|Russian President Vladimir Putin|
There’s an old Russian proverb that goes something like this: “How do you know when the president (prime minister, czar, party chief) is lying? His lips are moving.”
OK, so it’s not an old Russian proverb, but you get the gist. Today, it means if Russian President Vladimir Putin is speaking, the words emanating from his mouth are subject to change at any moment according to whatever he thinks will best suit his ultimate goal. That goal seems to be to consolidate his grip on power through whatever repressive measures he can get away with while pretending to support democratic principles of government.
So when Putin says, for example, that there is no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia -- despite recent passage by the Duma of a law banning any public mention of homosexuality that could be construed as propaganda supporting it -- one can assume it’s a lie. One can further assume that he thinks he has a good reason for making what common sense declares to be a bunch of bull.
That reason, of course, is the looming presence of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort city of Sochi and Putin‘s desire to avoid a boycott of the games and/or worldwide condemnation of the Russian law and measures that might be taken to register protest against it. There are hundreds of millions of rubles at stake and Russia can ill afford to lose any of them. So don’t worry, folks, in keeping with the Olympic spirit that forbids discrimination of any kind, there will be no discrimination against gays and lesbians in Russia during the Olympics, Putin says,
Afterwards? Well, that’s another matter.
And that’s what needs to be remembered. In Russia, Putin faces no serious challenge to his words from a free, vigorous press (he’s worked hard at squelching that) and, in this case, most likely has the support of a majority of Russians. In a country with a poor history of tolerance for minorities, few are going to point out any inconsistencies between his words and actions regarding homosexuality in Russia, during and after the Olympics.
President Obama, angry that Putin granted temporary asylum in Russia to Edwin Snowden, who made public voluminous files on the U.S. government’s efforts to spy on ordinary Americans and also upset that Putin has resisted taking military action against Syria for use of chemical weapons against its own people, canceled a meeting with Putin in Russia during this week’s G20 summit. Instead, Obama met with gay activists in Russia, a double insult.
No sweat for Putin. He softened his stance on Syria and said some of his favorite Russians --Tchaikovsky, for example -- were homosexuals and yet are still loved by Russians. Whatever suits his need at the time, the former KGB chief will say, usually with a smile.
The anti-gay law has led to calls to boycott the Sochi Games, but such actions always hurt far more than their intended target. In this case, thousands of athletes -- including countless gay athletes -- who have worked for four years for this honor would be denied what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and an outspoken Russian critic of Putin, says there are other ways to protest. In an interview with Huffington Post, he says the protest are not about the athletes, but rather “about Putin and his repressive regime.” He says world leaders (presidents, diplomats, royalty, etc.) should boycott the games, denying Putin their implied support for his policies and perhaps weakening his resolve to pursue similar ones.
Kasparov also thinks Olympic sponsors such as Coke, McDonald’s, Visa and other major companies should recognize the views of their main customers and express opposition to the Russian law by adorning their products with rainbow flags or other symbols of support for gays. And he says NBC and other broadcasters of the Games should use their freedom and their platform to do stories about, not only the anti-gay law, but other repressive measures taken by Putin. A little press freedom in Russia would not be such a bad idea.
Admittedly, a boycott of the games would be dramatic, but would likely only stiffen Putin’s us-against-the-world resolve and not sway Russian citizens, a difficult task under any circumstances. Moving the games from Sochi (now under martial law) is impractical given time constraints. That leaves broad public condemnation of Putin and education of the Russian public -- by previously mentioned means and the use of social media -- as the most effective way to make Putin eat his words. It may also wake up the Russians and make him less likely to pursue future oppressive measures.
There’s another old Russian proverb. Something about sleeping dogs and lying. OK, it’s not Russian, but you get the gist.