Window on Eurasia: Sochi Countdown – The Olympiad in the North Caucasus Begins
Note: This is my 50th – and last — special Window on Eurasia about the meaning and impact of the Sochi Olympiad. I want to thank all of you who have provided me with citations, who have offered perspectives, and who have corrected my mistakes. I very much hope that the Sochi Games, however ill-advised and ill-prepared they have been, will take place without violence or greater repression. Many thanks. Paul Goble firstname.lastname@example.org
Polls Show Russians Want Sochi to Succeed but are Upset by Costs. Polls conducted by VTsIOM and the Levada Center show that a majority of Russians want the Games to be a success and to show Russia in a good light, but many respondents say they are angry about the enormous amounts of money and massive corruption preparation for the Olympics has involved. And most say they have no plans to attend but will watch the competitions on television( svoboda.org/content/article/25252898.html,
If IOC had Known What It Does Now, It Might Not have Selected Sochi, Former IOC Member says. Els van Breda Vriesman, a former Dutch member of the International Olympic Committee, says that if the IOC had known that Russia would violate its pledges on the environment and other issues, it might not have voted for holding the games in Sochi but instead awarded them to another city (nos.nl/os2014/artikel/597575-olympisch-comite-betreurt-sotsji.html).
Kozak, in Condemning Media Complaints about Hotels, Digs Himself into a Deeper Hole. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak who is overseeing the Olympiad for Moscow and who like many other Russian officials has been upset by journalistic accounts about in Sochi, said "we have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day.” One of his spokesman then had to backtrack and declare that Moscow has not installed surveillance camersin hotel rooms or bathrooms in the hotels there (wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304680904579366712107461956). For a survey of additional Russian complaints about Western media coverage and suggestions that such treatment is intended to besmirch Russia as a result of Russophobia rather than to report the facts, see newrepublic.com/article/116507/russians-hit-back-west-cool-it-olympic-schadenfreude).
15 Signs Sochi Isn’t Ready for Games. The "Washington Post” provided a list of 15 signs that Sochi isn’t ready for the games and that the Olympics "could get off to a bumpy start.” Among them are the following: "the Olympic flame went out 44 times,” mass killings of stray animals, blocking political activists from coming to games, terrorists, online photos of "’Sochi problems,’” and "gross and hilarioius hotel mishaps,” including one hotel without a floor but with a large picture of Vladimir Putin. That list could easily be extended (washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/02/05/15-signs-that-russia-is-not-very-ready-for-the-olympics/).
US Warns Russia of Possible Toothpaste Bombs ahead of Sochi. The US government has warned the Russian authorities and US airlines that they have evidence, unspecified, that terrorists may seek to carry bombs hidden in toothpaste tubes from the US to Sochi. US officials said they were acting "out of an abundance of caution” rather than because of a direct and immediate indication of a threat (mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/sochi-2014-terror-alert-warns-3116206).
Moscow Officials Say Circassians Can Only Be ‘Pawn’ for Others. An Israeli specialist on the North Caucasus says that Russian officials dismiss the possibility that the Circassians will ever be able to reconstitute their state in that region. "The most that [the Circassians] are capable of is to be a pawn in the geopolitical games of the great peoples,” he says they say (avrom-caucasus.livejournal.com/326861.html).
Despite Objections of Most Circassians, 26 Will Attend Sochi Games, Russian Officials Say. Numerous Circassian organizations have said that any Circassian who goes to Sochi will be a traitor to the national cause. But despite that, 15 will attend the opening ceremony and another 11 will come later, Russian officials say. Moscow has not identified them, but Circassian activists suspect they are people who have business interests in the North Caucasus over whom Moscow has influence or those who are subject to some other form of pressure (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237714/ andfacebook.com/dalal.shaker.73/posts/404590539687339).
Circassian Exhibit Opens in Sochi. A 600 square meter Adygey House opened in Sochi today, Moscow’s nod to the IOC requirement that host countries acknowledge the indigenous peoples of the area where the games are held. It is located ten meters from Switzerland House and was prepared by Krasnodar Kray officials rather than Circassian experts and activists (kavkazoved.info/news/2014/02/04/cherkesskij-kolorit-olimpiady.html).
