Liberals have discovered Russia is a bad place. Apparently the Olympics and their newfound knowledge of Russia’s anti-gay laws have stirred them. I suppose the human rights activists should take all comers, but their previous lack of anger about Russia’s rigged elections, kangaroo court trials and the murder of Vladimir Putin’s opponents suggests that human rights is only of interest to the fashionable left when it trips a liberal domestic-agenda wire (gay rights).
We see this in the near-total lack of concern by the administration and liberals more generally about religious persecution, be it in Egypt (the Copts), the wider Middle East, Cuba or China. Brutality against the world’s Christians? Well, leave that to those right-wing evangelicals; the left has “real” calamities to worry about, such as global warming.
Now of course the administration’s dismal record on human rights and infatuation with engaging (or, at the very least, ignoring the excesses of) dictatorial regimes indicate that, as Elliott Abrams observed, the administration thinks that “[g]enuine support for human rights . . . is one of those old habits we need to break.”
But the Olympics gives the human rights community a unique opportunity. The Post reports, “Under a Russian law banning ‘the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,’ the field of play at the 2014 Sochi Olympics stands to become politically charged terrain in which rainbows and kisses could be construed as cause for arrest.” The report goes on to explain that athletes are in a quandary as to how their silent participation in the games may be construed. (“Good manners toward the host nation? Tacit approval of a law that appears to violate the Olympic Charter? Something else entirely?”)
Well, we leave that up to each athlete’s conscience, but U.S. elected officials are a different matter. A seasoned human rights professional e-mailed me last week that “political leaders, including Obama, should make it clear that they have no plans to attend and stand side-by-side with Putin on this undeserved stage.” Now, that is a marvelous idea and an attainable objective for those disturbed by the prospect of laurels and Russian rubles being tossed at the brutal regime.
After all, the president was not going to give Putin a photo-op after he granted asylum to Edward Snowden. Is gay rights so insignificant to him that he’d overlook Russian abuse of gays just to cheer ski jumpers? (I’ve given up suggesting that just run-of-the-mill human rights violations are enough to stir this president.)
So here’s a nice joint project for the left and right, for Democrats and Republicans, for defenders and critics of the administration’s human rights record: Launch a “Just Don’t Go” campaign. Any politician who attends the games should be concerned about a wave of protests and backlash by his or her constituents. And frankly, the same should go for celebrities of all stripes. Going to Sochi should become as socially unacceptable as smoking or global warming skepticism.
A U.S. boycott of the games isn’t in the cards, but that doesn’t mean Sochi is not rife with opportunities for human rights activism. If the games are a pleasant and lucrative event for Putin, the International Olympic Committee and its sponsors, the message will plainly be that human rights violators need not experience even the most minor embarrassment or inconvenience for their conduct.