A number of people have asked me in the last few weeks whether I have any national pride for Russia during these Sochi Olympics. Maybe it’s all the writing I’ve been doing the last few years, but I don’t think I’ve ever been asked before about cheering on another country. It’s never even occurred to me (especially not when I’m watching back-to-back gold medal hockey ;)…), which I guess says a lot about where I fall on the hybrid identity scale. Maybe it was harder the last time Olympics in Russia were, of course, in the USSR, just as the Jewish immigration of the 1970s was winding down. If you found yourself watching from this side of the ocean, recently arrived from a country that hated you so much, it wouldn’t let go, you may have felt differently. This time though, the games seemed less about national ties and more about politics and Putin.
I thought I’d post some of the Olympics round-up that I included in the last issue of the Soviet Samovar newsletter (What, not subscribed yet? Get yours here!). If you’ve already read the newsletter, you can skip down to the bottom – I’ve added some new links to the slightly more measured post-Olympics coverage that’s come out in the last day.
Opening and Closing Ceremonies – Watch Online
CBC has posted the opening and closing ceremonies on YouTube. If you were watching the Canadian broadcast last night, you missed parts of the performance, like the placards of Russian/Soviet literary giants, due to very poorly timed advertising. I hope those of you watching in the US and elsewhere got a better show.
From the February Soviet Samovar – Spotlight on Sochi
The world has suddenly become painfully aware of Putin’s repressive regime – you know, the one where he makes journalists stay in hotels with dirty water. Leaving aside the faux outrage of the media, and the slightly inconvenient fact that Sochi doesn’t exactly do winter (Stalin kept one of his 18 dachas in Sochi), the reactions to the Olympics have been the usual mix of debates about whether sports should or shouldn’t be politicized (and who isn’t counting the Russians on the Israeli team?) Comparisons between anti-gay oppression and the Jewish repressions of days gone by have been many, as has the debate about whether this is even a Jewish concern – Tablet is “tuning out” the Olympics arguing that “By turning off our TVs, we’ll be sending an unmistakable message that we wish to have no part in the Kremlin’s glories.” For others, Sochi is very much a Jewish concern – this one-rabbi town now has five Jewish info centres, three shuls and 13 rabbis, all ready for Jewish visitors and Olympians (and a memorial ceremony for the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.). And of course for Putin, it’s been a “coming out” party of sorts of his own – a chance to flex his muscles, thumb his nose at the world, and remind everyone just who’s in charge. But I hear the opening ceremonies were nice.
+ Personally, I recommend you read the ever-thoughtful Vicki Boykis’ moving blog post that manages to weave together the strangeness and guilt of going home for the first time after immigrating, with the thoughtless and dismissive response to Sochi of western journalists. For you Star Trek nerds out there, even Wesley Crusher thinks you should read it. » Vicki Boykis
+ And, for some former Soviet-Jews, the anti-gay repressions in Russia hit very close to home – like Yelena Goltsman, an LGBT activist and former Soviet Jew, who campaigned for boycotting this year’s Olympics. » Forward
+ Flashback to Moscow – if you were a child in 1980, Yuri Sapyrkin’s memories of watching Baba Yaga trying to stop Mishka from getting to the Olympics will bring a dreamy smile to your face. “For people a little bit younger than Putin’s generation like me, this Mishka flying away, it’s like a symbol of the end of the Soviet Union, collapse of the Soviet Union. Because it was like a prophecy that something good … connected to your childhood would fly away and everybody would [be] in tears, but you cannot do [anything].” » PRI
The next day: We still can’t stop talking about Sochi
+ “Post-Soviet Russians lament the loss of the spaces that were once theirs to travel to and play in. The Baltic beaches are now “abroad,” and so is Crimea, given to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev in a symbolic act of generosity. Independent Georgia controls much of the Black Sea shore. Only Greater Sochi remains to remind post-Soviet Russians of the Soviet dream vacation.” – Foreign Affairs
+ A rare site in the recent coverage – the Carnegie Moscow Center dares think about the Russians themselves writing that “Russia Remains With Itself,” as did NPR, with a fabulous photo essay of Russians in “Beyond Sochi: Photos of Russia by Russians“. Because when people take photos of their own fellow citizens, that’s newsworthy.
+ From Michael Idov, some thoughts on being a liberal in a Sochi-soaked Russia – they might have thought they wanted Russia to fail, but when the western media mockery went a little too far, out came the Russian soul. And still more, on Russia’s failure to fail.
+ And of course, the discussion of Russian anti-gay repressions continues… from the Forward, a reminder that Putin is just getting going, while in Slate, Masha Gessen writes of the failures of the international activist movement, and calls out corporate America’s self-serving pro-LGBTQ statements for the empty, no-risk, gestures that they were.
+ But never mind the human suffering associated with the Sochi Olympics… what about the puppies?
+ And finally, I leave with you with this. Because for some moments, there truly are no words – “Watch a Russian Police Choir Sing ‘Get Lucky’ at the Opening Ceremony”