Moscow Enlists Historians, Archaeologists to Present Its Version of Circassian History. Over the past year, the Russian Academy of Sciences has published selections of documents designed to spread Russia’s understanding of what occurred in the North Caucasus at the time of the tsarist conquest and to undercut the arguments of Western historians and Circassian activists. Now, Moscow had stepped up that effort, organizing a meeting of historians tasked with coming up with a single approved version of the events in the North Caucasus and enlisting an archaeologist working in Sochi to suggest after preliminary work that there is no confirmation for suggestions that there were mass graves in or near that city that Circassians have insisted must exist. The archaeologist in question does acknowledge that ground conditions there make it unlikely that human remains would survive for very long (mk.ru/social/article/2014/01/30/978147-na-finishe-olimpiyskoy-trassyi-v-sochi-arheologi-nashli-yazyicheskoe-svyatilische.html and nazaccent.ru/content/10463-eksperty-nauchnomu-soobshestvu-nuzhno-opredelitsya-s.html)
Two Pounds Open in Sochi But Killing of Homeless Animals Continues. Following widespread criticism of a program to kill homeless animals, Russian officials opened one small pound in Sochi, which critics said was little more than "a concentration camp” for dogs, and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska opened a second. But despite those steps, Russian officials continued to defend the program, demanding that critics explain how they would react if a homeless dog were to run into a competition area, and ae continuing it. In fact, officials have now placed a bounty for each dead animal, an arrangement that many fear will lead to indiscriminate killing of pets as well as genuinely homeless animals (theguardan.com/world/2014/feb03/sochi -pest-control-stray-dogs-winter-olympics, livingfreedom.ru/content/novyi-priyut-v-sochi-kontslage-dlya-zhivotnykh, and the moscowtimes.com/sochi2014/Dog-Rescuers-Save-Sochi-Canines-Condemned-to-Death).
Olympic Construction Destroyed Bird Sanctuary. Despite promises to stage the greenest Olympics in history, Moscow has destroyed much of the environment, most prominently the Sochi Orthnithological Park in Imeretia where the Olympic Park now stands. That site which had been a swampy area populated by numerous species o f birds has now been paved over, and the birds are gone, never to return, ecologists say (gazaryan-suren.livejournal.com/123765.html
Toilet Bowl Story Just Won’t Stop Running. Ever since the BBC posted a picture of two commodes in a single stall in Sochi, new reports have come in of even more absurd toilet stories, including but not limited to, a toilet where the seat was fastened in a way that made it impossible to use the commode, a toilet stall in which there were chairs facing the toilet, and sets of rules for those using toilets. Not surprisingly, all these stories and the accompanying pictures have gone viral on the Internet (twitter.com/OnlyRussians/status/430788946239299584/photo/1
Sochi’s Muslims Still Don’t have a Mosque, Told to Use One 50 Miles Away. Since 1996, the 20,000 Muslims have been seeking official approval to build a mosque. They haven’t gotten it and consequently do not have a regular place to pray. Officials have told them that they should use the single-room mosque in a village of 180 people, 50 miles from Sochi and not on any rail line (worldbulletin.net/news/128318/still-no-mosque-in-sochi-as-winter-games-approach).
Trash Disposal in Sochi Threatens Environment, Public Health. The gasification method that Russian officials are using to dispose of the massive amounts of construction debris and other trash threatens to contaminate the environment and thus become a threat to the health of all those who drink the water in the area, according to Russian and international experts (ewnc.org/node/13533).
Sochi Officials Should Focus on Physical Rather than Political Security, Russian Opposition Figures Says. Security officials in Sochi are devoting greater efforts to ensuring political stability – that is, the absence of any dissent or criticism of Vladimir Putin – than they are to guaranteeing the physical security of participants and fans at the Games, according to Boris Nemtsov and Dmitry Oreshkin, two leading Russian opposition figures say. The FSB clearly understandings, Oreshkin said, that it is responsible for "political security” and that is why it is using the fan passport system, arrests, and harassment to keep anyone who might object to the Putin games away from Sochi (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237760/).
Putin’s Press Secretary Says Sochi Security ‘100 Percent Ready.’ Dmitry Peshkov, press secretary for the Russian president, says that "the system of security for the Sochi Olympiad is 100 percent ready and all offers of foreing colleagues for assistance are being accepted with gratitude.” One hopes that the first half of this sentence is true, but early reports by Western and Georgian officials that their offers had been turned down mean that the second is not (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237749/).
