putin and other officials. And Adrey Koshik, a Krasnodark journalist, says that residents are being subjected to repeated and unjustified searches and seizures (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/235367/).
Enhanced Sochi-Related Security Arrangements for Circassian Area to Start Early.Beginning on December 25, Russian siloviki will begin making sweeps through the Adygey Republic to arrest anyone who might be involved in supporting opposition to the Sochi Games or any violence there, according to Aslan Tkhakushinov, the head of that republic (natpress.net/index.php?newsid=11802).
Ingushetia Announces More Security for Sochi Torch and Games. Officials in Magas say they are increasing security in advance of the passage of the Olympic torch and the games themselves, seeking out anyone they believe may oppose the Olympiad or want to disrupt it
Russian Search for Illegal Gastarbeiters in Sochi Detailed. In November, siloviki made 65,803 checks, investigated more than 3500 apartments and 1500 other buildings, as well as investigated 603 transportatioin facilities and 55,600 cars, buses and trucks. In the course of this operation, the authorities detained 25 people. As a result, an operation that disrupted the lives of many and spread fear and anger in the population netted only a miniscule number of people in violation of the law (natpress.net/index.php?newsid=11802).
Adygey Republic Plans to Include ‘National Elements’ in Celebration of Torch’s Arrival. The Olympic torch will pass through Adygeya on February 3, one of its last stops before the Games themselves. A conference in Maikop this week said that republic oficials would ensure that "national elements” – presumably a reference to Circassian cultural symbols – will be included in the celebration of the torch’s passing. Russian officials are likely to cite this as an example of their claimed support for Circassians whose ancestors were subjected to genocide in Sochi in 1864 by Russian military units (http://www.natpress.net/index.php?newsid=11801).
Olympiad Restrictions Forcing Sochi Employers to Lay Off Workers. Restrictions imposed in advance of the Sochi Games on transportation are forcing some Sochi employers to lay off workers, creating yet another source of tension in the city (blogsochi.ru/content/olimpiiskie-ubytki).
Sochi Residents Say They’re Sick of ‘Zones’ and Feel They are in ‘One Big One.’ Sochi residents are fed up with the decisions of the authorities to divide their city into "zones” to limit movement and increase security. They say that in fact all this has done is to transform their formerly lovely town into one big "zone,” a term that in Russian refers to a prison camp (blogsochi.ru/content/sochinskie-zony-tuda-nizya-syuda-nizyaро).
Olympic Construction Leaves Sochi without Beaches. Russian officials have allowed private contractors to build hotels and housing so close to the shoreline that Sochi no longer has any of the beaches that for many decades were its chief calling card and attraction (blogsochi.ru/content/plyazhei-v-sochi-net).
Why Do Muscovites but Not Sochi Residents Get to Vote on Paid Parking? People in Sochi would like to know why residents of the Russian capital are being allowed a referendum on the introduction of paid parking but they are not. In the Olympic city, officials have simply introduced paid parking in many streets (privetsochi.ru/blog/auto_sochi/39367.html ).
Sochi Should be Renamed ‘Sankt Putin Grad,’ Resident Says. A Sochi resident says that after what Vladimir Putin has done to Sochi, the city should be renamed in his honor: Sankt Putin Grad (privetsochi.ru/blog/bred_sochi/39347.html).
Russian Law Makes It Hard for Officials to Force Employers to Pay Wages. According to Russian officials, Russian law makes it difficult for them to force companies to pay workers what they are owed. There are many loopholes,such as registering the company under a false name, and a "Novaya gazeta” investigation found that companies, both Russian and foreign, are using all of them in Sochi. As a result and despite a certain improvement in recent weeks, many workers there have not been paid some or all of what they have earned (novayagazeta.ru/economy/61504.html).
Sochi Cost No Less than Chechen Wars but Without Similar Justification, Russian Writer Says. Moscow has spent more on Sochi than it did on its two lost wars in Chechnya and with much less justification. If the wars in Chechnya were intended to prevent the disintegration of the Russian Federation, Sochi at best is a public relatons stunt and yet another means for officials and companies to steal from the state budget. What struck the writer, he added, is not that there was theft in Sochi. That was to be expected in any Russian project. What is shocking is just how much theft there has been and continues to be (furfurmag.ru/furfur/all/culture/168645-olympic-games).
