Robyn Benson, PSAC

Boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics?

Gay rights st petersburg.JPG

It’s time to turn up the heat on Vladimir Putin’s Russia for its hateful anti-gay laws, which came into force this past June. It makes “homosexualist propaganda” illegal, in such broad terms that it effectively criminalizes such things as wearing an LGBT pin, or the same-sex holding of hands in public.

LGBT Russians are being terrorized, beaten, arrested, tortured and murdered for the “crime” of being who they are, while Russia, still pretending to be a civilized nation, prepares to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi next February. Police have openly sided with violent anti-gay mobs for years: the new anti-gay law that has just come into effect merely adds an official gloss to the unspeakable persecution of this minority by Russian authorities, the Russian Orthodox Church, and far-right vigilantes.

Russia is right down there with Uganda, where, thanks to ceaseless proselytizing by far-right American fundamentalists, the government is poised to pass a law making homosexuality punishable by death.

Try to imagine the sheer courage (and desperation) of those who dare to raise their voices and stand up for their rights in either country. These are heroes, and by now some of those taking part in their gay pride marches could be martyrs as well. The notion that any nation that persecutes its own citizens with such ferocity might host the International Olympic Games should be unthinkable. But the International Olympic Committee is still mousing around the issue—and there’s a grim precedent for that.

There are uneasy echoes here of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which helped to give Adolf Hitler a sought-after respectability. Then, as now, voices were raised and a boycott was urged, but the Nazi-enablers in the IOC prevailed, with its president, Avery Brundage, asking aloud why a mere “Jew-Nazi altercation” should prevent the show from going on, and complaining about a “Jewish-Communist conspiracy” to keep the US out of the games.

The victims of officially-authorized hatred are different this time, but hate is hate. It’s good, therefore, to hear Foreign Minister John Baird speak up so uncompromisingly about the anti-gay pogroms in Russia.

Now Baird himself has been subjected to a vicious homophobic attack by a fringe “women’s group” (they don’t speak for me or for any woman I know) that had earlier enjoyed the blessing of the Harper government. What goes around comes around—unfortunately for the foreign affairs minister. He has my sympathy.

But Baird’s forthright comments, in any case, are not enough. Canada, and other countries, need to send Russia a stark message: we will not enable hate and violence by lending the Putin government a veneer of approval that hosting the Olympics will bring. If it is still too early to campaign for a boycott, as some, including Baird and the Official Opposition, are presently arguing, it’s not too soon to raise the possibility, at least, particularly given the brazen promise by the Russian government to enforce their laws against athletes and visiting spectators. (Recognizing its PR error, the Russian sports minister is now trying to walk that back—but is anyone seriously reassured?)

Tens of thousands of people have already signed a petition to the IOC to repatriate the games to Vancouver. It’s hard to disagree with the intent here. International diplomatic pressure may yet persuade Russia to enter the 21st century, and I hope it does, but, one way or another, human decency—and the lessons of history—demand our on-going solidarity. This time, let’s not look away.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on August 9, 2013 8:25 AM.

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