‘Second Class Russian Citizen’ Complains to Putin. Sergey Fadeyev, editor of "Kaluga Vchernyaya,” who describes himself as "a second class Russian citizen” because he has been turned down by Sochi officials when he applied for a fan passport, has written an open letter to President Vladimir Putin complaining about his fate, noting that he has never been involved in any militant or opposition activities – although some in the regime may view this letter as an indication that he now is — and therefore deeply resents the way he has been treated. All he wanted was to go to Sochi and cheer on Russia’s atheletes, but now he can’t (civitas.ru/news.php?code=14489).
Moscow Writer Says Freedom House Using Sochi Games to Harm Image of Russia. Freedom House, which receives much of its funding from the US State Department, plays "the bad cop” in Washington’s relations with Moscow and is seeking to besmirch the image of Russia as a whole by its comments on the Sochi Games, according to Stanslav Apetyan, a Moscow commentator (politonline.ru/comments/15232.html).
Moscow Failed to Live Up to Its Olympic Commitments, German Paper Says. "Tagesspiegel” says that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Olympic Committee have failed to live up to their commitments given to the IOC when they sought and won the right to host the Sochi Games. The German paper says that the Russians operated under the principle "We make promises but don’t keep them” (nr2.ru/inworld/483062.html).
Kuzbass Miners Call for Strike on Opening Day of Olympiad. Perhaps hopeful that officials will feel compelled to settle lest Russia get another public relations black eye, the miners in the Kuzbass reigon have announced that they will strike on February 7, yet another example of the way people are making calculations about the timing of their actions by taking Putin’s Games into account (svpressa.ru/society/article/81766/).
Sochi Residents Continue to Suffer from Power Outages and Water Cutoffs. Despite official promises, Sochi residents still face power outages, water and sewage cutoffs, and problems with the city administration and public utilities. This week, the arrival of large numbers of visitors added to their travails, cutting off their access to stores, leading to traffic tie ups, and making it difficult for some to get to work. Some complained that signs were wrong and that traffic lights and street crossing buttons weren’t working, and the residents of one district complained that Putin and his entourage wouldn’t receive their protests and that the Moscow media didn’t cover their complaints (http://www.privetsochi.ru/blog/auto_sochi/41271.html,privetsochi.ru/blog/bred_sochi/41229.html,
‘Terrorists have Already Won’ at Sochi, Golts Says. In a commentary in "Yezhdnevny zhurnal,” Aleksandr Golts says that the terrorists have already won in Sochi because every time Russian officials say that everything is secure, they call attention to the underlying security problems of the North Caucasus, something that will be true even if the Games themselves take place without violence (ej.ru/?a=note&id=24339).
… Sparking New Protests Abroad … LGBT groups have announced that they will organize demonstrations against Russia’s anti-gay laws and practice in 19 cities around the world over the course of the Sochi Olympiad (rus-obr.ru/days/29322).
NBC Warns about Russian Hacking and Phone Tapping in Sochi. NBC, which will carry the Sochi Games on American television, told its audience that "if you have sensitive data that you don’t want stolen, then don’t bring it to Sochi. And if it’s too late for that, then don’t talk about sensitive topics” while there. NBC reporter Richard Engel says he and his colleagues were hacked "almost immediately” and malware allowing the Russians to tap or record phone calls was inserted. He noted that the US government has said that visitors to Sochi "should have no expectation of privacy. Even in their hotel rooms. And as we found out, you are especially exposed as soon as you try and communicate” (businessinsider.com/hackers-in-sochi-2014-2 and
FSB has Made Eavesdropping ‘an Olympic Event,’ Soldatov Says. Andrey Soldatov, Russia’s leading independent researcher on Russian security agencies, says that the FSB has been pleased that the Snowden revelations have distracted attention from the activities of Russian services, especially since these services have stepp up their activities in Sochi. He notes that Western rights activists continue to focus more on what the US is doing than on what Russia is, despite the fact that Russia at least in Sochi may be playing a far more invasive game (themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/fsb-makes-eavesdropping-an-olympic-event/494053.html). For a broader discussion of this issue, see the article by Sufian Zhemuhov and Robert W. Orttung in the new issue of "Problems of Post-Communism” atmetapress.com/content/hq65k7637884/.
