Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Invoking Sakharov, Yabloko Leader Backs Tbilisi’s Call for Boycotting Sochi Games

Paul Goble

Staunton, November 23 – Most Russian commentary on Georgian calls for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics has been hostile, but Boris Vishnevsky, a member of the Yabloko Party board in St. Petersburg, not only backs Tbilisi’s appeal but invokes the memory of Academician Andrey Sakharov in support of that step.
In a blog post today, Vishnevsky says that one can only be pleased that 65 percent of those who took part in an Ekho Moskvy poll (www.echo.msk.ru/polls/728217-echo/) believe that “Georgia has the right to call on the international community to boycott the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 (echo.msk.ru/blog/boris_vis/728484-echo/).
While Vishnevsky implicitly recognizes that this poll was not based on a representative sample of the Russian population, he argues that “the international community will be correct if it responds positively. And the International Olympic Committee will be correct if it changes the venue of the Olympiad.”
“Putin lovers” and “state-thinking people” won’t agree, but the international community needs to come to its senses and recognize the inappropriateness of a winter Olympics in the tropics and the sad fact that the holding of such games in today’s Russia is “a crude violation of the Olympic Charter.”
According to that document, Vishnevsky points out, “one of the tasks of the IOC is to “oppose any political misuse of sport and sportsmen.” But that is just what Putin and his regime have done, “privatizing” sports in such a way that any victory is used to show “superiority over the West” and any defeat to demonstrate the existence of “an anti-Russian conspiracy.”
Another responsibility of the IOC, according to the Olympic Charter, is to demonstrate a concern about the protection of the environment. As Igor Chestin, the head of the World Wildlife Foundation in Russia, has pointed out, Moscow has “violated all the norms of environmental protection law.”
In order to give Putin a public relations triumph, ecologists have demonstrated and regularly reported to the world, it is “destroyed unique natural objects” and behaved in such a way that there will be more destruction and catastrophes both “before the Games or after them” (www.bellona.ru/articles_ru/articles_2010/Chestin-interv).
(Although Vishnevsky does not mention it, IOC rules also require that those who organize an Olympiad respect for the culture and communities of the people living at or near the site. Not only has Moscow trampled over the people of Sochi, but it has ignored the objections of Circassians who point to the genocide of their people which took place there 150 years ago.)
As the Yabloko leader puts it, Moscow has “spit” on all this: “Sochi-2014,” in the minds of the powers that be there must be “the largest public relations project of Putin,” regardless of the ways in which it violates the Olympic Charter, desecrates the environment and history, and costs more than any previous games.
Indeed, Vishnevsky continues, one of the reasons that Putin has focused on the Sochi Olympics so much is precisely the cost of holding them. The amounts are so great that they give “an opportunity for a virtually unlimited ‘leakage’ of budgetary funds” into his hands and those of his supporters. Those who are paying – the Russian people – won’t even get to attend.
What should be done? Would it be better for Russia and the world “if the Olympiad of 2014 were to occur in another place?” Perhaps. But no one can count on that happening, the Yabloko leader continues, given how important Sochi has become for Putin and how unwilling many world leaders are to offend him -- even when he is at his most outrageous.
But if the Sochi games cannot be moved or cancelled, then a boycott of these games make sense, Vishnevsky suggests. And he recalls that in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Academician Andrey Sakharov “called for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics” as well as for the sanctions against the Soviet Union “for violating human rights.”
Such rights have been violated in Sochi as well as elsewhere in the Russian Federation by Putin and his team already for a long time. And “as far as an invasion is concerned,” Vishnevsky concludes, “has not Russia by force invaded and de facto (although not de jure) annexed a third of Georgian territory?”

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