No. 12 - 12 / 2013:
Sochi and the 2014 Olympics: Game Over?

edited by Martin Müller


Editorial by Martin Müller
Display Window or Tripwire? The Sochi Winter Games, the Russian Great Power Ideal and the Legitimacy of Vladimir Putin
by Bo Petersson and Karina Vamling

President Vladimir Putin’s claim and policies to resurrect Russia as a great power have been a cornerstone for the construction of the hegemonic position of power that he has for so long successfully exerted and upheld. This paper discusses the Russian great power ambitions in relation to national identity and popular appeal, and puts them in relation to the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The paper examines how this mega-event is discursively constructed as a manifestation of Russia’s return to great power status, and as such is meant to convey certain messages internally as well as externally. The successful carrying out of the Games would no doubt constitute an important component in the undergirding of the – otherwise dwindling – legitimacy of President Putin. The event would be an important display window for manifesting the prowess of the Russian great power, and the location of the Games in Sochi by the Caucasian Mountains in the Russian South would have a deeply symbolical aspect. If the Games can be successfully carried out in a region that has for so long been experienced as volatile and unruly, then it must surely mean that internal order has been restored in the Russian great power. However, it is argued in the article that there are several potential tripwires on the way towards achieving these symbolically important goals. Problems of security, terrorism, geopolitical volatility, large-scale corruption and interethnic tension loom large, and may all turn out to be formidable obstacles and render the hosting of the Games a counter-productive enterprise.

Tears in the Patchwork: The Sochi Olympics and the Display of a Multiethnic Nation by Emil Persson

This article examines what image of Russia is being projected in official rhetoric about the Sochi Olympics. It is argued that the imagined community being displayed is a diverse, inclusive and tolerant nation, even an international example of ethnic conviviality. The article puts this narrative in historical perspective, relating it to the mnogonatsionalnost policies of tsarist, Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. This imagination, though explicitly very inclusive, rests on important exclusions and silences. By selective exhibitions of minority-groups the other is domesticated, stereotyped and reduced to kitsch and folklore, glossing over conflict-ridden histories and prevailing inequalities.

The 2014 Sochi Olympics and Russia's Civil Society by Robert Orttung and Sufian Zhemukhov

This article examines the impact of mega-events on civil society. Based on a case study of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it concludes that mega-events provide a way for state-business alliances to impose their development preferences on society with little oversight or accountability. Environmental groups, in particular, find few opportunities to influence decisions. Nevertheless, activism is not completely futile because, in some cases, groups can use events like the Olympics as a platform to score small victories and to develop experience that can be applied in subsequent confrontations. Additionally, mega-events expand the repertoire of Russian organizations by giving them a central focus around which they can organize, though to date, they have not taken advantage of these opportunities.

Life on the Ground: A Comparative Analysisis of Two Villages in Sochi during Olympic Transformation by Sven Daniel Wolfe

This paper examines the effects of major infrastructure development for an international megaevent on two villages in rural Russia. The focus is on the experiences of people witnessing these changes firsthand, as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The work is grounded in field research, 19 ethnographic interviews, and government documents. Extensive interviews were conducted with Sochi locals living in two villages on opposite sides of the Mzymta River, between the Coastal Cluster of Olympic venues on the Black Sea coast and the Mountain Cluster of venues in Krasnaya Polyana. These villages have undergone radically divergent changes since Olympic development began, and contrasting the personal experiences of their inhabitants shines a light on the human element of the massive construction involved in hosting the world’s most prestigious mega-event. It is concluded that, while much of the infrastructure development is needed and welcomed, many locals nonetheless feel significantly marginalized, excluded from the discussion, and not benefiting from their region’s development.

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Euxeinos 12

Sochi and the 2014 Olympics: Game Over? edited by Martin Müller