The Sochi winter Olympics has been hyped in Russia pretty much ever since it was announced that Russia would host the games back in 2007. Obviously the hype increased as the games drew nearer, but suffice to say if you were living in Russia any time between then and now you would have felt bombarded by advertisements and news stories referencing Sochi. As construction in and around Sochi progressed, the reports of corruption and missing money started to mount. Suddenly I came to a certain realization. These Olympics games are going to turn into a major PR disaster for Russia.
Traditionally, when Russians complain about the state of their country the government’s response is either flat out denial, distraction, or empty promises to fix the problem. Persistent critics are often labeled as “anti-Russian,” self-haters, and possible agents of the US State Department. This kind of thing flies within Russia’s borders but for the rest of the world it doesn’t work. This is what hit me: Sochi would bring the world to Russia, and the results would be cataclysmic. Russia is not a touristy place; anyone who wants to experience more than the tourist sights of Moscow and St. Petersburg is likely to be in for a shock if they don’t have a lot of travel experience under their belt, or if they know little about the culture. With an Olympic venue, you’re going to get planeloads of precisely the “wrong” people, i.e. unassuming foreigners who have virtually no knowledge about Russia. Worse still, since they aren’t Russian the typical denial tactics won’t work on them. If they come to a hotel and find it to be a dilapidated shithole, you can’t just tell them “No, it’s not. It’s a five star hotel!” I mean you can, but they’re just going to look to get baffled and reply, “Uh…Yes, it is.” Then what can you do? Are you going to accuse sports journalists from say, Ireland, of being US State Department agents? Are you going to suggest that Italy or France have strong traditions of Russophobia? In a way, yes, there will be pro-government voices in Russia who will no doubt claim that all these complaints are part of the non-existent “information war” between Russia and the West. They will make those claims but they will fall flat.
Anyway, as it turns out, my predictions of a global embarrassment may be starting to come true, judging by this article.
A couple things I want to say about this. The first is that some of these complaints may seem frivolous, such as the toilets which can’t flush toilet paper. To be sure, this is not an unusual thing in Russia at all, but it typically applies to the toilets in offices or restaurants, i.e. not places where you live. I can’t say for sure but I’m fairly certain that the cheap room I got in the Hotel Voglograd back in 2008 had a toilet which could flush paper with no problems. In any case, given the money which was spent on this venue and the fact that this is an international event, it is only fair that the hosts live up to the standards of guest countries, developed as they may be.
Some people may claim that these complaints are from pampered Westerners who can’t handle going to a country which is less developed. This argument doesn’t fly because we’re talking about facilities which were purposely built to house journalists and athletes from all over the world, most of them from developed countries. They had roughly seven years and over $50 billion to complete this task. What excuse can there be? Also any claim that these complaints are just soft Westerners whining about the lack of luxuries doesn’t serve the regime very well at all. These are the same people who want the world to believe that they have transformed Russia into this rising power, on par with Western nations. You can’t make that claim and then play the whole “we’re a simple, developing country” line when this massive international prestige project fails to live up to Western standards. The fake “patriots” are constantly proclaiming that Russia has risen to her feet, yet every failure or setback is blamed either on the West or the 90’s. Incidentally the liberal opposition does a similar finger-pointing routine when someone demands answers about why their “democratic” dreams did not come to fruition, but that’s another article.
PS- If you didn’t catch my previous entry, here’s a link to a very informative site about Sochi’s costs.
UPDATE: This link has mostly the same content as the original subject of this article, but with a few additions.