Saturday, February 8, 2014

Games Begin! Ukrainian Hijacking, Putin Rounds Up Dissidents

The Olympics are a symbol of peace and harmony among peoples.  So how does Vladimir Putin prepare for Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter games?  Why, by rounding up dissidents and ethnic minorities, of course.

(AP photo)

Circassian, gay-rights protestors rounded up
On the day of the opening ceremony in Sochi, on the Black Sea, at least 61 citizens were arrested in different parts of the Russian Federation for exercising free speech.  Among these were 19 gay-rights activists were arrested in Moscow and four in St. Petersburg.  The four in St. Petersburg did nothing more than unfurl a banner quoting the non-discrimination clause in the Olympic Charter, to which the Russian Federation is a signator.  Russia has come under harsh international criticism for recent legislation which makes any speech in favor of homosexuality of any kind punishable by law.  (The LGBT issue was listed as no. 3 in this blog’s recent article “Yet Another Genocide Olympics: 10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”)

Yevgeny Vitishko was arrested in Sochi on the very serious charge of “swearing in public.”
By complete and utter coincidence, he is also an environmental activist
who has criticized the government.
Also, a human-rights activist was arrested as he tried to board a plane in Kazan, capital of the sometimes-secessionist Republic of Tatarstan, in central Russia.  Environmentalist activists in Sochi have also been arbitrarily arrested.

The scene in Nalchik yesterday as Circassian protestors were arrested
In particular, near Sochi in the western part of the predominantly-Muslim North Caucasus region, 37 Circassians were arrested in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, for demonstrating to call attention to the Russian genocide of tens of thousands of Circassians right in the vicinity of Sochi exactly 150 years ago.  The republic is shared by two nationalities: the Kabardin branch of the Circassian nation and the Turkic-speaking Balkar people.  (The Circassian issue was listed as no. 2 in this blog’s recent article “Yet Another Genocide Olympics: 10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”)

Meanwhile,, a website run by Circassian activists which encourages protests and boycotts of the Games, was hacked by unknown forces the day before the opening ceremonies and infected with malware.

Sochi is directly in the traditional region of Circassia.
Olympic-rings snafu
Snafus plagued the Olympic open ceremonies themselves.  As most people have now heard, one of the five rings that was supposed to blossom from a snowflake into a ring and erupt in fireworks failed to do so, leaving it as the anomalous shrunken snowflake next to four fully lit rings.  Naturally, this was doctored in the footage shown on Russian television, so it looked as though there had been no problem.  Was this sabotage as well?  If so, the ring selected was the one in the upper right, which is colored red on the Olympic flag and, according to some traditions meant to represent America (i.e., both North and South America, in the five-continent scheme used by much of the world (Antarctica omitted)).  Perhaps it was a jab at the United States?  Probably not.

Racist torch-bearer
Other moments of uneasiness were perhaps less unintentional.  Eyebrows were raised when the Russian figure-skater Irina Rodnina accompanied the ceremony’s official torch-bearer.  Rodnina, who is also a member of Russia’s parliament in Putin’s ruling United Russia party, was at the center of a storm of controversy in September for posting a Photoshopped image on Twitter showing Barack Obama sitting next to Michelle with his mouth full while a banana is waved in front of him.  Initially, she cited free speech by refusing to take the image down.  The United States ambassador to Russia even called the tweet “outrageous behaviour” which “only brings shame to her parliament and country.”  Throwing bananas onto the field when foreign black athletes appear is a common form of hooliganism in European sporting events, and Russia, where anti-African racism is rampant and mostly unquestioned, this is especially the case.

The racist tweet defiantly posted in September
by one of the opening ceremonies’ final torchbearing athlete/politicians.
Putin’s secret lover among torch-bearers?
Another of the torchbearers was Alina Kabaeva, an Olympic gymnast who is an intimate of Putin’s and rumored to be his lover.  Media reported in 2008 a planned marriage between the two, but they were quashed.  More recently there have been rumors that they did marry secretly and are merely waiting for an official announcement.  Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina, divorced in June 2013 after 30 years of marriage.

