My column for Russia Magazine, “Palaces in Sochi on Monday,”
Until recently, Sochi was mostly viewed in the context of Russia’s anti-homosexuality laws. No more. Stories of corruption and rights abuses in the preparation of the Olympics are all the rage. Joshua Yaffa’s recent article in Business Week is a must read on the subject. The BBC has also produced an hour long audio documentary, the “Putin Project,” surveying corruption, housing demolition, labor abuses and international affairs in the context of Sochi. There are numerous of other treatments pushing the subject to saturation. Given the coverage, it’s a legitimate question whether another expose on Sochi is necessary. Enter Putin’s Games, an hour long documentary directed by Aleksandr Gentelev and produced by Simone Baumann. It’s a comprehensive film that covers similar ground as Yaffa and the BBC. Its value is less in the information and more in giving a visual sense of the monstrosity of Sochi and its various heroes and villains. What’s more, the film has gotten some extra unsolicited exposure. Baumann was approached three times and offered 600,000 euros to can the film.
Why is this film so dangerous? It’s hard to say. In many ways it’s a standard expose of corruption in Russia. But then again, it’s about Sochi, Putin’s personal megaproject. Putin’s Games makes this personal touch clear by treating Russia’s Olympic bid as the president’s personal mission. Apparently, however, the idea didn’t originate with him. Having the Olympics in Sochi was first floated by former ski champion and Russian Olympic Committee chief Leonid Tyagachev while he and Putin were skiing at Krasnaya Polyana.