Thursday, July 12, 2007
It would be, of course, an exaggeration to say that every single Russian blogger has commented on Russia's victorious bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi last week - but it wouldn't be that huge of an exaggeration. The response to the news has been enormous, and the blogosphere seems to be divided into two camps now: those who think that holding the Olympics in this mountainous Black Sea resort town is a great idea - and those who think it's a disaster in the making.
Thousands of people danced in the streets of Sochi the night the victory was announced, but the amount of work and the potential problems that lie ahead are overwhelming.
Vladimir Putin has pledged $12 billion to prepare Sochi for the Games more or less from scratch - and at the same time, he had to order the creation of a new governmental department "to prevent embezzlement of government resources."
Ecology concerns run high, too: environmentalists fear that large-scale construction would damage "the unique nature landscapes of the West Caucasus, including the territories inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List."
And, last but not least, there's politics: while many credit Putin with securing Russia's victory, there are also those who believe that the International Olympic Committee's decision is likely to strengthen the oft-criticized regime.
Below are the responses of several bloggers involved in the Russian opposition politics in one way or another - as well as some comments from their readers - all translated from Russian.
Ilya Yashin, leader of the youth wing of Grigory Yavlinsky's Yabloko Party - July 5, 2007, 3:26 AM:
I believed in it!
I've been to [Krasnodar] recently, deliberately asked the locals what they thought about it, and I have to note that ordinary people are simply horrified by the prospects of having the Olympics there. Real estate prices have really jumped since the beginning of the campaign, and now they'll fly all the way to heaven. [According to the Moscow Times, "real estate prices in Sochi jumped by from 30 to 40 percent virtually overnight after the city last week won the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, Swiss Realty Group said in a report released Monday."] And you've already mentioned budget spendings and the elimination of the park.
Theoretically, it is nice, of course, that we are the hosts - maybe we'll have a hockey victory at last, and there won't be as much harassment by the judges as there was in Salt Lake City, but in practice... well. And, of course, Putin is now a here for ever and ever, and I think that this would get him to win without the election in 2012, in order to have good publicity in 2014.
Aha. Russia is a rich country and can afford it. Average pension in the regions is 2,000-3,000 rubles [$80-$120 a month]. Children's cancer treatment funds are empty and begging money from the public. And I don't even want to talk about the happiness that will now fall over Sochi residents - [South Butovo] would seem like a trifle compared to what's going to start happening there now.
You know very well, Yashin, who's going to profit from this Olympics. Just another event in the parallel world...
July 5, 2007, 1:11 PM:
I was in a wonderful mood last night.
I was nervously staring at my computer screen until 3:30 AM, waiting for the results of the vote in Guatemala. And after they announced the results, I started to happily sing songs about [Misha the Bear, the mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympics], send ICQ messages and call friends. I even woke the neighbor up and started pounding on the wall for me to shut up.
But I was happy. [...]
This joy is normal. Or, at least, this is how it appears to me.
And now I'm reading [negative] comments to my yesterday's inspired post, which I wrote right after the Sochi victory had been announced...
Listen, it's as if you and I live in different Russias.
I also hate Putin's regime and despise [the Kremlin folks], but what does the Olympics have to do with it?
It's a holiday for the whole country, isn't it, the world's best athletes will come here, and for a month, the remote Sochi will basically turn into the world's sports capital. What's bad about it?
Of course, money is going to be stolen. But they are stealing everywhere here - because both you and I haven't yet learned to fight corruption. Should we stop building anything now, stop allotting money for health care, etc.? Nonsense? Nonsense.
By 2014, Sochi will be a modern sports resort area with developed infrastructure. This, without doubt, is a benefit.
It's true that the trees will probably be destroyed. But this is where the civil society has to act - go ahead, dear ecologists, make sure that the damage done to Sochi's nature is minimal.
Who's gonna go to Sochi when you have the Alps? And the prices would be more or less the same.
[...] The Russian TV "expressed concern" over that fact that "Pyeongchang is located just a few hundred kilometers from the border with North Korea." Meanwhile, Sochi is located right next to the border with Georgia's breakaway [Abkhazia] and really close to the glorious places like Chechnya - and only God knows what it's going to be like in Abkhazia and Chechnya in 2014.
Besides, I heard opinions of people close to the construction works in Sochi, who were concerned about these problems:
- Energy: Sochi doesn't have enough electricity even now. What's going to happen when electricity use grows, during the construction and even more during the Games?
