We may not speak the same language. We may not even support each other’s religion, but one thing we all have in common is the bad taste the Olympic city of Sochi, Russia has already left in our mouths before the Games have even begun. Russia is kinda like a work by Monet; it looks great from far away, but the closer you get, the more of a mess it is. As the Opening Ceremony of the XXII Winter Olympiad draws near, more and more eyes and ears begin to focus on Russia, and one by one the voices join in a single chorus, “What the f*%k are we doing here??”
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the New York Times has called this the most controversial Olympiad to date. let’s recap: Of course Russia’s greatest trespass, Strike One, is the deliberate attack on LGBT persons. In an interview with CBS news, Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov proudly stood before a camera and declared that there Sochi is 100% gay free and maintained that while they don’t actively pursue LGBT persons, Russia is trying to “purge” herself of homosexuality in the name of advancing the birth rate. Strike Two comes in the form of two Orca whales* which have been procured for display in the Olympic city. While the whales will not actually be performing in the events, they were specifically obtained for display at the Sochi dolphinarium “Aquatoria”. The international ban on whaling allows only for the capture of whales for research purposes, and while Sochi says they’re part of an educational display, one wonders why they pressed so hard for the whales to arrive in time for Opening Ceremony. Finally, Strike Three knocked us all over and peed on our shoes when the World learned of Sochi’s plans to exterminate (that should read “shoot” or “poison”) tens of thousands of stray dogs, which the country says are nothing more than "biological trash".
They say that history repeats itself, and they are right. In fact, on Thursday, we will relive the Summer Games in Berlin, Germany.
"Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy, and the official Nazi party paper wrote in the strongest terms that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to participate in the Games. However, when threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, he relented and allowed Black people and Jews to participate. At the same time, the party removed signs stating "Jews not wanted" and similar slogans from the city’s main tourist attractions. In an attempt to "clean up" Berlin, the German Ministry of the Interior authorized the chief of police to arrest all Romani (Gypsies) and keep them in a concentration camp," ~ Wikipedia
How sad that in 2014 we can replace the word “Jew” with “gay” and “Romani” with “dogs” and just change the name of the city, and VOILA! instant time warp to 1936. It would seem that Man has developed very little in the last 80 years, merely trading hostility against one for another.
Russian barbarism shouldn’t surprise us, but it does. I find myself torn between feeling sorry for these people and being angry with them. In my quest for a more balanced view, I learned that Russian National Security was already censoring a Coca-Cola campaign because it has for the potential spread of “LGBT propaganda”. I think we all just assumed that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended the age of Communism in the West and along with it the practice of sanitizing information and prohibition of progressive thought. I think we just figured the Cold War was over, and that we had all joined hands and happily hopped into the Information Age together. I don’t think any of us in the West really figured that these practices would go on, but it makes sense that they would go on.
The truth is, Russia is at least 40 years behind the rest of us in their thinking and policies. Imagine the US in the 1950’s and 60’s. That’s Russia today. In the 1960’s, people of color weren’t allowed to go to white schools, and they had to get up and go to the back of the bus. That’s Russia today. We thought it was cool to collect cetaceans and make them do tricks in tiny concrete swimming pools. That’s Russia today. We know better now, but in their defense (the only thing I’ll say in their defense) they have not had the benefit of a worldly education for nearly as long as we have. While we have been working out our modern social issues since WWII, Russia has only had since Perestroika (1986). What does make sense is that the USSR collapsed…they didn’t get a brand new tabula rasa population and government to start all over with. Russia never had a Civil Rights Movement and never had any use for Animal Rights. Until the 80’s, everybody and everything was property of the State for the State to do with what they willed. This is all they know, and it won’t be for another 50 years at least before they begin to accept and respect the world the way we see each other today.
While we can sympathize with the Russians as they squint in the light of the Western sun, Civil and Animal rights are not a new idea to the rest of us. Is this an attempt to proselytize a country to Western philosophy? It would be one thing to host the Games in such a place if 1936 hadn’t already happened, but it did. What are we going to do, show them again? You can’t talk to someone who has already decided they won’t listen. As gallant as it was, Jesse Owens’ 1936 performance, sadly, did not prevent the Holocaust, and while I genuinely hope that some LBGT athletes have their own “Jesse Owens moments” or two or 100, I doubt very much that the Russians will stop their brutal persecution of people based on sexual preference. The Olympics are supposed to be a reprieve from fighting and chaos, not an arena to create more. The Games represent togetherness, equality, brotherhood, and harmony, none of which are adjectives which can be used to describe the host country or city. It would be one thing if Russia was on the brink of a social breakout and had invited athletes from different cultures to help them celebrate their rebirth, but we see no such evidence from them, nor do we currently see a willingness to change or accept a more egalitarian worldview.
Oh, the Games have certainly brought the people of the world together, alright…under one petition or another.
*Incidentally, as of this morning, the Russians have decided not to display the whales for the Olympics. They will not be released, however. Instead, they have been sold to China to become an attraction in China’s version of Sea World.