Sochi Olympics Held in Russia’s Virulent Antigay Atmosphere [Commentary]

Excitement tempered by concern

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

So its months away but aren’t we excited about the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February 2014? Aren’t we? Well, we could be, if Sochi was not deep in the heart of the Russian Federation. And if Russia had not enacted one of the most backwards, anti-social, dehumanizing antigay laws in the world. This virulent atmosphere mocks the very idea of the Olympics and has created concern across the world about athletes’, media and support staff safety during the games.

Sure, we could be excited.

We could be awed at the Fisht Olympic Stadium that the Russian government built on the shore of the Black Sea  meant to invoke the image of a Faberge egg with its single panes of soaring glass and majestic view of the Krasanya Polyana Mountains to the north. Named after Mount Fisht, the highest point in the Western Caucasus Mounting, the stadium should seat 40 thousand upon completion and lies within walking distance of the Olympic Park.

We could be thrilled that the Soyuz spacecraft delivered the Olympic torch to International Space Station this morning. It is not the first time the Olympic torch relay included outer space. In 1996, the torch went into space aboard the American shuttle Atlantis in its relay to the Atlanta Summer Games. In that instance, the torch was never exposed to the actual void of outer space.

The Russians plan to walk the torch around the modules of the ISS then take it on a short spacewalk.

Of course the torch will not be lit on its cosmic tour. That would be too dangerous in such an enclosed space. It would also consume precious oxygen needed by the astronauts living aboard the ISS.  However, it will take the torch a step further than the Americans did in 1996.

And Russia simply must outdo America. The Russians plan to keep the torch in space for five days, when the return crew will be bringing it back to Earth next Monday to continue its terrestrial journey to Sochi. Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and European Space Agency’s Luca Parmitano will land in Kazakhstan.

The torch is taking its longest journey in history, starting in Moscow on Oct. 7; it will go 39 thousand miles until it is used to light the Olympic flame on Feb. 7 in Fisht Stadium to open the 2014 Winter Olympics.

We could be stunned that with a $50 billion budget, the Sochi Olympics will be the most expensive ever, if it didn’t come across as an effort to exert President Vladimir Putin’s crusade to reunite the Soviet Union. This Olympics is not about worldwide competition to the Russian government.  It is about posturing and putting them in the best possible light so that they can very quietly continue to drag all the now-free former-Soviet Union states back into Cold-War suppression under a centralized Russian control.

The Olympic torch has already been to the North Pole on a Russian nuclear icebreaking submarine, and later this month will be sunk to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake.  In February the torch will be carried to the highest peak in Russia and Europe, Mount Elbrus (18,510 feet).

All of this extreme display and publicity stunting will be in addition to the 14 thousand bearers who will carry the torch by hand through over 130 cities around the world.  The torch has also been transported by plane, train, shuttle and reindeer sleigh to its various stops and photo ops.

So that’s where the 50 billion is going, along with building venues and accommodation for thousands of the world’s best athletes. A decent chunk of that money is also going to security. That brings the thought back, of course to why these Olympics are not as exciting, thrilling or awesome as, say, London: Russia’s sweeping, unfathomable anti-gay law.

Try to estimate how many Olympics athletes are gay or bisexual? Announcers?  Reporters?  Agents, managers, trainers, costume designers, coaches? No idea? Russian law states that any person displaying or expressing any positive homosexual paraphernalia or engaged in any non-heterosexual activity is subject to arrest and prosecution.

So it is literally illegal to be gay and illegal to support anyone or anything that has anything to do with the LGBT community within the confines of the Russian Federation.

One wonders if a great number of Russians may be looking to relocate out of the country.

Then, again, maybe not. A recent poll showed that 90 percent of Russians support the anti-gay law, but the report comes out of Russia, so how can we consider it unbiased and truly scientific? Another poll shows that no more than 7 percent of Russians admit they are acquainted with a gay, lesbian or transgender/transsexual person. The odds of that being a true and accurate representation in a country as vast as Russia are slim, to say the least.

This law has created an atmosphere of silence and non-intervention that has allowed gay teens to be lured to clandestine meetings only to be abused, beaten and humiliated when video is posted online. LGBT people have been attacked for being gay or perceived as being gay, and others have been attacked in broad day light in public in front of witnesses, and no one steps up to defend or prevent these blatant violations of basic human rights.

How can we possibly hold an even that embraces human diversity in a country that refuses to allow people to be who they are at the very core of what it means to be free? Victims are not reporting the attacks because the law is not on their side. Tacit permission has been given to the bigots, the smallest of minds and the hardest of hearts to do as they will when it comes to the gay community. Gay pride demonstrations are forbidden, support and advocate groups are banned and fined outrageously for simply existing, and even rainbow flags are grounds for arrest.

At the core of the law is the idea that “propaganda” supporting or advocating “non-traditional sexual orientation” is a threat to Russian society and blames the LGBT community for inciting “social and religious hatred” because of their orientation, as such, they must be protected from themselves, thus the law. Homosexuality is equated with pedophilia thus making the prospect of being gay a danger to children, an idea that would be met with vigorous protest almost anywhere else in the world.

The law appears to be purposely ambiguous.  Article 6.21 says:

Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations. 

Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (120-150 USD), public officials are subject to fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (1,200-1,500 USD), and registered organizations can be either fined (800,000-1,000,000 rubles or 24,000-30,000 USD) or sanctioned to stop operations for 90 days. If you engage in the said propaganda in the media or on the internet, the sliding scale of fines shifts: for individuals, 50,000 to 100,000 rubles; for public officials, 100,000 to 200,000 rubles, and for organizations, from one million rubles or a 90-day suspension.

Foreign citizens or stateless persons engaging in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, or they can be deported from the Russian Federation and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreigner uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention with subsequent deportation from Russia.

Despite numerous arrests and fines for violations of this muddy law, the president of the Sochi organizing committee said there will be no consequences for displaying rainbow pins or anything else rainbow-themed during the Olympics.

Dmitry Chernyshenk stated that the uniforms for the Sochi Olympics are composed of rainbow colors and proudly showed off such to SA Today during an interview Tuesday using pictures on his iPhone.  He had a picture of Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach wearing a rainbow uniform.  Even the Sochi uniform gloves have rainbow-colored fingers.

Bach will speak to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday as they adopt the Olympic Truce.

Traditionally, the UN calls for a cessation of all wars during the span of the Olympics. One can only hope this will apply to the highly restrictive and questionable law enacted in the Russian Federation. It would be the greatest slap in the face of worldwide diversity for any Olympic athlete to be arrested for being who they are during the games in Sochi. Considering how Russia has allowed its own citizens to be treated, it is no wonder some athletes have seriously considered passing on this particular Olympics.

Are we excited about the Olympics games in Sochi? We are deeply concerned. Some of us are quite frightened. All of use are hopeful that this will not turn into an international debacle of human rights violation and oppression.  Every athlete that earns their way into the Olympics in an individual. No one should be afraid to be who they are, but with Russia’s medieval-minded stance on gays, this maybe the darkest Olympics in modern history. Russia will be the center of the world’s focus  in February. We can only hope that they are able to put on a respectable display that continues to whitewash the government’s growing oppression of its citizenry. It is only two weeks out of the year, and the athletes are not obligated to ever cross Russian borders again, but are we really going to stand by and allow this sort of dehuminzation and chronic abuse of ordinary people to continue?

What does that make us?

 

Commentary by Brandi Tasby

 Russian Anti-Gay Law

 Olympic Torch in Space

 USA Today

Olympic Security

Olympic Truce

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