Sewage Leaks Still a Problem in Many Parts of Sochi. Many sewage lines either leak or have been improperly connected in various parts of the Olympic city, prompting widespread complaints about the smell and fears about the public health consequences. Pictures posted online show just how inadequate the system still is despite official promises that everything would be in order by the time of the opening ceremony (privetsochi.ru/blog/sochi2014/41241.htmlprivetsochi.ru/blog/bred_sochi/41634.html
English Spellings on Sochi Signs Leave Much to Be Desired… Many signs which feature English translations of Russian instructions recall those in Malcolm Bradbury’s classic satire of Eastern European states during the Cold War, "Welcome to Slaka.” One sign, for example, said visitors should not walk with "durdy shoeses” on the snow. London’s "Telegraph” said "we could comment, but our Russia isn’t so good” (theinsider.com.ua/lifestyle/kak-v-internete-smeyutsya-nad-olimpiadoi-v-sochi/).
… While Other Signs are Troubling in Any Language. One sign at a checkpoint on the edge of Sochi asked drivers to "check for guns in tanks” before proceeding further (twitter.com/search?q=%23SochiProblems).
Soviet Sports Art Informs Sochi Opening Ceremony Stage. As any number of people have already noticed, the backdrop for the opening of the Sochi Olympiad recalls the monumentalism and stylistics of Soviet-era art. As one commentator put it delicately in a reporton an exhibit of Soviet sports art, competition "haslong been a key plank of Russian propaganda, from triumphant medalists … to mass parades of agile beautifies and clean-limbed muscle-men … while Soviet-era architecture design, literature, cinema and music all command international interest, visual arts have tended to lag behind” (readrussia.com/2014/02/05/soviet-sport-on-the-eve-of-sochi/).
Terrorism Will Continue in the North Caucasus. Even if Moscow succeeds in preventing a terrorist incident during the Olympiad, there will be more terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus in the future. According to Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya of the International Crisis Group, "you don’t need much to do this. You need a committed jihadi and a bomb, which is quite cheap and you can make it at home. It’s difficult to deal with” (mobile.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/world/europe/an-olympics-in-the-shadow-of-a-war-zone.html?referrer=).
Sochi Builders Install Bricks without Cement. Either because they are pressed for time or because they want to cut corners for other reasons, some Sochi builders are installing concrete block walls without cement between the blocks. Such walls, as a picture suggests, could easily collapse (youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iEnj3lBENQc).
Human Rights First Calls for US Delegation to ‘Stand for Equality’ at Sochi. HRF, a gay rights organization, says that it is not enough that some of the members of the US delegation to Sochi are openly gay or lesbian. All of them must speak out against Russia’s anti-LGBT law and it is gathering signatures on an online petition calling for that (actions.humanrightsfirst.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=9182).
ICG and HRW Say Enhanced Security at Sochi Could Lead Violence in North Caucasus. Russia’s security build up in Sochi could have the unintended consequence of leading to more violence in the North Caucasus even if it manages to keep the games themselves safe, according to experts at Human Rights Watch and the Interntional Crisis Group (sobkorr.ru/infopovod/52EF997B750C4.html).
Doping Scandal has Alreaady Handed Russia Its First Defeat at Sochi, TASS Analyst Says. Dmitry Kogan,who writes commentaries for ITAR-Tass, says that the finding that at least one Russian athlete had used illegal drugs represents "the first defeat of Russia” in the Olympiad (http://tass-analytics.com/opinions/1500).
Security Stepped Up in Moscow as Well for Sochi Games. Russian officials have stepped up security measures in the Russian capital in advance of the Sochi Olympics, apparently out of concern that terrorists might choose to target Moscow in order to get greater attention (izvestia.ru/news/564953).
Tatar Nationalist Charged for Urging a Boycott of Kazan Universiade Last Summer. In an action that highlights what may happen to Russian critics of the Sochi Games, officials have brought charges against Fauziya Bayramova, a leading Kazan Tatar nationalist, because she urged competitors to stay away from the Kazan Universiade (ng.ru/regions/2014-02-03/2_tatarstan.html).
‘Faster, Higher, Funnier’ Entrees Posted. Moscow’s "Novyye izvestiya” has posted online some of the entries of its fifth international cartoon contest which this time around is devoted to the Sochi Olympics. These are available at konkurs.newizv.ru/.
Sochi Police Suggest BlogSochi Editor Leave Town During Olympiad. The Sochi police have suggested that Aleksandr Valov, editor of BlogSochi.ru, leave town during the competition. Valov’s site is viewed by 30-40,000 people each day, 70 percent of them locals, and is a major source for what has gone wrong in the preparations for the Olympics (blogsochi.ru/content/blogger-v-sochi-issleduet-obratnuyu-storonu-olimpiady-cbc-kanada).
