Next month’s winter Olympics in repressive Russia are shaping up to be like a party everybody knows they should show up at, but few want to attend.
President Vladimir Putin has lavished $51 billion on making the resort town of Sochi the perfect venue for the Feb. 7–23 games. But his political crackdowns, some of the worst in the post-Soviet history, have put the dampener on a sporting spectacle whose success depends on assembling under one roof the ideals of mutual respect, human regard, good sportsmanship, and fair play — goals we have pursued, but failed to conquer, throughout our stormy history.
Those virtues don’t exist in Putin’s Russia, where tyranny, crookery, and human rights abuses rule, and freedom lovers are harassed and intimidated by restrictive laws, including a recent anti-gay one classifying “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. That means parents telling their kids that homosexuals are normal people — or Olympic visitors suspected of airing gay views — can be arrested and fined. The legislation is reminiscent of the bad old days of Stalin, when national fear and paranoia were so rampant that relatives ratted out each other in an instant, and people arrested their lovers in bed after sex, for being suspected traitors.
The Sochi games show how low the International Olympic Committee has fallen in its tireless efforts to bring inhumane regimes into the global fold, although its push for moral equivalency has failed before.
Chinese officials promised to upgrade their nation’s atrocious social conditions before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but reportedly imprisoned human rights protestors without a trial to keep them out of sight in the run-up to the event, upending the image of stability and harmony they were seeking to project.
Russia’s grand show promises the same inconsistency, and is further marred with threats of terror attacks from Islamo-nuts in the North Caucasus mountains that tower over Sochi. Rebel leaders have ordered jihadists to “do their utmost to derail” the games they describe as “satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors.”
Yet the real kiss of death for Putin’s Russia comes courtesy of Russians familiar with their schizo-leader’s cruel heart: “Pussy Riot” punk rocker Nadezhda Tolokonnikova called for an Olympics boycott after her release from the Siberian prison camp she was packed off to in 2012 for singing an anti-state song in a Moscow cathedral. And performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky stripped down in broad daylight last November and nailed his genitals to cobblestones outside Lenin’s Mausoleum — one of the world’s most visited sites — to expose Russia’s “police state.”
“A naked artist, looking at his balls nailed to the Kremlin pavement, is a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference, and fatalism of contemporary Russian society,” Pavlensky wrote on his website.
The image certainly shrivels the spirit of the planet’s most famous athletic forum, designed to remind us that even in tough times, the human spirit is unconquerable — and that human decency is the only gauge for people and nations seeking a just world.