If you were thinking about going to Sochi or thinking why people would go to Sochi, the State Department’s travel alert is worth a gander. Up front, tourists are warned: “The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens planning to attend the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia that they should remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times.”
You learn a lot about the medical system, should anything happen to you: “The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics. Medical care in many Russian localities differs substantially from Western standards due to differing practices and approaches to primary care. Travelers should consider purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.” Or not go.
Continuing on, State tells would-be travelers:
Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists, and the U.S. government continues to monitor reported threats of potential terrorist attacks in Sochi or in Russia in general. Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region. Between October 15 and December 30, 2013, there were three suicide bombings targeting public transportation in the city of Volgograd (600 miles from Sochi), two of which occurred within the same 24-hour period. In early January 2014, media reports emerged about the possible presence of so-called “black widow” suicide bombers in Sochi.
The alert continues on in this vein for a while, ending with the advice that “U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation. When traveling, U.S. citizens may wish to provide a friend, family member, or coworker a copy of their itinerary.” (In case there is an incident and they worry if you’re in the middle of it, I suppose.)
There is a separate LGBT warning: “In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’ to minors. The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation. The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms. Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘LGBT propaganda,’ and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as ‘LGBT propaganda.’ ”
One is left with the distinct impression this is a dangerous, repressive place. That, in turn, brings us to the inexplicable decision to let the Russians host the Games. The International Olympic Committee not only doesn’t mind giving a stage to despots (as it did in letting China host), it also apparently doesn’t much care about athletes’ safety. Maybe the august group should consider holding the Games only in reasonably safe and free locales. I know that would cut out a significant chunk of nations, but it would be in keeping with — what do they call it? — the Olympic spirit.
We pray nothing bad happens at the Games — and for an end in repression of Russians who, at the end of two weeks of sports, will still be living in Vladimir Putin’s thugocracy.