German President Joachim Gauck will boycott the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, according to a report Sunday.
The announcement would make Gauck, a former pastor, the first major political figure to boycott the Games, which will be held at the Black Sea resort in February.
According to a report in the German publication Der Spiegel, Gauck made the decision in protest against human rights violations and the harassment of Russian opposition political figures. The magazine said the Russian government was informed of his decision last week.
Good for him. The athletes are going to the games, for better or worse. (On one hand the almighty dollar and the bizarre primacy of sports make one queasy, on the other, one can sympathize with the young people who’ve devoted their lives for the perfect performance at just the right time.) But the politicians are an unnecessary and therefore dispensable part of the proceedings. There is no reason to indulge the Russians, to give them a moment in which they can bask in the applause of the “international community.” This is the country, after all, that’s been helping Iran with its nuclear program, bullying Ukraine to turn away from Europe, repressing political dissent, arming the mass murderer Bashar al-Assad and persecuting gays. The latter, although it has gotten the intention of the left here and elsewhere (who apparently are unmoved by other examples of Russian repression and participation in human rights atrocities), is only one of many examples of the very Soviet-like behavior of the thugocracy now in ascendance.
The entire Russian re-set scheme — another Hillary Clinton brainstorm — was a disaster. We eased Russia into the World Trade Organization, kept mum about Putin’s rigged election and undermined our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic (pulling out our anti-missile defense units) — all to assuage Russia. All we did was enable Putin’s domestic repression and international aggression. Our Russian policy, like every other aspect of this president’s foreign policy, has sacrificed human rights in vain hopes of obtaining good relations with dictators. It’s a losing proposition, both geopolitically (it hasn’t worked) and morally.
It would be a small but telling gesture if the Obama administration and all members of Congress would steer clear of Sochi. The athletes in full view of hundreds of millions around the world can compete — and then snag their endorsements. Refusal to grace Sochi with the presence of the world’s political leaders would be a narrowly targeted shot at the Russian strong men, a reminder that there is some cost to their brutality. So how about it: Who will stay home and say no to Putin?