Only 10 Percent of Sochi Visitors Will Be from Outside of Russia. Russians will make up 90 percent of the fans at the Sochi Olympics, with the largest numbers coming from Krasnodar kray, in in which Sochi is located, and nearby Rostov Oblast, according to Russian experts (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237670/).
Despite Warm Temperatures, Sochi Will Have Plenty of Snow, Most Man-Made. Roman Vilfand, head of the Russian Hydrometeorological Service, says that temperatures during the Games will be mostly above freezing but that snow cannons and other techniques will ensure that there will be enough snow for the competitions (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237660/).
Dutch Petition King and Government Not to Go to Sochi. 35,000 Dutch citizens have called on their kind and prime minister not to attend the Sochi Olympiad in order to protest Russia’s anti- gay laws. Originally, Russian officials said that they expected as many as 60 chiefs of state and heads of government, but far fewer, perhaps less than a quarter of that number have said they are planning to attend (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237652/ and kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/237654/).
Two US Navy Ships on Station Off Sochi Coast. The USS Ramage and the USS Mount Whitney have taken up positions in the Black Sea near Sochi to provide support in the event an evacuation becomes necessary. Some Russians are angry but the ships have remained outside of Russian territorial waters (kp.ru/online/news/1648157/).
Estonian Olympic Team Pictured with Huskies as Protest Against Killing of Homeless Animals in Sochi. Estonian Olympians posed with Huskies for their official photograph in order to protest reports that officials in Sochi have been killing rather than rounding up homeless dogs and cats (http://www.bk55.ru/mc2/news/article/1850 andsiapress.ru/news/society/29437).
Russian Olympic Winners Will Get Prizes from Both Moscow and Regions. Russian officials have announced that Russian Olympians who win medals will receive money prizes from both the central Russian government and the regions from which they are from (newizv.ru/sport/2014-01-31/196317-cena-zolota.html).
Half of Police in Sochi from Somewhere Else in Russia. Approximately half of the 30,000 policemen now in Sochi are from other regions of Russia, and at least some of them are unhappy with the facilities the authorities have provided them and as the behavior of a group from St. Petersburg shows very much want to go home
Russian Conservatives Upset by Plans to Have Tatu Perform at Games. Russian conservatives say they are very upset that Moscow has decided to have Tatu, whose members are openly lesbian, perform at the games. That may distract international attention from Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, but it is a concession the authorities should never have made (via-midgard.info/news/lesbiyanki-na-radost-izvrashhencam-mira-budut.htm).
Exchanging or Returning Tickets Could Create Problems. Those who have purchased tickets and want or have to exchange or return them must follow careful procedures, officials say, but the process could open the way for those without proper identification to get into venues, as could the day passes now being sold (privetsochi.ru/blog/sochi2014/41326.htmland
Sochi Volunteers Over-Doing Enforcement. Some Sochi residents are complaining that the volunteers working during the games are taking the rules too literally or are enforcing provisions in a more radical way than intended. If those who are victimized in this way can get to their superiors, they are likely to be treated more fairly. If not, they will have problems as did one woman who was initially deprived of all of her insulin by the firt-line volunteers (privetsochi.ru/blog/sochi2014/41240.html).
The Only Prescription in Sochi is ‘Don’t Get Sick.’ Residents say that shortcomings in the medical support system in their city mean that the only real prescription is "don’t get sick!” (privetsochi.ru/blog/med_sochi/41223.html).
Sochi Games ‘Cancelled,’ According to Satirical Article. A satirical article in the "Examiner” said that the Sochi Games were cancelled on February 8th "after Russian authorities arrested almost three-quarters of the athletes.” It continued "One of the first to be arrested was a Dutch speed skater whose iPod contained the greatest hits of the Village People. He is currently awaiting bail.The entire US hockey team was arrested en masse, because the Russian authorities deemed their jeans too tight. A clear sign of gayness, according to one unnamed source at the FSB. Every single competitor in the luge competition was arrested because the authorities deemed their outfits ‘too kinky’ … All members of the bobsled teams were arrested for what the Russian authorities deemed ‘inappropriate touching, and sitting too close.’ All male curling competitors were arrested. When reporters asked why, a Russian security official just snorted and said, "Men with brooms? Please…isn’t it obvious?” … And finally, the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian teams were all arrested and immediately shipped to Siberia. When asked what they had done wrong, one Russian official shrugged his shoulders, sighed and said, "Nothing, old habits die hard” (examiner.com/article/winter-olympics-cancelled).
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