Monday, May 5, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Statue of Stalin, Wartime Allies at Yalta to Be Erected in Sochi

Paul Goble

Baku, May 5 – In an action that will only add to the controversies surrounding the Sochi Olympics, a Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin announced yesterday that next Sunday a Russian foundation with which he is associated will unveil a statue in Sochi commemorating the meeting of Stalin, FDR and Churchill at Yalta at the end of World War II.
The statue, paid for by the Our Debts Foundation, will be the centerpiece of a new museum in Sochi. It portrays Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill as they appeared in the famous picture taken at Yalta in 1945, and thus, Victor Baturin said, recalls “the historic victory and cooperation of the great powers” (
While President Vladimir Putin and many other Russian politicians and commentators now see that wartime cooperation not only as a confirmation of Moscow’s status but also as a model of the way in which the major powers of today should cooperate, many people elsewhere have a very different view of the Yalta conference.
For East Europeans and their supporters elsewhere, Yalta represented the West’s betrayal of their homelands, an action in which Roosevelt and Churchill caved in to Stalin and consigned their homelands to a Soviet occupation which lasted almost half a century. Indeed, for many of them, “Yalta” is as symbolically loaded a place name as “Munich.”
And because that remains true more than 60 years after the summit there, this statue is certain to reopen some old wounds and may even lead some people to add their voices to those, both in the North Caucasus and elsewhere, who believe that Sochi is the wrong place for the Olympics and to demand that their governments boycott the games.
Many groups are already upset. The five-million-strong Circassian diaspora is upset by Moscow’s plans because the games will take place at the site of their deportation in 1864, an act that led to the deaths of almost a million of them and cut the rest off from their historical homeland.
In addition, some of Russia’s 20 plus million Muslims are angry because both local Russian officials in Sochi and Moscow’s representatives on the Russian Olympic preparation committees have made it very clear that they are not interested in seeing the construction of any permanent mosque in Sochi.
And last but no means least, residents of the city of Sochi itself and the region around that city are increasingly upset that the Russian organizers of the Olympics have ignored their needs and concerns, confident as those with money and power often are that they can do whatever they want with impunity.
Yesterday, however, the anger of some Sochi residents, including descendents of the Old Believer community there, boiled over into a public demonstration against what the organizers have done, a protest large enough and vocal enough to attract the attention of the Moscow media if not yet that of the Russian government or the International Olympic Committee.
Some 300 residents assembled in a city part to protest plans to move them out of their homes and destroy their neighborhood in order to build one or another Olympic venue or the kind of luxurious housing that some in Moscow have been using the games in Sochi as the occasion to construct (
Officials surrounded them with militia and forced them to pass through metal detectors, and the local governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, warned that he was prepared to use force to prevent outsiders from joining the demonstration or those taking part in engaging in the kind of action that might lead to some kind of mediagenic social explosion.
That kept the number of demonstrators to a minimum as did official arguments that the residents were being selfish and that plans for the games were already fixed, but nonetheless the protest went forward, with participants carrying signs that expressed their outrage about what was taking place.
“Sochi for the Sochi Residents” read one, and “We do not want to be BOMZHI [the Russian word for bum, an acronym for ‘people without a definite place of residence’]” read another. And organizers said they will continue to resist plans to displace them as construction proceeds (
Whether they will achieve their goal or not remains to be seen, but the image of international protests against China and the Olympic torch on its way to the opening of the Beijing games are an obvious model of what individuals angry about the policy of the hosts of these games can do at least to attract attention to their causes and their plight.

No comments: