The Sochi Project: Russia Through Two Lenses
Sochi Russia, 2009. Photography by Rob Hornstra, courtesy Flatland Gallery.
As Sally Jenkins reported from Sochi as the 2014 winter games commenced, “The grim and the gorgeous coexist side by side at the Sochi Olympics. Anyone who thinks that what’s happening here is comparable to the excesses of other sports events in other places simply hasn’t seen or felt these Winter Games firsthand. The $51 billion colossus is an act of destructive grandiosity that threatens to make us all queasily complicit in crime yet simultaneously awed and intimidated.”
Among the Russian Police choir’s performance of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” the race to save the hordes of stray dogs in Sochi from imminent government extermination, half-naked pictures of Putin which reportedly line hotel-goers’ bedrooms, and complaints that Olympic accommodations “fall into the chasm between global spectacle and underserved population,” never mind the distressing report from The New Republic that Irina Rodrina, the Russian Olympic figure skater who lit the flame alongside hockey goalie Vladislav Tretyak, tweeted “a racist, doctored picture of President Obama,” the opening of the Sochi Olympic Games may not be impressive for its austere landscape alone.
During what may be the most troubling Olympics to date, Putin’s high vanity has been on display from all angles—from the architecture to the pure cost of the opening ceremonies. Haunted by the egregious human rights scandal that has plagued these games since it was first announced that Sochi would host the winter Olympics in a country where “homosexualism” is an affront to “sexual sovereignty” and is punishable by arrest and jail time, Jeff Shalett’s piece for GQ, “What It’s Like To be Gay In Putin’s Russia,” offers a particularly noteworthy peek into the kind of fear which accompanies out-gay-life in Moscow. As Shalett points out, “Russia’s closet has always been deep.” “Yes, there are killings. In May, a 23-year-old man in Volgograd allegedly came out to a group of friends, who raped him with beer bottles and smashed his skull in with a stone; and in June a group of friends in Kamchatka kicked and stabbed to death a 39-year-old gay man, then burned the body. There’s a national network called Occupy Pedophilia, whose members torture gay men and post hugely popular videos of their “interrogations” online. There are countless smaller, bristling movements, with names presumptuous (God’s Will) or absurd (Homophobic Wolf). There are babushkas who throw stones, and priests who bless the stones, and police who arrest their victims.”