Sochi2014: Obama Snubs Putin, Gay Icons Urge Boycott

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pic by Art-Es-Anna

With his unerring instinct for the popular cause, President Obama has voiced his disquiet over Russia’s anti-gay persecutions. Speaking to Jay Leno, he said he had ‘no patience’ with Russia’s anti-gay laws. And no qualms about raising his concerns.

Obama said “when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people’s basic freedoms, that whether you’re discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country.”

As I argued yesterday, human rights issues transcend concerns over interfering in the affairs of other countries. Later, the President cancelled a scheduled meeting with Tsar Putin, citing concerns over gay rights, and Russia’s granting of asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden.

There are two strands of thought on how to deal with Putin’s Vanity Games in Sochi: to turn up and wave rainbow flags, metaphorically speaking, or to boycott the games and their sponsors altogether.

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Johnny Weir, by Zhao Angela

Selfish sportspeople continue to bleat that it would be unfair to cancel or boycott the games, because then all their preparation will have been for nothing. Quite the silliest contribution to the debate (worse even than Johnny Weirs self-serving outburst), was another NY Times piece of the flag-waving persuasion, only this time the writer wants people to turn up and wave little rainbow hankies.  

Elsewhere, the NY Times also reminded everyone that scope for protests by athletes at the games is limited. Not only do they face possible prosecution under Russia’s laws, but they could be kicked out of the competition.

Just as Russia now prohibits “propaganda” in support of “nontraditional” sexual orientation, the Olympic charter prohibits athletes from making political gestures during the Winter and Summer Games.

So it is entirely possible that any bobsledder or skier wearing a pin, patch or T-shirt in support of gay rights could be sent home from Sochi, not by Russian authorities, but by another group that suppresses expression: the International Olympic Committee.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement which further undermines the IOCs claim that LGBTI athletes and spectators will not be subject to the law during the games.

Moscow expects all guests of the Olympics in Sochi to respect the local customs and laws, including the law banning gay propaganda among children, and is calling on people not to politicize the event.

“Everyone knows that any attempt to politicize the Olympic movement and competition do not match the spirit of the movement and is clearly counterproductive. We believe this,”- said the Russian Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights Konstantin Dolgov.

This was his response to the question of how Moscow perceived statements from abroad about a possible boycott of the Olympics because of the law banning gay propaganda among minors.

“We proceed from the assumption that all the guests and participants of the Olympiad will be greeted with hospitality, but also strictly follow the laws of the Russian Federation and will respect the customs and traditions of our country. This is a normal desire” – he said.

Earlier Konstantin Dolgov said that passing a law banning homosexual propaganda, Russia has not violated its international obligations, since the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity do not exist in the international human rights instruments.

The more information comes to light, the more the IOC prevaricates, the more the Russians harden their stance, the clearer it becomes that the only viable course now is to boycott Sochi 2014. As Harvey Fierstein posted on Facebook

If the International Olympics Committee takes the position that politics have no place at the games they are collaborating with Rat-Putin’s war on homosexuals. SILENCE EQUALS PERMISSION!!!!!

One clever suggestion that is unlikely to get much traction, is for the IOC to continue to endorse the games in Sochi, but throw the Russian team out because their country has clearly violated the Olympic charter.

Ban Russia from competing in their own Winter Olympic Games.

The new Russian law is in clear and direct conflict with the Olympic Charter, creating a system of discrimination that forces LGBT athletes into a life of fear and isolation.

“The practice of sport is a human right,” the charter reads. “Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

That’s not just an isolated sentence in the midst of dozens of charter pages, it’s right up front in the section called “Fundamental Principles of Olympism.” That’s “fundamental” as in “essential to the existence of the Olympics.” And the law doesn’t just violate one word of it or a clause, it violates the entire statement.

England’s best known, and best loved,’stately homo, Stephen Fry, summed up the case for boycott better than anyone else, so I give you his letter to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron (below).

I’ve forwarded it to Kevin Rudd: he’s such a fan of Dietrich Bonhoffer that he will surely understand the parallels and speak out at last?

I also thought Bob Carr might be interested enough to say something, thanks to his newly discovered ‘core principle’ of Australian foreign policy, gay rights. But since he is happy to dump LGBTI refugees who arrive on boats permanently on PNG, where gay sex can get you 14 yrs jail, I’m not surprised he’s said nothing on this.

As for the Coalition, neither Julie Bishop’s office nor Tony Abbott’s will even acknowledge my emails, let alone respond to them.

Anyway, here’s the Holy Blessed Definitely Not A Virgin St Stephen of Fry:

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Stephen Fry: pic – Lwp Kommunicacio

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, three years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milanov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule 4 Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace

Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement

Rule 15 Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom I have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped pushed gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity
Stephen Fry

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years.

“Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe.” (Daniel Witthaus, “Beyond Priscilla”, Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)