Celebrity tabloids think Putin is romantically linked to a gymnast who carried
the torch at the opening ceremonies; they may even be secretly married.
(Or maybe they were lovers, but she still carries a torch for him?  Okay, sorry, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Putin’s torch-bearer and alleged mistress Alina Kabaeva.
As Lyudmila Putina put it, “Who is this bimbo, and what can she do that I can’t? Okay, never mind.”
Apologist for Syrian war crimes given key position in opening ceremony
A little more seriously, the Olympic flag was carried at the opening ceremony by a troupe of famous Russians, including a cosmonaut but also an obscurer but more controversial figure: the journalist Anastasia Popova.  A stooge of the Putin regime, Popova has appalled the international journalistic and human-rights communities by unapologetically cheerleading the embattled regime of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad. She visited Syria a few months after the civil war there began in 2011, writing, “Despite all our attempts, we didn’t manage to find the thousands-strong demonstrations against the government so often talked about by the Western media.”  More recently, she has claimed, without evidence, that it is Syrian rebels, rather than the government, that used chemical weapons against civilians.  A few days ago in an article in this blog I listed the Syrian issue as one of “10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”  But I didn’t think that it would be the Russian authorities themselves that would decide to flaunt their shameful support of the mass-murderer Assad and rub the international community’s nose in it.

Anastasia Popova, third from left, is Putin’s Syrian-war-crimes denier in chief.
Volgograd bombers neutralized just in time?
But security, of course, has been the biggest story of these Games, which, against all reason, decency, and common sense are being held just a few miles from the most active conflict zone in Europe, the insurgency-convulsed North Caucasus region.  Russian officials claim that on February 5th Russian police shot and killed one Zhamaldin Mirzayev, a 30-year-old alleged to be a mastermind of the recent lethal bus bombings in nearby Volgograd.  Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by a group called Vilayat Dagestan, which is not a “previously unknown group,” as the New York Times called it, but in fact a regional branch of an Islamist terrorist group called the Caucasus Emirate, which aims to break off the whole North Caucasus region (including Sochi) as an Islamic state independent of Russia.  The shootout occurred in Izberbash, in the Republic of Dagestan, a veritable war zone in the eastern North Caucasus which is so ethnically diverse that it has 30 official languages.  After the Volgograd attack, Vilayat Dagestan promised Putin they would send him “a present” for the Olympics.  Does this mean that that threat is now neutralized?  Who the hell knows.  The Kremlin controls all information about counterinsurgency operations, and Putin is highly motivated to make the Sochi Olympics seem safer than they actually are.  (The Caucasus Emirate was listed as no. 1 in this blog’s recent article “Yet Another Genocide Olympics: 10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”  I also listed the group as one of “10 Separatist Movements to Watch in 2014.”)

The Republic of Dagestan is “Vilayat Dagestan” in the Caucasus Emirate view of the world.
Sochi, meanwhile, is in “Vilayat Cherkessia” (Circassia).
Foiled Ukrainian hijacking
Some of the biggest headlines in the first 48 hours of these Olympics have come from the dramatic near-hijacking of a plane flying from Kharkov, in Ukraine, to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 7th, the day of the opening ceremonies.  The would-be hijacker, who was heavily intoxicated, said that a bomb was on the plane and demanded the plane, which was a Pegasus Airlines passenger jet, be taken to Sochi, for some unstated purpose.  The crew collaborated in deceiving him—and all the passengers—into thinking the plane was headed to Sochi.  But when it landed, “Sochi” was Istanbul, and the man was arrested.  Turkish police have released few details other than to say that he was a 45-year-old Ukrainian and that he was not cooperative.  It remains possible that he, like 30% of Ukrainian citizens, is ethnically Russian.  The point of origin of the flight, Kharkov, in northeastern Ukraine, is (as discussed recently in this blog) the proposed capital of a separate nation called Malorossiya or Malorussia (i.e., “Little Russia”) in the ethnic-Russian-dominated east of Ukraine.  (The Ukrainian crisis was listed as no. 4 in this blog’s recent article “Yet Another Genocide Olympics: 10 Political Causes Sure to Disrupt the Sochi Games.”)

An alleged image of the Ukrainian hijacker,
about whom as yet little is known
Watch this space for more updates on the attempted hijacking in particular, and, more generally, continuing updates on the geopolitics of the Sochi Olympics.

The defiantly racist Irina Rodnina (right)

[You can read more about Circassia, Dagestan, Tatarstan, and many other sovereignty and independence movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

The British Virgin Islands team enters the arena

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1 comment:

  1. Emirate is for Arabs. We are Circassian(Adyghe, Wubıkh, Abaza(Abkhaz) Chechen, Ossetian, Dagestanian. While having a tradition, why is Emirate? :P
    Without the Emirate we can still be Muslim, and also be together, IF WE WANT.


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