Vladimir Putin plainly didn’t predict that his grand display of Russian (his) wealth, Russian (his) power and Russian (his) modernity would turn into a vivid display of the third-word, repressive and backward regime over which he presides. If you’re not actually watching the Games, but instead the news about the Games, it’s been very enlightening.
We’ve been treated to sight of the Russian hotel horrors. We’ve learned about the condition of the Russian work force, Russian dogs and Russian food (one prays the last two are not related). We’ve learned about Russian corruption and Russian pettiness (yogurt, comrades, yogurt is a problem?). We’ve been reminded what a police state — complete with arrests of protesters and hacking foreigners’ phones and computers — is like.
Indeed, one is reminded not of the era of Peter the Great but of the Soviets — a bleak, ill-functioning and backwater country masquerading as a world superpower. To be Putin is grand; to be an average Russian is a curse.
Most important, the Games have shaken the all-too-often indifferent West into a full appreciation of the repression that is as much a part of Putin’s Russia as it was in Soviet times. The repression of gays is now common knowledge. And with the U.S. tour of the magnificent human rights spokeswoman from Pussy Riot, one is reminded on a regular basis of the mindless brutality of the Russian state. (At a time in which democracy proponents have largely flopped in the Middle East, it is especially welcome to see the Russian’s gloriously brave and witty women mocking and defiant of their government.) They’ve also provided a stark contrast between their heroic human rights stance and the cowering behavior of the United States, which seeks to mollify rather than stand up to dictators.
This is the age-0old Russian story — international aggression and domestic poverty, arrogance based on insecurity. It seems nothing has changed since the 1970s but the letters on the secret police. It’s been an eye-opener certainly, though not in the way Putin might have imagined. But there is something to be said for the opportunity to expose and shame the Russian regime — and to commiserate with its people. They do live in a hell hole, don’t they?