The Sochi Olympics, 1864 and Today

Ever since the site of the next Winter Olympics was settled, fury has filled the Internet, and with good reason.
Russia has determinedly passed law after law targeting its homosexual community for discrimination, oppression, and flat-out violence.  As of this writing, homosexual acts  put people in prison in Russia and any kind of political statement or advocacy that could be construed as suggesting that gay people are in any way an acceptable part of Russian society, including simply existing as an out homosexual or being outed, is illegal.  So important is renewing its longstanding alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church and maintaining its authoritarian traditions that Russia has effectively made discussing its discrimination against homosexuals illegal.  Add in a police force so famously corrupt that thousands of Russian drivers keep dashboard cameras to document their accidents and the abuse they receive, and the stage is set for crimes against gay people to “mysteriously” go unpunished, and for incitements to violence to come from high offices and pulpits.  One famous set of critics of the Russian Orthodox Church has already faced heavy reprisal; more will follow.
Russia has not been friendly to gay people since at least the time of the Russian Revolution, whether it declared homosexuality a capitalist degeneracy to be extirpated or a crime against God.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this bigotry has asserted itself with vigor that similar monsters in the United States could only fantasize about, and which is met only with the vigor that similar policies receive in sub-Saharan Africa and Islamist theocracies.
All of this was happening as the International Olympic Committee deliberated in 2007 to determine which world city would be the site of the 2014 Winter Games, and it has continued in the time since the Committee decided to put the 2014 games in Russia and the 2018 games in South Korea.
These are far from the first Olympic Games to face controversy.  Games were held in almost-half-of-homeless-youth-are-gay Utah, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and most famously Nazi Germany.  Every one of these places exists in stark violation of the Olympic Movement’s stated philosophy.  None of those sites is compatible with the Olympic Movement’s exhortations toward “social responsibility,” “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,” “the harmonious development of humankind,” or “the preservation of human dignity.”  Hilariously, the following command gets its own numbered point in the Fundamental Principles of Olympism (page 10):
“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement”
And then:
Don’t forget: 1936.  Berlin.  Nazi Fucking Germany.
So when it comes to not offering the honor of hosting the world’s preeminent athletic event in places determined to do evil to humankind…the International Olympic Committee has a pathetic track record.  I have no expectation that the IOC will move the Olympics from the Russian Federation, which is just as well—even stereotypically level-headed nations like Canada and Sweden hide disturbingly recent atrocities behind their polite, industrious facades.  The “world” event that is the Olympic Games would have a VERY short list of potential sites if it limited itself to places with even moderately clean human rights records, and they know this.  Being chosen as the site of an Olympic event is, in practice, little more than recognition that a country has the resources to build a gigantic facility in which the Games will transpire and the infrastructure necessary to support said facility.
Even this jaded writer, however, is aghast at the OTHER crime the International Olympic Committee managed to “overlook” in choosing the site of the 2014 Winter Games.
The IOC didn’t pick just any city in Russia.  The IOC decided on Sochi.

Continue reading “The Sochi Olympics, 1864 and Today”

The Sochi Olympics, 1864 and Today
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Shifty Lines: Russia

Russia is really big.

Russia is twice as large as the next-largest country even after shedding 14 smaller countries from its periphery.  Russia is the largest country in Europe and Asia even without counting the parts on the other continent.  Russia spans nine time zones.

It’s difficult to imagine, but Russia spent a great deal of its early history as “the empire without a coastline.”  The original, ancestral homeland of the people who would become the Russians is the general vicinity of Moscow.  While the East Slavs were still coalescing as a people, they bordered the West Slavs on the west, the Karelians and other Finno-Ugric peoples to the north, the Khanate of Kazan to the east, and the Nogai Horde to the south.  To reach a coastline and the massive economic advantages that come with access to the sea, the Russians had to conquer their way there.  And conquer they did, until they dominated much of the Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea, and Black Sea boundaries and all of the peoples living therein.  Russia is smaller now, but its enormous expanse still contains numerous groups of people who do not see themselves as Russians and which the Russian state is assiduously trying to destroy.  We have already met the Caucasus peoples and their finely granulated quests for national self-determination.  Russia’s imperial designs have spanned much farther than these ongoing altercations, and tell a very familiar story.

Continue reading “Shifty Lines: Russia”

Shifty Lines: Russia

A Dozen Crossroads – The Context of Chechnya’s Violence

If one were to list regions in the world currently beset by war and insurrection, or uncomfortably held by foreign colonizers, a few place names would appear immediately: the Arab world, Tibet, Afghanistan. One name that many can offer but few can recognize is Chechnya. The warfare surrounding Chechnya, and the operations of Chechen
terrorists in the surrounding regions, has been common fare in world news in the past decade, but the lack of a Western military role in this conflict has led to a relatively weak understanding of what, exactly, is at stake for the Chechens and the other restive peoples of the region. Indeed, despite the cultural significance for many Westerners of the region surrounding Chechnya, few can even name it: the Caucasus. Continue reading “A Dozen Crossroads – The Context of Chechnya’s Violence”

A Dozen Crossroads – The Context of Chechnya’s Violence