It’s finally here. The Sochi Winter Olympics and Paralympics had its opening ceremony on Friday, and the games are now underway, but it comes amid turmoil and protest about Russia’s continued crackdown on civil rights. Here are some of the stories from the lead up to the games you might have missed.
Sochi: The Great and the Good
1) Google‘s Epic Google Doodle
Google’s front page is one that many people visit everyday. The Google Doodle, where Google changes its logo to commemorate a special event or memorialize someone or something, has become a staple of Internet chatter. As you can see above, Google chose to do something very special on Friday and painted its Winter Olympics Doodle with rainbow colors. Not just that, but Google underscored the image with words from the Olympic Charter:
“The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
The Guardian newspaper also changed its online logo to rainbow colors to show its own solidarity.
2) AT&T, U.S. Olympic Sponsor, Supports Nondiscrimination
Telecommunications giant AT&T, which sponsors the U.S. Olympic team (but not the games itself), released a blog post this past week, saying in a strong statement that:
“We support LGBT equality globally and we condemn violence, discrimination and harassment targeted against LGBT individuals everywhere.”
None of the official Sochi sponsors, including McDonald’s and Coca Cola, have addressed the issue of Russia’s gay propaganda ban or the violence that the law appears to have exacerbated.
3) U.N. Leader Condemns Attacks on Russia‘s LGBT Community
A day before the games, U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon told the International Olympic Committee that world leaders and those involved in the games have a duty to raise their voices about the violence perpetrated against Russia’s LGBT community:
“We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face,” he is quoted as saying.
The secretary general also highlighted Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter that should form the basis of the IOC’s commitment to opposing discrimination. Principle 6 has now become a main focus for LGBT-rights protests, with social media users changing their avatars to a Principle 6 image in order to show their solidarity. You can find out more and how to do that yourself here.
4) Renowned Writers Pen Letter to Russia Decrying Civil Rights Abuses
Over 200 writers including Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood have written an open letter to Russian authorities calling for the repeal of Russia’s gay propaganda ban, blasphemy laws, and Russia’s recently reinstated (broad) defamation law that they say create a “chokehold” on writers.
The letter is worth reading in its entirety but one blistering snippet includes:
“Criminalising those who write positively about gay people and gay themes, or who write negatively about the church, criminalising defamation, these are all things that clamp down on the exchange of ideas, that push dissent and stories underground. I hope that Mr Putin reads the open letter; I hope he changes course.”
5) British TV Channel Rebrands with a Catchy Music Video to Support Russia‘s Gay Community
Channel 4, which this week also aired a harrowing documentary into the violent attacks on Russia’s gay community called “Hunted,” also this week re-branded with rainbow colors and an attention grabbing good luck message called “Gay Mountain”:
Good luck indeed.
Sochi: The Bad and the Ugly
1) Russia Arrests Gay Protesters (Including a Pregnant Woman) Before Protest Can Even Start
Reports say that four protesters, among them a pregnant woman, were arrested in St. Petersburg on Friday prior to launching a protest of Russia’s anti-gay crackdown. The protesters, led by LGBTI advocate Anastasia Smirnova had hoped to wave banners saying: “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter.”
Buzzfeed reports that the protesters are unsure how the police learned about the protest, and it is unclear at this time what exactly they are being charged with, but we can speculate that an intent to break the law may now be sufficient justification for these arrests under tougher anti-demonstration laws that were brought in prior to the games.
2) Russian Deputy Prime Minister Warns Gay Athletes to Stay Away from Children
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak has repeated President Putin’s ridiculous warning to gay athletes that they should leave Russian children alone, saying at a news conference on Thursday that any athlete caught engaging in gay propaganda around minors would be subject to the ban on disclosing information about “non-traditional sexuality.” He added, “Leave the kids alone.”
This kind of discriminatory paranoia should mean Russia is incapable of hosting the games, but the IOC has continued its refusal to engage with the issue.
3) Russian Authorities Pursue Teenage Girl for Coming Out
Earlier this week reports began to emerge that a girl of around 14 years of age was being investigated for gay propaganda after having “openly declared herself to be a person of nontraditional sexual orientation.” Basically, for coming out and daring to tell others that being gay is okay. That did not sit well with local authorities and a police investigation got underway.
Znak.com published a copy of a special police commission’s resolution on its website.
It said the student was found guilty of “systematically disseminating information directed to the formation of distorted ideas about social equality among traditional and nontraditional sexual relations.”
That charge would have remained on the unnamed girl’s criminal record, possibly hampering her chances for employment and moving on with her life. Fortunately, and apparently after a public outcry, it appears those charges have now been dropped. The fact that Russian authorities saw fit to pursue a ninth grader however speaks volumes about the desperate civil rights situation within the country.
4) Books Investigated for Gay Propaganda
Leading Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya has spoken out about how she believes a book she had a hand in creating is being investigated under Russia’s gay propaganda law.
The Family in Our Country and Others, by Vera Timenchik, “caused a stormy reception”, she said. “There is a small section that says in some places in the world … there are also homosexual families.”
She said Timenchik had been called for questioning by authorities and had told her that investigators wanted to speak to her too.
“I’ve been abroad for the last month and a half and I will go to see them as soon as I return to Moscow,” Ulitskaya told AFP.
Russian authorities are denying these claims, saying the books have not been checked in this manner, however we do know that local authorities have raised objections about the book and that it appears to have been removed from children’s libraries in some places.
That’s what happened this past week in the run-up to the games. Care2 will of course keep you updated about the latest goings on in Sochi as they happen.
Photo credit: Global Sports Forum