Russia has been struggling for much of the last three decades to recover from its status as a failed communist state. The IMF still regards Russia as a developing economy and while it has certainly been making economic strides, mainly through the exploitation of natural resources and arms exports, its social progression has remained rather conservative; somewhat of a hangover from the Soviet days. It was only in 1993 that male homosexual acts were decriminalized, but the basic rights evolution for the LGBT community stalled where it started. As Vladimir Putin cemented his autocratic style of governance by manipulating the laws to allow extension of his tenure as President, there were a growing number of opponents and political activists becoming discontented with his style of governance and the poor economy... He orchestrated a social scapegoat for all of Russia's ills: the LGBT community. By making the LGBT community the underclass and responsible for everything from perverting the minds of children to the reason for dropping birth rates, he was able to distract citizens from his record and pander to the nationalist sentiments of a nation.
There are some rather disturbing parallels, most notably to 1930’s Germany. Unfortunately, there is no way to sugar coat what is going on in Russia to its LGBT citizens, and it is no exaggeration to draw parallels with the Nazi tactics towards the Jews in the lead up to the Second World War. Germany at the time was trying to find its national identity and had economic troubles. It was led by the autocrat Hitler who followed a strategy, devised by Joseph Goebbels, to create a cult leadership through rationalizations and persuasion to the masses, while demonizing and dehumanizing a segment of society through legislated persecution and engaging in a systematic campaign of incitement and terror.
In 1936, Germany hosted the Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Summer Olympic games in Berlin. Hitler viewed the Games as a vehicle to showcase his government and ideals, so Jews or Blacks were not to participate. However, due to international pressure the Germans relented, and allowed Jews and Blacks to participate; they also removed anti-Semitic slogans from around the cities, but two weeks before the Games they rounded up the Romani and placed them in Berlin-Marzaha concentration camp.
While gays have not been carted off to camps, there have been many individuals at various levels of government within Russia that feel comfortable expressing views without condemnation or recrimination, "that gays should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled." Some even go on to suggest that Russia should emulate the treatment of LGBT in Nigeria and Iran, where gays are hanged, stoned to death and burned alive.
When will western society stop imagining that the 'first signs' of oppression will be the worst and last, just because they are beyond our scope of reason? While in fact history has taught us that when left unchecked, state sanctioned persecution usually escalates to the most grotesque human right violations and in many cases genocide.
Olympics:. Then and Now
Perhaps more troubling is that the IOC doesn't seem to have learned much from its own historical experiences or moved on from its past political attitudes. While scholars can't seem to decide if in the 1930's the IOC was a willing collaborator with the German Government, apparently it did hold private discussions with delegates about the countries growing anti-Semitic leanings, where it very eagerly accepted assurances from the Nazi Government.
Almost 80 years on and the IOC is still trying to pretend that the Olympics is a politically sterile utopic environment that is immune from pressures and perceptions, even as it sets itself up as a bastion of inclusiveness, which in itself is a very political position.
Again we see the IOC eagerly clinging to vague unsubstantiated assurances of protecting the athletes and Olympic associates; assurances that have already been refuted by many within the Russian government. It is as if those assurances somehow make the IOC's acceptance of the human rights violations taking place all around it in Russia evaporate.
It seems that the IOC would like to think so. Perhaps all this is too inconvenient a truth for an organization that has invested untold millions and brand kudos into the success of the Sochi Games. Perhaps they don't have a problem being associated with supporting such human rights abuses. Of course The IOC response in 2013 has been no different to its response in 1933, which back then some called nazi: appeasement and right now just seems to be lip service.
Make no mistake, the IOC is running the show when it comes to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. In 1936, if Hitler had been left out as a 'shunned lone dictate' with a brand new empty stadium in Berlin, without any of the world sanctioned affirmation, a more appropriate image of a regime would have emerged. Then as now the IOC chose not to change the venue, even though it was well within their power. And so now here we are in 2013, and we find that the IOC is also refusing to live up to its ethical responsibility, set out in its own Charter, to change the venue. It instead again brushes off a systematic, gross violation of human rights, as 'politics'. In the context of the good will and adulation that the IOC knows the Games will bring Russia, inaction looks like a ringing endorsement.