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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cold War Embers, GSM rights, and the Winter Olympics


Note: GSM stands for Gender and Sexual Minorities.

You know, I was progressively getting really excited about the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. My country of origin (Russia) gets to host the Winter Games for the first time since the Moscow Summer Games in 1980, 13 years before I was born. The Russian men's hockey team has never won Olympic Gold since the fall of Communism and this February they get the chance to do it to the background music of the screaming, chanting, and singing of their countrymen.

Unfortunately, instead of hearing early predictions for the medal count, construction updates on Olympic venues, and the various speculations as to what will be in the spectacle of the Opening Ceremony, we've been treated to hearing about the numerous blatantly discriminatory and homophobic laws the Russian Federation has enacted recently. As of writing this, it is  illegal in Russia for two people of the same sex to display affection. It's also illegal to display "homosexual propaganda" or to teach that homosexuality is a natural human behavior.

Bars in the US, Canada, and Western Europe are boycotting Russian vodka (though in some cases they didn't do their homework...Stolichnaya Vodka is bottled and made in Latvia, not Russia, and the company vigorously supports gay rights)

Do I want the United States, my home country, to boycott? No, I don't. I don't think it would achieve much except the boycotting countries feeling like they have the moral high ground. The media in Russia is run by the state, and if Winter Olympic powerhouses like Austria, Germany, Canada, Norway, the USA, Sweden, and Switzerland (all of which allow at least some recognition and protection of gender/sexual minorities) decide to wait until 2018-because that means more medals for Russia. Sure, other countries will claim Russia didn't win those medals fair and square, but Russia doesn't have a great history of listening to other countries. Russian media isn't going to cover the plight of gay athletes because that'd probably considered "homosexual propaganda", which is illegal. I don't think the athletes of other countries should have to miss out on what could be the defining moment of their careers because Tsar Putin and the rest of his lowlife cronies in the Kremlin care way too much about what between 3-10% of the population of Russia does in their own personal lives. Not only that, I think this is a slap in the face to the fans who will miss out on a chance to see the Olympics in all their glory.

Boycotts have not had lasting consequences. You could argue that the US should have boycotted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, claiming there is a "price for tolerating intolerance" (I think it was the New York Times that said this) but would Hitler have stopped treating non-Aryans badly because our athletes didn't show up? Probably not. The same can be said for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The People's Republic of China had an abysmal human rights record before, during, and after the 2008 Summer Olympics, but the US didn't boycott them. The US didn't change policy after the USSR boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Did the Soviets change course in Afghanistan after the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980? Not until the Soviets themselves realized the war was no longer worth fighting and their economy was crippled.

The point is, these laws are deplorable, but there are many ways to make a statement to the Kremlin in these Olympics besides the boycott. The NHL has partnered up with the You Can Play Project, a cause to increase awareness and respect of gay athletes. It's difficult to tell what the Kremlin will listen to, but this isn't it. Something obviously needs to be done, but it's a foggy road ahead.

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