UNDER THE SHIELD OF OLYMPIC GAMES
Wojciech Dudkiewicz talks with the former Foreign vice-minister, a deputy Witold Waszczykowski about the Olympic image of Russia just after the beginning of the winter Olympic games in Soczi
WOJCIECH DUDKIEWICZ: - Will the Olympic games in Soczi play an important role in politics?
WITOLD WASZCZYKOWSKI: - Certainly, they will and have the influence now. Olympic games have already caused a big commotion, it is undoubted, that due to the Olympic games Michaił Chodorkowski, members of the band ‘Pussy Riots’, and activists of Greenpeace, arrested last year on the Barents Sea, were freed from imprisonment. President Vladimir Putin mitigated the rhetoric of speech and proceeding, not to cause a form of boycott, or avoid bad opinions, bad atmosphere around the event. It was seen during the recent summit meeting the European Union – Russia. The meeting lasted very short but it showed the tendencies: president Putin took on an extremely reconciling attitude. He did not proclaim any anti-Ukrainian thesis, but emphasized that Russia was helping the Ukrainian nation, not this or that political group or the government, and he also announced that Russia would not withdraw the loan for Ukraine nor gas agreements if the authority there were changed.
– This is rhetoric, and what about changes in proceeding?
– They were also seen. I will remind that because of the introduced prohibition of homosexual propaganda, Putin met with severe criticism of some groups in the West. It made him mitigate the rate of exchange for the time of the Olympic games, to state that new regulations will not be respected on Olympic areas, that nothing bad is directed against homosexual sportsmen from the authority. Maybe it is only a gesture towards the West, but knowing the context, it seems significant. Certainly, for years this kind of events like Olympic games, Europe championship or the world championship in football, are not only competitions important only for fans, sportsmen, coaches or activists. They are organized with a political intention. The aim is to show a country, its beauty, power and organizational abilities. After all, the government of the Civil Platform party and the Polish People’s Party, as well as the previous government - the Law and Justice party wanted the Championship 2012 not only stimulate Poland economically but also become the leaven of the Polish-Ukrainian cooperation. It was expected that on the basis of the important common event there would be close infrastructural relationship between Poland and Ukraine, which would be the basis for building Middle-European sub-region. Diplomatically speaking, it was not successful. Now president Putin has similar extended hopes. He wants to show Russia different than it was perceived previously. Not Russia which is getting armed and spends more and more money on army. Not Russia which attacks Georgia, which threatens with force, scandals, anti-gay laws. He wants to show Russia which is beautiful, modern and well organized. At least in its one beautiful aspect, like Germany shows its Mercedes, BMW cars, technology, famous German organizational skills, he wants to show that he can organize a great event. These winter Olympic games, organized for enormous amount of money is to be an icon of Russia now. It is to be more Potiomkin’s than Putin’. A different thing is whether he will be able to do it. A political aspect is very visible and omnipresent in this event. During the Olympic games, the foreign policy of Russia will surely become mitigated. We will observe friendly, non-aggressive, non-assertive rhetoric. Without it, it would be impossible to achieve the Potiomkin’s effect.
– You say that Russia became mitigated for the time of the Olympic games. It means that when they finish, will everything return to their old form?
– Yes they will, to much extent, because imperial ambitions of Russia were, are and will be enormous, especially during the cadency of Putin’s party. In some time, in a few or several weeks – a few months, when the world will not experience the Olympic games any longer, but the world championship in football in Brazil, Putin will return to his far-reaching imperial plans and ambitions. When looking at it thoroughly, how Russia was acting previously, it is seen clearly that Moscow has an ambition to be a player in a few regions, is trying to extend or reproduce the sphere of influences which it lost after the termination of USSR. It is reminded not only by the words of Putin, but also by particular actions towards previous Soviet republics.
– Did the proceeding of Russia have an influence on the events in Ukraine where the authorities did not carry out a frontal attack for now on protesters, using the strongest arguments only fragmentarily?
– I mentioned the mitigated rhetoric of Russia. It is possible, that president Wiktor Janukowycz became mild at one moment under the influence of the rhetoric of Russia. I will remind that he gave in, undertook talks with the opposition, even offered it a post of the prime minister, resigned – at least temporarily – from draconian anti-democratic acts, and even removed some people connected with Russia, representing the Russian point of view, from the group of the dismissed prime minister Mykoł Azarow. It is possible that the relatively mild attitude of Janukowycz towards the protesters in Ukraine is a result of suspended pressure of Russia on him. But we can look at it differently, we can imagine that what is happening in Ukraine, this chaos, this war – contrasting with the Olympic peace, beautiful and great events in Soczi – might be beneficial for Russia.
– In the game about Ukraine?
– Not only. Also in outlining the mentioned idyllic picture of Russia. Only president Putin knows that the world public opinion thinks that he is playing his role in Ukraine, so he decided that if there would be solutions by force there, he would be accused of it and involved in it. In the case when he wants to send a positive message to the world from Soczi, he did not have any solution he pressed the brake, hindering Janukowycz from using force solutions. Probably for some time, if nothing unexpected happens, if the situation does not slip out of control, one will have to expect the tightened rate of exchange in Ukraine.
– But in the world mass media there is a lot of information which does not build a positive picture of Russia organizing the great event in Soczi. A lot is said about scandals, corruptive scandals, nature destruction, terroristic dangers, problems with moving as a result of the mobilization of safety services.
– This picture will win which is more suggestive. It will prove if the Olympic games will dominate the information presenting the picture of the big, beautiful sport event, modern buildings, modern roads and railways, sport records and medals. Or rather the information that it is the most expensive sport event, burdened by ecological catastrophe, an enormous level of corruption – Putin had to intervene there, placing local makers – a danger from ‘black widows’ of Chechen. The picture which is stronger, will dominate evaluations of the Olympic games. Surely, Putin will do a lot in order to make the picture of the Olympic games positive, so that they would turn out to be a success of propaganda. And the Olympic games will be so. Because politicians, societies of democratic countries are falling into a trap. On the one hand, they see negative points of the event which should not be held in Russia at all, but on the other hand – everyone wants to have their beautiful sport event and they will have it.
– Is the world under pressure?
– It is under a strong pressure of activists, coaches and, especially sportsmen who get prepared for many years, compete together, want to win medals. This is an extremely important event for them. Therefore, the boycott of the Olympic games was unacceptable. We had examples in the past of boycotting Olympic games – in Moscow, after the Soviet invasion into Afganistan, later revenge in Los Angeles. It did not bring any results, these were only gestures about which the sport world was not happy. What is interesting, the less democratic country is, the better such Olympic games are. Please, recall yourself the Olympic games in Athens which caused the later the failure of Greece, where there was obliging principle: keep up with the Joneses. And, on the other hand, the excellent Olympic games in Beijing - there were loads of medals but the world did not know about the negative results. The Olympic games in Beijing were so wonderful that the whole world forgot about….God’s world.
– You mean the Russian invasion into Georgia carried out during the Olympic games in Beijing?
– Certainly. It was the invasion under the shield of the Olympic games. In August 2008, when all politicians were busy with watching transmission, when the president of the USA George W. Bush was watching the sport competitions, the Russian army invaded Georgia. It shows that the time of great sport events favours extraordinary non-sport events. It may affect politics in a calm way or… the other way round.