- The city lacks free space for creating the construction infrastructure - that is, there's no place to unload construction materials, no place to set up equipment. Most of the land is private, and the city itself stretches along the sea coast in a narrow line, 4 km wide and 100 km long, and behind it are the steep mountains.
I'll draw a parallel with my native [Yakutsk]. It may seem strange, the scale is too different, but still, it's the same country...
Since 2000, every four years, they hold an international sporting event here called "Asia's Children." It's sort of like our own Yakutsk Olympics. The money alloted for this from the republic's budget is enormous (yes, by our standards). They steal relentlessly. On the one hand, if this event didn't exist, there'd probably be no modern stadiums, ice skating palaces, sports complexes, swimming pools, dormitories and other goods that civilization has to offer. But on the other hand, half the city literally drowns in crap, and people spend years waiting for normal apartments. So that the foreign guests do not see how things really are, they even had to paint the facades of half-demolished huts along Lermontov St. in bright colors. They didn't have enough money to paint the backyard side as well, but that doesn't really matter, sort of: no one sees that from the street anyway.
IMHO, until all these Potemkin Villages exist, Russia will not turn into a normal country. Some Russian officials were saying with obvious pride that the budget of the Olympic Salzburg is tiny compared to ours. But, excuse me, how do people live in Russia and how do people live in Austria and Korea? [...]
Nikita Belykh, the leader of the Union of Right Forces party - July 5, 2007, 2:37 PM:
I'm genuinely happy!
I was at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. One day before the opening nothing was ready yet: they were painting something, attaching, finishing up. At the bleachers, railings were still sticky with paint.
The mess was everywhere - hotels didn't have vacant rooms, roads were jammed, no one knew anything, everyone was fussing around, service personnel [...] almost didn't speak any English. But it was fun.
And I've a feeling that it's going to be more or less like this in Sochi, too.
After all, Russians are often compared to Greeks in their mentality and temperament.
The Olympics is a really useful project. First, such events help to reveal the area's problems with infrastructure. For example, in [Perm], they talked about the lack of hotels for a long time, but didn't do anything about it. And all these problems came to the surface when Perm was hosting the European Boxing Championship and the ULEB basketball events. Today, there are several new, very good, modern hotels in Perm. Same thing about roads, etc.
[...] Those objects that would be built for the Olympics will stay there when it's over, too [...]. [...]
And the last point. I'm an oppositioner. But in this case I think that the authorities are doing everything absolutely correctly: the way the campaign was organized and the president's presence in Guatemala.
The Olympics in Russia - it's really cool! And for me it has a special meaning.
There is a chance that I'll have to be responsible for the Olympics-2014.
Minus one vote for SPS. Sorry.
Nikita, why can't infrastructure be built without the Olympics?)
Are you serious? You don't understand?
What I do not understand is how come the state that can spend $12 billion on infrastructure development would only do it in case of the Olympics, but not if there's no Olympics.
Leonid Nevzlin, former CEO of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's oil company Yukos, currently living in Israel - July 5, 2007, 12:56 PM:
For the first time, Putin has acted like a real president. Perhaps, it's his personal involvement that has played a role in promoting the country's interests through sports. It was beautiful.
I congratulate the Russians on their success! I remember the International Youth and Students Festival of 1957, four years after Stalin's death. It was a gulp of fresh air, a powerful push towards free thinking. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow made extremely obvious the contradiction between the Communist ideology and practice ([the war in Afghanistan]) and the people's thirst for renewal. It was ten years before the Soviet Union's collapse... [...]
Is this how he acted: he gave orders to Gazprom and [made] the oligarchs buy the IOC?! Leonid, if you turn into a [Putin-lover], too, I'm speechless...
Valeriya Novodvorskaya, a Russian dissident:
July 8, 2007, 11:28 PM
[Question:] Hi, Valeriya Ilyinichna!
What do you think, is the Sochi Olympics a chance for the country to improve its image in the West, or is it the opposite and we risk spoiling everything with a typically "Russian" approach to organizing events of this level [...]?
[Novodvorskaya's Answer:] Russia's image does not depend on the quality of the roads and the number of stars at a hotel - in China, they have skyscrapers, super-fast trains, technology and clothes, but there's no freedom whatsoever. In Guatemala, Putin's regime has received an indulgence for the next seven years for any type of actions against the rights and freedoms. For any free-thinking person, this quote from O'Henry becomes relevant: There'll be music at your plantation, but you won't hear any of it. Do you seriously believe that good service can obscure the prison cells of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, [Svetlana Bakhmina] and [Igor Sutyagin]? The West knows very well what we are, but unfortunately, it doesn't give a damn so far.