Muslims Complain of Harassment by Sochi Officials. Officials have arrested an ethnic Russian Muslim in Sochi and harassed other Muslims there in the run up to the Olympiad, sparking a protest by the Muslim community in the city. Russian officials have been particularly focued on ethnic Russian Muslim converts believing them to be more inclined to extremism and more capable of engaging in terrorist acts because they look just like other Russians (golosislama.ru/news.php?id=20941).
Rockslide near Sochi Derails Train. A rockslide led to the derailment of a passenger train near Sochi, news agencies report. Apparently, walls intended to prevent rocks from falling onto the tracks were insufficient to hold back the slide once it began (nr2.ru/incidents/476123.html).
Struggle within United Russia Party Playing Out over Direction of Sochi Media. Forces loyal to Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov and those connected with local oligarch Viktor Teplyakov are engaged in a struggle for control over the local media, with Pakhomov having won earlier but Teplyakov having won more recently in terms of deciding what will appear in the "Mestnaya” paper (blogsochi.ru/content/gazeta-%C2%ABmestnaya%C2%BB-prevratilas-v-mestnyi-analog-ntv).
Sochi Gay Scene Now ‘In Decline,’ Participants Say. Sochi had been a major center of LGBT life in Russia, but anti-gay prejudice and policies have caused some to leave and others to retreat back into the closet. "There is no gay community here. It’s a myth,” according to Roman Kochagov, owner of one of the two surviving gay clubs (trust.org/item/20131217094442-m1z0j).
Sochi Contractors Pave Directly Over Snow Rather than Clearing It First. One reason that the roads in the Sochi area are unlikely to last is the shortcuts some highway contractors are taken. One of the most notorious, now documented in photographs, is to pave directly over snow rather than to clear the snow and prepared the foundation for the roads. When the snow melts, the road will disintegrate (privetsochi.ru/blog/bred_sochi/39260.html).
Russian Olympic Committee Tells Duma ‘Practically All’ Olympic Objects Ready. Aleksandr Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee and a member of the Duma, told Russian legislators 60 days before the start of the Sochi Olympiad tht "practically all” Olympic venues are ready and tested. He said that in his view, "the objects are not simply new, they are unique and some are the best in the world.” He didn’t say they were all finished, however (sochi-24.ru/politika/v-gosdume-podveli-itogi-podgotovki-k-olimpiade.20131216.71885.html).
Russian TV Star Says Gays Should be Burned Alive ‘in Ovens.’ Ivan Okhlobystin, star of a popular Russian television series, says that gays represent a danger to his children and that they should be burned alive in ovens. The actor, who earlier was an Orthodox priest and ideologue in a party linked to the Kremlin, also called for stripping LGBTs of their voting rights. Okhlobystin’s outburst only further enflames anti-gay attitudes in the Russian Federation (themoscowtimes.com/news/article/russian-sitcom-star-says-gay-people-should-be-burned-alive/491554.html).
Moscow Gay Club Appeals to Putin for Protection. A Moscow gay club, in the face of growing anti-LGBT attitudes in the Russian capital, has directly appealed to President Vladimir Putin for protection. As of this writing, the Kremlin leader has not responded (echo.msk.ru/blog/echomsk/1218385-echo/).
In Sochi, Go Down Shotgun Street and Make a Left. Russian officials in order to help visitors to the Sochi Games are putting up street signs in English alongside the Russian. Some of the translations are less than adequate. One, for example, translates the Russian word for "rifle” as "shotgun” (avmalgin.livejournal.com/4209700.html).
More Trees Likely to Blow Over in Sochi Because of Olympic Construction. Olympic builders have undermined the root system of trees along many streets and roads in Sochi, putting them at risk of being blown over by storms. Several hundred already have been, and their fall has knocked out power and phone lines over the last several months (blogsochi.ru/content/prichina-togo-pochemu-padayut-derevya%E2%80%A6).
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