Beneath Sochi’s Sparkling Surface—An Update from Day 1

Mary Elizabeth Margolis is part of Human Rights First’s delegation to Sochi, which includes U.S. Olympian David Pichler. 

Sochi at first glance is very calm and organized. Visitors must pass through security checkpoints to access Olympic Park. People are calm, authorities are helpful, and everything is brand new from the roads to the hotels. The trains all run on time and better yet, they are free to ride to and from Olympic Park. On day one, it seems the government has everything under control.

But look closer and you will find that the most interesting part of the scene at Sochi is not who’s here but who’s not.

Before going to Sochi, we stopped by St. Petersburg to meet with Russian LGBT activists, including the Russian LGBT Networks’s Anastasia Smirnova, Igor Kochetkov, and Maria Kozlovskaya. They told us that President Putin is determined to prevent his critics from being visible at the Olympic Games. Activists on a broad range of issues, including migrant workers rights and LGBT rights, have been denied spectators passes even though they bought tickets. With the security in place, authorities could be certain that these activists would be unable to bring anything dangerous into Olympic Park.

But in their view of the government, the activists themselves are dangerous. Russian officials are determined to depict their country as free and modern; dissenting voices would shatter that image.

Today we learned that one of the activists we met with, Anastasia, was arrested. It all seems a bit too conveniently timed: she was planning a protest in Sochi.

There is only one location where Russian authorities are allowing protests to take place. It sits more than a half hour train ride from Olympic Park. As we passed the stop that led to the protest zones, not a single passenger exited.

Time will tell whether people will buy into the image of the Sochi Olympics or whether they will see what lies beneath the surface. But there is one thing we know for sure: the pristine atmosphere won’t stop us from bringing attention to the true situation LGBT activists and other dissenting voices face now and after the Olympic torch leaves Sochi.


Published on February 7, 2014


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