February 11, 2018


Putin's Sochi and Hitler's Berlin: The Love Affair Between Dictators and the Olympic Games. (Garry Kasparov, 02.07.14, Daily Beast)

Putin also wanted the Sochi Olympics to be his Peter the Great moment, the beloved Soviet summer resort town turned into an international jewel the way Saint Petersburg was built into an Imperial capital practically from scratch. It can even be said that, like Peter's endeavor, Putin's transformation of Sochi relied on a serf labor force. Foreign leaders coming to cheer by Putin's side at the opening ceremony, photos with all the Russian medal winners, it is easy to see the attraction. Putin also hoped to drum up some patriotic pride with a big circus to serve with thick black bread. This is the sort of delusion that sets in when a despot confuses himself with the state after too long in power. Absent the feedback mechanisms of a free media and real elections, he begins to believe his glory is the country's glory, that what makes him happy also makes the people happy.

There is a distinction here between Sochi 2014 and the Summer Games in Moscow in 1980 and Beijing in 2008. In those cases, the authoritarian propaganda machine was in the service of promoting the achievements of a country and a system. They were dedicated to the greater glory of Communism, the Totalitarian State, the superiority of the system and the athletes it produced. Nobody remembers who presided over the 2008 Games in Beijing and only a few might recall Brezhnev in Moscow. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee never appears on TV or anywhere else, nor does the director of the Sochi Games. No, this spectacle is clearly about the ambitions and hubris of one ubiquitous man, something it has in common with the Summer Games held in Berlin in 1936.

I will detour for a moment because this where I often see interviewers and pundits roll their eyes. The phrase "Putin is no Hitler!" forms on their lips before the word "Berlin" is completed. It is a fascinating development in historical ignorance that nearly any mention of Hitler or the Nazis is now ritually scoffed at, from professional journalists to anonymous tweets. "Godwin's Law," which doesn't even say what most wits seem to think it says, is immediately invoked, as if the slow and public evolution of a German populist politician into history's most infamous monster is beyond rational contemplation. [...]

The International Olympic Committee is an eager partner in all of this and also has a long and dark history. After the triumph of Berlin, for example, the next Games were planned for Tokyo and Rome. New IOC President Thomas Bach's strained protests about how foreign leaders protesting Sochi are "inserting politics into sport" ignore that fact that selling a huge platform for propaganda and corruption to a dictatorship is also "playing politics." By Bach's dubious rationale, the IOC would award the Games to North Korea as long as the venues were adequate and the fees were paid promptly.

Posted by at February 11, 2018 11:58 AM