Here is the latest news from the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where politics is the most interesting spectator sport.
Islamists pray for Sochi earthquake
The Caucasus Emirate movement, which aims to separate the North Caucasus region, including Sochi, the site of this year’s Winter Olympics, as a separate Islamic state, is considered the greatest threat to the Games. The group’s Vilayat Dagestan subdivisions claimed responsibility for the recent lethal bus bombings in nearby Volgograd, and the group has promised to send Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, “a present” during the Olympics. But no concrete security threats have materialized. (The Caucasus Emirate was no. 1 in this blog’s list of “10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”)
|The imaginary Islamic state of the Caucasus Emirate includes a province (vilayat)|
called Ġalġayçö, consisting of Ingushetia and predominantly-Christian North Ossetia.
|Funeral for a policeman killed in the Islamist terrorist attack on Volgograd|
|The Caucasus Emirate glee club|
Gay-pride flag raised—sort of
There was a brief kerfuffle after the Games’ opening ceremony on February 7th, when some international media openly interpreted the gloves worn by Greece’s national team as using differently colored fingers in reference to the gay-pride flag (technically, the LGBT flag). This was seen as a middle finger—a yellow middle finger!—to the host country, Russia, and its draconian anti-gay laws (which were no. 3 in this blog’s list of “10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games”). Greece, after all, because of the openly homoerotic culture of ancient Athens, is practically synonymous in the wider world with homosexuality (we’ve all heard of Lesbos), though nowadays it is far tougher to be gay or lesbian in the Balkans than in northern Europe.
Greek officials pointed out, however, that the colored fingers corresponded to the five colors of the Olympic rings (see more below on that) and not the gay-pride flag. Germany’s team also wore rainbow colors in its opening-ceremony uniforms, but corresponding neither to the gay-pride or Olympic color arrays.
The most serious flag controversy of the Olympics so far, however, has been far from Sochi, in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada. There, the city has been divided over the question of whether to fly the gay pride flag during the Olympics. Many Canadian city halls are doing this as a protest of the Russian Federation’s new anti-gay legislation. These include those in Edmonton, Montreal, Quebec City, Regina, St. John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, and the national capital, Ottawa. The attack on Calgary’s use of the flag has been led by Jerry Joynt, a member of the Olympic organizing committee back in 1988, when Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics. Media have also lodged criticism. The mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, has nonetheless defended the decision; which flags fly are ultimately his decision. When a city official took the occasion of Nenshi’s visit to a conference in London to announce that the flag was coming down, Nenshi telephoned from London to overrule him.
|Calgary’s city hall|
|Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, is not your typical Albertan.|
|Calgary hosted the Olympics in 1988.|
Shoulder pads, fringe—that was the ’80s.
|See? The J.A.O. flag has two different shades of purple. It’s totally different.|
Though there have been few flag kerfuffles in Sochi, there is some controversy over the way that Russia’s Olympic organizers have been displaying a monument in Sochi featuring the Olympic rings. The five rings representing the Olympics are generally assumed to represent the number of continents in popular conception at the time—and indeed European schoolchildren, for example, still learn that there are five continents. (To explain this to Americans: they lose Antarctica—no one lives there anyway—and merge North and South America.) While it is true that the number five was originally chosen to represent the continents, there is no truth in official Olympic rules or in original intent to what has by now become the common popular interpretation: that the different colors of the rings indicate which of the five continents they represent. The founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, intended the colors to represent the different colors in all of the flags represented at the first modern Games in 1896: “the blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece” (note: white is the Olympic flag’s background), “the tri colors of France, England, and America,” etc. (England’s flag is a two-colored St. George’s Cross: like most Frenchmen, the Baron did not know the difference between England and the United Kingdom, but never mind that.)
Nonetheless, the rings as they appear prominently on an Olympic monument in Sochi are labeled by continent: yellow is Asia, black is Africa, blue is Europe, green is Australia, and red are the Americas. This has caused some complaints. However, a similar official display at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, also featured continent-labeled rings.
|Incorrect—though most people do not realize it|
The foreign ministry of the Republic of Georgia on February 12th asked visitors to the Winter Olympics not to visit the nearby Republic of Abkhazia, which functions as a Russian puppet state separate from Georgia but most of the world—other than Russia and four other nations—regards as Georgian territory. Russia and Georgia cut off diplomatic relations after a 2008 war in which Georgia tried to reclaim Abkhazia and another de facto independent puppet state, South Ossetia. Georgia came close to boycotting the Olympics this year. Georgia calls the Russian effort to lure Olympic tourists to Abkhazia “a provocation aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.” But an I.O.C. spokesman, when asked about tourism to Abkhazia, said, “Why not?” He added, “ The talks and exchanges between the two governments, that’s entirely been to the two governments. In terms of going to Abkhazia ... well if it’s safe, people will go there.” (Abkhazia and South Ossetia were no. 5 in this blog’s list of “10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”)
Environmental activist sent to labor camp
The public outcry over this week’s sentencing of Yevgeny Vitishko, a 40-year-old geologist critical of the environmental damage done by the Sochi Olympics, has increased in recent days. The I.O.C. has demanded an explanation, and Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.) has condemned the move as well.
|Yevgeny Vitishko being arrested last week|
|The Krasnodar crime scene: “This is our forest”|
|Gov. Tkachev in his Cossack regalia|
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas. The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014. I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]
|Anna Sidorova, from Russia’s curling team at the Sochi Olympics|
Related articles from this blog:
“Sochi Update: Puppet States under a Cloud, Pussy Riot in New York, Ukrainian Hijacker Questioned” (Feb. 2014)
“10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014” (Dec. 2013)