Less than two weeks on (and before the Paralympic Games) the joy and excitement of Sochi has faded to be replaced by the crisis in Ukraine. I was going to write a positive comment at the time before the turbulent ousting of a President and standoff with Russia in Crimea, so I post this anyway, in the hope that the Ukraine crisis will be peacefully resolved, protecting the rights of all citizens, and giving Ukraine the help needed to restart its economy. Then people can remember the positive memories of the Winter Olympics at Sochi.
The Winter Olympics has been a huge success for Russia and for Vladimir Putin.
I watched more of the Sochi games than I have ever watched of a Winter Olympics before and the spectacle, skill and daring were impressive. So were the sparkling new venues and the organisation. The celebration of varied Russian culture – emphasising its diversity, European nature and World leading creativity – was educational. Sparkling humour with the people Olympic rings display at #Sochi2014 closing ceremony was an inspired touch of good humour. The huge volunteer effort was commendable. I am very concerned about the state of Russia today – a country that seems enthralled to State nationalist paranoia, where the rule of law does not run, (judges, witnesses and defence lawyers are not safe), where journalists are murdered with impunity, real dissent is suppressed and political show trials and incarceration used as they were in Soviet times (although not of course anything like as much).
I don't know – as many recently allege and seems increasingly plausible – if Vladimir Putin is trying to rebuild a Russian Empire. He is certainly not at the moment recreating the horrors of the Soviet times. I am more concerned about the civil liberties of all Russians and their ability to benefit from the great wealth of the few, than I am about social policy. Amnesty International UK's 'Russia: campaign update' 22 February gave many causes for concern. The emphasis on sexual orientation and gay rights perhaps obscured other more important issues. Russia's political (and perhaps societal) attitude towards homosexuality seems at the level that the majority was in Britain during the 1980s, so twenty or thirty years behind. Far better than Uganda and Nigeria and some other African and Muslim / Asian countries whose attitude (disgracefully) is more than a century behind ours – Medieval in tone. Attitudes can change and improve, and I appreciate that brave lgbt campaigners and ordinary people have made that happen. Hopefully change in Russia and other countries will come when they realise not only are different sexualities no threat, but also by repressing some people that a whole amount of talent is denied to the society. Talent that could be used to build a better country and solve real problems.
Sochi shows the World again the greatness that Russia is capable of when it sets out to achieve a goal. #Sochi2014 was a world class event. It clearly showed Russia a World power that is also an integral part of Europe, as its greatest leaders envisaged. Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev should concentrate on enacting that vision and creating an outgoing generous and tolerant society where all of Russia's people can thrive and help achieve wider economic prosperity.