Monday, March 03, 2014
From Print Edition
The Sochi Olympic Games are over and many in the west are gnashing their teeth because they weren’t an utter failure. How very annoying – how absolutely infuriating – for all the anti-Russian pundits in the US and Britain that there wasn’t a major disaster, a really juicy foul up, a majestically spectacular catastrophe that would have shown to their lip-smacking enjoyment that Russia is a terrible place run by a bungling dictator.
It is, in fact, a country that is trying to do better and whose political leader is pragmatic, dedicated and decisive. Eat your hearts out, Britain and America.
Many western media headlines and commentaries were disgracefully insulting about the Sochi Games, despite televised scenes indicating their outstanding success. I have to admit I find all this Olympics stuff mega-boring, but the world at large enjoyed the sight of athletes skating, skiing, sliding and slithering at enormous speeds, and who am I to disagree with such pleasure? But I do disagree with ultra-nationalistic disparagement of another country’s efforts and achievements.
Seventy years ago George Orwell wrote that “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will” and as with so many of his statements he’s been proved absolutely correct. He observed that “international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred”, and the recent icy jamboree at Sochi has been no exception. Orwell could barely believe that nations could “work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.” But, alas they do, in spades and grades. And the media are right behind them. The newspapers and TV stations don’t run or jump: they drum and pump. The beat the drums of national pride and pump the emotions of the impressionable masses.
Western nations’ attitudes to the vexing fact that Russia won most medals were intriguing. For example it was reported that “Russia’s athletes topped the Sochi medals table with a record 13 golds and 33 total, though even this was marred with allegations of cheating and unfair judging.” They just had to inject that note of nastiness – ‘they won, but they didn’t really deserve to’ was the refrain.
And print reporting of the closing ceremonies was woefully tiny and dismissive, although television stations had no option but to present the marvellous spectacle without critical comment – because there was nothing to criticise. A typical British newspaper report wrote it off as an “opulent show of ballet, circus performances and classical music.” But of course it was much more than that: it was magnificent and staggeringly outstanding, as anyone who saw it would have to agree.
Even Fox News had to concede that there were no problems, but the Washington Post chose to carry the headline, “Costly, Political, Successful”, over a shamefully downbeat report. One comment was that “Russia’s leader had reason to be pleased as the Olympics dubbed the “Putin Games” ended.” Just who was it who titled the Games “the Putin Games”?
This was the crux of the entire anti-Sochi campaign by the west, led by the US and Britain. They couldn’t bear the thought that Putin’s Russia can actually organise something. And the Post came clean about one underlying reason for rubbishing Russia when it reported that “Sochi competed for attention with violence in Ukraine, Russia’s neighbour and considered a vital sphere of influence by the Kremlin.”
The vicious inter-factional conflict in Ukraine was a very handy cudgel with which to beat the dreaded Russians, and it was flailed with relentless fervour. Were we to believe what has been, and continues to be, written in commentaries in the western media we would be convinced that the entire Ukrainian shambles is Russia’s fault.
There is no longer mention – not a whisper – about the dark meddling of the United States, whose Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland not only insulted the European Union in a telephone call to the US ambassador in Ukraine, which was intercepted and publicised by Russia, but made it clear that the US was dabbling with gusto and arrogance in the internal affairs of a country concerning which it has no direct national interests of any sort.
America’s concern is that Ukraine has a border with Russia, and Washington regards any country bordering Russia as a prime target to be encouraged to renounce ties with its geographical neighbour and move to military alliance with the US-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which ceased to be relevant after the Soviet Union collapsed and is desperately seeking another role.
Alas, the Cold War didn’t die with the end of communism in Russia. Of course the new Russia hoped that it had expired, and prepared to expand ties with the west, but when it did so – with potential economic success and with much benefit to countries of the European Union and in the wider world – its efforts were considered by Washington as threatening US influence. Moscow’s desire to establish a customs union with its neighbours, the former states of the Soviet Union, in order to maintain economic stability and expand cooperation was similarly regarded. What is important to America is establishment of military bases surrounding Russia.
The democratically elected leader of Ukraine was toppled by a bloody revolution which was endorsed by the US and the EU. There is no doubt that Yanukovych was a corrupt man, but elsewhere in the world there are many such horrible elected leaders who need not fear western support for their opponents. They, however, are not associated with Russia, a country that the west wishes to place under economic and political stress.
The new interim government of Ukraine has been selected by the ‘Maidan Council’, consisting of the protest groups and militants who overthrew Ukraine’s elected president and are without exception anti-Russian. Little wonder, as the Washington Post recorded with relish, that “Sochi competed for attention with violence in Ukraine.” But let’s see what the headlines are when the unwelcome success of Sochi is buried by the west, and Ukraine staggers into chaos.
The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com