понедельник, 19 августа 2013 г.

The Sochi Olympics: To boycott or to participate?

Translated by Jan Wesenberg (Russian to Norwegian), Siri Fuglseth (Norwegian to English). Thanks.

Recently Stephen Fry called for an effort to stop Russian authorities from using the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014 to create the impression that the civilized world approves of the politics that leads to the rebirth of fascism. It is an absolutely appropriate and timely request. In the middle of this scandal, when the calls for a boycott of the Olympics due to the extremely serious violations of the Human rights are gaining increasing strength around the world, a quite regular concentration camp has been opened in the Russian capital. As some kind of a “symmetric reply”. Doesn’t this just confirm that Mr Fry is right?

My country stands on the very verge of fascism, a political system based upon a primitive xenophobic ideology and upon meeting dissension with reprisals. Therefore the parallels between Sochi 2014 and Berlin 1936 are definitely very fitting. Though I do not support the very idea of the boycott, I believe it sparks a very useful discussion. I believe that everyone still has the opportunity to try and learn something from this story, a story which has been difficult for all sides.

First and foremost Russian authorities need to think. It is no secret that the aim of the global project “the Sochi Olympics” is and will be to improve Russia’s image as one of the global arenas of politics and culture. At the same time the Russian leaders conduct another project on the global arena, but with the same goals: “Traditional values are Russia’s soft power.” The scandal that has arisen in connection with the [upcoming] Olympics shows that these two projects are mutually exclusive.

We can either be one of the world’s most important arenas, arranging the Olympics and other prestigious events, participating in important organizations and endeavouring to influence the agenda. Or we can cultivate “our own pride” and live in accordance with our own “traditional values” and follow laws that only we (but not all of us, by far) understand. In case of the latter, other nations will not respect us (respect warrants understanding), and to an even lesser degree envy us. At best they will tolerate us. This approach rules out any chance of any position of leadership on a global level. And this is the very message conveyed to our country’s leaders by politicians and opinion-formers who participate in the debate about boycotting the Sochi Olympics.

And please do not claim that the Olympic Games is not the correct arena for political discussions about human rights. Because it just isn’t true. According to the Olympic charter “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”. If the host nation of the games lead the kind of politics which debases human dignity and categorize people according to their “social value”, the athletes competing in the Olympics have a duty to speak out about it.

Western athletes, writers and all decent people who call for a boycott should on their part consider the connection between the end result and the means. The idea of a boycott is a strange one. It brings to mind an attempt to escape the problem. A boycott will of course ensure the safety of foreign athletes and guests since they will be absent from the games, but it will not in any way protect the host nation’s own citizens nor the rest of the world from the threats from a state which despises the human rights. Are we to flee from this threat or fight it face to face? That’s the question.

The Olympic Games constitute a truly big platform from which to address the entire world. Therefore I have a question for those who call for a boycott: Isn’t it just a bit silly to voluntarily leave the unrestricted use of this platform to the very people you are trying to oppose? They will obviously use it to spread their preposterous ideas. And the world will only hear their voices. Because you will not be at the Olympics. Maybe we ought to try a different approach? Maybe we ought to try and make this platform available for the voices that are not heard in Russia? You can only do this by coming to Sochi.

The Russian civil rights activists that hope that a boycott of the games will contribute to changing the domestic politics of the authorities ought not to get their hopes up too high. The fear of losing the investments made in the preparations to the Olympics will be an obstacle to sober thinking. As they say, all investments are insured. With long-term contracts and allowing for huge deficits. And that which isn’t insured is in all likelihood stolen.

A boycott, if carried out, will be a moral victory for the very people who want to irreversibly turn Russia into a closed “orthodox caliphate”, it will be an argument supporting their claim [that Russia faces] an enemy siege which will lead to no good. Recently a group of artists and PR people have written to Putin about how Russian culture risks isolation. The fanatic champions for “traditional values” have already succeeded in their call for a restriction of the visa regime of foreign artists. Maybe we ought to avoid helping them to draw a new iron curtain around Russia?

Yes, we must not allow the Sochi Olympics to be used to create an illusion that everything is perfectly all right, and to allow the opinion in Russia as well as in the rest of the world to close its eyes against the fascistification of this nation. But then the answer is not a boycott. The answer is active participation, not only by the athletes.

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