“Je viens voir un pays, je trouve une salle de spectacle.”

The Sochi Olympics officially opened yesterday in a ceremony The New York Times appropriately called an extravaganza. Parts of it – the ballroom dance, for one – were surprisingly good, much better than I expected. In another context, I would even say a masterpiece.

But I can’t shed the here-and-now. Potemkin* village-building can be a fine art but I’m not interested, thank you very much. There is no escape from marquis de Custine’s view of Russia as grand theater. Custine mistook the court of Nicholas I for Russia, but history has worked hard to vindicate his view

*Potemkin probably did not build faux villages for Catherine II – the couple were too close for such nonsense – but numerous others have perfected the art. “Misnamed” by no means equals “non-existent”.


  1. I wonder what do you think about NBC editing of the opening ceremony? Why did they cut out police choir or tatu or mascot dance? Are they too extravagant for americans’ simple minds? And the part of the dance performance about revolutionary parts of Russia history? Too scary?
    Why to cut parts of Thomas Bach’s speech? Too complicated?
    Maybe Russia always was a spectacle, but USA used to be a champion of the freedom of speech, I’ve heard. Or maybe it was just a spectacle too.

    • The NBC is a private network with a 10-15% market share. I don’t see how those relatively minor cuts, if they were indeed made, can threaten free speech in the US.

      Anyone can watch the ceremony on YouTube anyway.

  2. The East -West Institute is not a prominent human rthigs organization. It’s a think tank, a research institute. And during this period in the 1980s, as I well remember ver well, the director Mroz, who remains today, took the position common on the left, then as now, that the US should not threaten peace and disarmament by raising human rthigs issues publicly. Indeed, he was for not forcefully advocating human rthigs and in no way would he himself called his organization a human rthigs organization then or now. Fortunately, many people ignored him and others in the peace and freeze movement of the time, and continued to publicly condemn the Soviets’ many human rthigs abuses. In the end, it was not quiet diplomacy or silence or arms talks that changed the dynamics; it was change from within that came when there was sufficient external pressure in the form of solidarity and support of those who made those changes. Jacqueline McLaren-Miller is merely articulating a certain position, well known since the 1970s, that Jackson-Vanik didn’t work because initially the Soviets responded by cutting emigration. But then it rose again and continued for many years after precisely because the US maintained its resolve in the face of Soviet blackmail. Those with this position never turn the page past their initial point of one year and can’t explain why emigration rose again, using their theory. As for the dip after the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the US boycott of the Olympics in 1980, again, it resumed, even in the years of Andropov, so your theory doesn’t work. That you haven’t seen anything that makes this point simply means that you didn’t live through this period of history and you simply haven’t read enough, but the facts themselves tell the tale Google the emigration tables on Wikipedia or some other site and you will see they continue for many years until the Gorbachev era and then fall of the Soviet Union. I don’t know why she and you are going on and on and on about how Jackson Vanik doesn’t apply anymore. Nobody claims it does literally, as the language in fact doesn’t refer to Jews, and doesn’t refer to anything but emigration. The language of the bill refers only to non-market economies that restrict emigration. Russia is no longer a non-market economy and no longer restricts emigration. Everyone long since gets that. Its application for Jewish emigration is moot as now Jews and anyone else in Russia has the opposite problem, getting a visa to another country, not exit from Russia. The points then are the following:1. Jackson Vanik itself as a law should not be abolished and removed from the books, as it still applies to countries like Turkmenistan or North Korea, and the Kremlin shouldn’t be handed a moral victory in getting its long-time wish of physically removing the law completely unfortunately the Russians keep hammering on this point in particular because Obama phrased it this way when he first held out the promise to them.2. The Russians should of course be graduated *permanently* from the law with an Act of Congress. This is no legal problem whatsoever. China and other countries have been *permanently* graduated in the same fashion, i.e. not with a waiver each year, but *permanently* graduated. That’s certainly enough for the WTO and certainly enough to satisfy the letter of the law.3. The reason this simple exercise hasn’t been done is because of the historical role J-V played as a device to look at all of Russia’s human rthigs problems, not just Jewish (or any other) emigration, in hearings in Congress. This was its role in the 1980s. So many members of Congress are reluctant to retire that mechanism for review without a replacement. Indeed, the annual waiver process was kept in place precisely to have a review mechanism and to attempt to exercise some pressure on Russia over its many human rthigs issues and cases.4. The Magnitsky Act, which was already in progress before the issue of permanent retiring of J-V came about, is an acceptable replacement. Congress should retire application of J-V permanently and pass Magnitsky, which is not merely about one case but a number of cases, and gets at the very pertinent issue of impunity in the Russian justice system. And the case is emblematic not only of human rthigs issues, but the very real problem of severe corruption in business, and therefore any improvement of trade relations represented by PNTR should indeed involve some mechanism that seeks to punish obvious corruption and abuse in this emblematic case.Indeed, Magnitsky suffered torture deliberately withholding medical care and leaving someone in a cold cell without care *is* torture. There is no question about that. That is what experts say, and that is clear-cut not everyone outside the human rthigs field per se would describe it as such but it is indeed the case.I don’t see any evidence at all that Magnitsky was not an attorney, and attorneys work on tax matters all the time, in the US and Russia. Your notions are specious and just part of a general malicious pro-Kremlin intervention whose motivations aren’t clear.As for the idea that a typo in Amsterdam’s blog represents some indifference, well, look to yourself on that one. He has written numerous pieces on Magnitsky. I don’t see any reason to suspect anyone in the story of indifference until he was dead .

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