The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled to start
tomorrow in Sochi, and the theme of this Olmypiad so far appears to
be terrorism. 57 percent of Americans, for example, are convinced
there will be a terrorist attack during the Olympics according to a
CNN poll. And when their government is warning them about
the threat of toothpaste headed to Sochi, why wouldn’t they?
It’s not just the U.S. government stoking fears. Russia is worried
about the prospect of a terrorist attack too. Two suicide bombings
in December killed 34 people. Two regions over from Sochi,
Volgograd’s 1,000 kilometers away, or as far as Cincinnati from New
York. Last month, Russia
arrested two suspects in the bombings, which it identified as
members of a terrorist group named after Buinaksk, a city in
Dagestan, the Caucasian region where the alleged Boston marathon
bombers moved to in Russia before emigrating to the U.S. The
Buinaksk arrests followed a claim of responsibility for the
Volgograd bombing via video by Caucasian Islamist militants calling
themselves the “Vilayat Dagestan,” who promised more
“presents” for tourists in Sochi.
In an article called “Sterilizing Sochi for the ‘Big Brother’
Games,” Haaretz reports:
About 25,000 police officers, 30,000 soldiers and 8,000
special forces and members of the FSB security service, successors
to Putin’s old outfit, the KGB, are guarding the games. Many of the
security personnel come from the old Cossack units and seem lost in
the urban surroundings with their fur shapka hats and riding
The security operation is a combination of low-tech – flooding the
area with thousands of police, some not even trained to use the new
hand-held metal-detectors they have been given and who make do with
just a perfunctory glance into the car trunks, without checking any
of the objects inside – and high-tech.
At the new Sochi Airport, electronic warfare aircraft are standing
on the tarmac, reconaissance drones hover above and anyone who uses
a smartphone or switches on a computer in the city discovers
strange messages and unsolicited offers to download software.
The threats issued by the Caucasus Emirate, the Islamist terror
organization which orchestrated a series of bloody suicide attacks
throughout Russia in recent years, are keeping the thousands of
police and soldiers in the streets, at the roadblocks and in the
hotel lobbies, but most security experts in Sochi do not believe
the attack will fall there or in the three Olympic villages.
“This is the safest city in Russia, even before the Olympics,” says
a former senior city police officer, now a security consultant.
“Putin has one of his homes here, as do other senior officials.
Heads of state are hosted here, including Netanyahu. The Caucasians
will try and ruin the fun by attacking somewhere else, they can
choose any target in Russia.”
Haaretz’s report starts with a story about the Lenin statue in
town being covered up. Russia also set up
protest restrictions in Sochi, running from this January
through March 21, five days after the end of the Paralympics. Any
planned protest is supposed to be approved by the FSB, the police,
and the local government.
Though the media in Sochi now are focused on
complaining about lousy conditions on site and the possible
shitstorm to come, journalists working in Sochi will face
and digital surveillance,
Obstruction by Russian authorities and journalists’
self-censorship in a repressive climate have restricted news
coverage of sensitive issues related to the Sochi Winter Olympics,
the Committee to Protect Journalists found in a report…
entitled “Media suffer winter chill in coverage of Sochi Olympics,”
examines how both local and international journalists have been
harassed and prevented from reporting on topics such as the
exploitation of migrant workers, environmental destruction, forced
evictions, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender (LGBT) persons. The report also explores how Russian
state-controlled media have ignored these issues or even published
propaganda smearing the victims of human rights abuses and the
activists who defend them.
“Russian authorities have cracked down on journalists, rights
defenders, and civil activists in a way not seen since the break-up
of the Soviet Union,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program
Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “The International Olympic Committee as
the Games’ organizers must engage with Russian authorities to
ensure that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are
unobstructed in Sochi both during and after the Games.”
In the report’s recommendations CPJ
calls on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure that
host countries that fail to reach international standards for press
freedom and freedom of expression suffer repercussions; on the
Russian government to repeal laws that chill freedom of the press;
on corporate sponsors of the Games to insist that the IOC speak out
on media freedom violations; and on journalists covering the Games
to report violations of press freedom.
Russia, for its part, has called for a “global
ceasefire” for the Olympic games, which were long ago
disconnected from the ideal of peace attached to their ancient
predecessors. It also tried to counteract negative press by
releasing photos of their female Olympic athletes in
lingerie heterosexualist propaganda.
Related: Check out
four shameful moments in Olympic history.