I have this weird thing where I actually really love crowds, so if I was in Sochi right now I would be all up in the Olympic excitement. And of course as a Canadian I’m particularly excited to be a winner in something sporty, even if my association with winning is only via my citizenship.
That being said, I’m going to have to pull a Debbie Downer here and remind everyone of all the crap that has happened in Russia as a direct result of the Olympics.
You may have already heard that members of the controversial protest group, Pussy Riot, were whipped and beaten by some of the Cossack militia while trying to film part of their new music video. Apparently the Cossack militia are “helping” police patrol Sochi during the winter games. I’ve included a clip of the incident below.
You may have also heard rumours about stray dogs being rounded up and poisoned in order to clean up the streets for the winter games.
I’m assuming you have most definitely heard about Putin’s $50 billion Olympic budget. If you are interested in how Russia spent $43 billion dollars more than Canada did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics you might want to check out the documentary by Vice News about “Why the Sochi Olympics are the Most Expensive in History”, which explores how corruption consumed large chunks of that budget.
While those may be the bigger stories that have been hitting news websites since the games first started, according to Human Rights Watch there are more problems happening than we may have heard about. The Human Rights Watch page outlines five major human rights violations that took place as a direct result of Olympic preparations. I’ve listed each of them below.
1) Forced Evictions
The first time I heard about victims of forced evictions (especially those who did not receive compensation) was in the Vice documentary that I linked to above. While “officially” evicted citizens are being relocated or compensated, in reality many say they have been “cheated out of fair compensation by a bureaucratic loophole.”
2) Migrant Worker Abuse
It’s interesting that the Olympics is taking place only a short time after the American Super Bowl, when there was an explosion of media coverage about human trafficking, yet I’ve heard comparatively little about the exploitation of migrant workers in Sochi.
3) Press and Civil Society Crackdown
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 56 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Freedom House also shares examples of how Russia has been cracking down on Civil Society leading up to the Sochi Olympics. This includes LGBT discrimination, curbs on peaceful protests, as well as crackdowns on NGO’s with a focus on human rights.
4) Environmental Destruction
While the environmental destruction may not seem like a violation of basic human rights, Human Rights Watch explains that:
“the dumping of illegal construction waste and the construction of power lines have resulted in landsides, causing homes to sink and partially collapse, threatening residents’ health and safety. In one village, Olympic construction destroyed local drinking wells, leaving villagers with no reliable drinking water source for years.”
5) Anti-LGBT discrimination
This is perhaps the most visible human rights violation happening in Russia. In his “Boycott Russia” post this past August, Gordon shared an article that reports “A recent poll found that nearly half of Russians believe that the gay and lesbian community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.”
Russia is far from being the only Olympic games host country to be challenged for human rights violations. In fact, the Olympic games have a pretty steady history of being boycotted for social and political reasons. The most recent example was probably the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where protesters boycotted the host country, China, for unlawfully occupying Tibet.
According to the official Olympic website, the point of the games is to “help build a better world through sport practiced in a spirit of peace, excellence,
friendship and respect.” In light of those goals, it seems counterproductive to select countries where human rights are going to be violated for the sake of the games.
What do you think? Should the Olympics have taken place in Sochi? Or should it have been held elsewhere? If so, where? Are our home countries really even that much better?