I am not quite sure whether to laugh or cry. It is all just so absurdly, cynically, poetic.
I felt a tiny tinge of vindication with all the brou-ha-ha preceding the Sochi Olympics, where it looked like finally the grand lie of “politics should not be mixed with sport” that had been perpetuated around the Beijing Games and the human rights violations that they were built upon was not very often voiced. To the contrary, we heard all kinds of noises about gay rights, corruption and environmental degradation. Us Westerners were eagerly wagging our fingers, and it seemed to work to some extent: Putin went on to release a host of political prisoners, including most famously the Pussy Riot performers Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina as well as Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the run up to the Games. We could all slap ourselves on the back and focus on the sport.
The sports were as fascinating as ever, nobody can fault that. However, I was mortified to find out how completely, utterly we forgot all about the moralistic posturing once the Games were on the way. The corruption and environmental degradation had not gone anywhere, but instead of continuing to highlight this, the REAL cost of the extravaganza to the people most affected, Western media was unanimously gushing over how great the organisation was and how gleaming the brand-spanking new event venues. Environmental activist Evgeny Vitishko was sentenced to 3-years in prison on trumped up charges and the indefatigable Pussy Riot were beaten and detained during the Games. Did you notice? If you noticed, did you care? If you did, good on you, you were just about the only person in the whole world.
This is what the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach said at the closing ceremony; it pretty well sums up the general media feeling about the Games:
President Bach thanked Putin for his “personal commitment to the extraordinary success of these Olympic Winter Games”, as Putin watched on from the stands.
Bach said the 25,000 volunteers had shown the new face of Russia, efficient and friendly and open to the world, and described the Sochi Winter Olympics as “the Athletes’ Games”.
Earlier in his address, the IOC President urged global leaders to follow the Olympic society in displaying peace, tolerance and respect, which he described as sending a “powerful message” around the world.
You do not launch a military invasion of foreign territory on a day’s notice. This means that while President Putin was lapping up the praise of the foreign media and politicians for his “personal commitment” to the “extraordinary success” of the greatest winter sports event of the world, one that apparently “display[ed] peace, tolerance and respect” and the “new face of Russia (…) open to the world”, he was preparing indeed to send a “powerful message around the world”, but not quite the one we thought was coming.