Reflections on Russia and the winter Olympics

The winter Olympics in Sochi have ended and, as far as I can tell, went off pretty smoothly. All the dark predictions of a fiasco or even terrorist attacks that the US media endlessly speculated about before the games did not occur.

Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers take a look at what was said before the games and the reality and how these Olympics compared with others and conclude that it was pretty much the same, showcasing the best of the host country and making visitors feel welcome. But they also focus on the complicated nature of future US-Russian relations.

The Sochi Olympics were the great success Russia hoped for. The opening ceremonies proved a radiant display drawing on Russia’s most compelling cultural assets. This artful look back to Russia’s past greatness proved both a reminder and challenge to its own people to reprise their historical greatness going forward. Meanwhile, its closing ceremonies reprised these themes, reminding the viewer of Russia’s continued vibrancy in the arts.

Of course there was the dark side of the anti-gay rhetoric and laws that discriminate against them. The sending in of Cossacks to beat the Pussy Riot protestors displayed the ugly side of Russia’s authoritarianism and its determination to suppress public expressions of opposition. But Russia is by no means alone in using this kind of authoritarian tactics to suppress dangerous dissenting voices as we have learned from the NSA revelations and the way that US authorities treated critics of the US oligarchy.

The other major criticism of Russia as the games approached led to many Americans not attend: Russia’s recent discriminatory laws against the LGBT community. These laws are mostly designed to pacify socially conservative elements in Russia (as right-wing as American Christian churches – well, maybe not quite as intolerant, but you get the picture).

In advance of the games American audiences were regaled with ‘Orange Alert’ tales of impending doom from terrorist attacks on the demonstrations staged by the regime’s opponents. But the Russian government dealt deftly to provide security for the games while seeing the Western anti-public relations ploy and did not overreact. The games were indeed about athletics, not minority rights, separatism and anti-authoritarian democracy. There was nothing like the violence seen in New York City when the city’s police descended on the peaceful Occupy Wall Street demonstration after 1:30 AM and started smashing the equipment of the demonstrators (especially their guitars and musical instruments), trashing their library and driving them out, with liberal use of pepper spray on the defenseless.

The curling events seem to have gone off well, the only winter sport that I have become a fan of. Canada took gold medals in both men and women contests, while Great Britain and Sweden each took one silver and one bronze.


  1. says

    Here’s one you probably haven’t seen, how hockey-obsessed are Canadians. I’d bet not even cricket-mad India and Pakistan would do something like this:

    Bars allowed to open at 5 a.m. for gold medal hockey game

    Manitoba’s liquor authority granted bars permission to extend drinking hours if Canada makes it to the gold medal men’s hockey game on Sunday.

    Businesses need to contact the licensing officer at the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission to participate. Drinking hours could begin at 5:00 a.m. if establishments apply for the extension, Manitoba Liquor and Gaming Authority spokesperson Liz Stephenson told CTV News.

    Beer, at 5AM on a Sunday morning. At least it gave time to sober up and sleep for work on Monday.

    TV ratings were through the roof. 50% of the country watched the Canada-USA game, and 20% got up at 5AM to see the gold medal game live.

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