Am I Shocking and Shameful For Speaking The Truth? #Sochi2014

Is it wrong to speak the truth?

Mounds of trash in Sochi drainage systemCan we still be honest, even when the truth is ugly? 

I believe we can, and we should!

I think we need to speak up. Maybe especially so when the truth is unattractive.

We need to speak the truth. Particularly for those who can’t, either for fear of reprisal or because they have no one to speak for them.

What about you? Do you feel strongly about it one way or the other?

I ask this because in the past couple weeks I have been trying to look past the verbal smackdown laid out by a writer to those of us who wrote about Sochi in anything less than favorable terms.

The writer, Dounia, posted a pretty strongly worded rebuke, saying she felt that Sochi was treated unfairly in the media, and that “journalists” didn’t get it, saying they must have “never left their safe and clean western bubble.”

Writing a negative Sochi post, she said, “shows their ignorance regarding problems many countries face and their lack of understanding of the world outside their bubble.”

Dounia decried journalistic schadenfreude, asking “Why can’t we just celebrate and enjoy the Olympics for what they are?”

At first, I tried to just accept this rant and the commenters who agreed with Dounia. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

She is, after all, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) who has lived in 7 countries and has faced times with no clean tap water and as such is able to empathize with the Russians in Sochi, and simply wants others to extend the same courtesy and respect.

But, Dounia, guess what? Me too. I am also a TCK, a Navy kid who moved every 2 years. I left my “safe and clean western bubble” to start a business helping the very people you say I am disrespecting. I also want courtesy and respect for my friends. I worked side by side with my friends for 10 years to help them earn it. I’m sure you have done the same.

As an adult expat, I spent 10 years in the former Soviet Union, specifically in the Caucasus, teaching young people the skills needed to work for western companies so they could get better jobs and support their multi-generational families. My time was spent working in Azerbaijan, traveling to Moscow, Georgia and Armenia- about as close to Sochi as one can get.

Which explains why, the more I thought about it, the more wrong it felt to keep silent.

I felt like I was back in school, being bullied for not going along. 

Because I spoke up about the conditions I disagree with, and yes, used photos to show the hypocrisy of Putin’s claims of “service at the highest level”, I ran afoul of Dounia’s opinion, (which I actually believe to be detrimental in the long run). I am now one of “those”- arrogant, ignorant and lacking respect. My work is “shocking and shameful”.

“Everything I’ve been reading and hearing about Sochi from the American media has really irritated me. The arrogance, ignorance and lack of respect that is apparent in most of their comments is shocking and shameful. Disagreeing with the politics of a country is one thing, but being utterly disrespectful and offensive to an entire nation is another.”

Pardon me if I disagree with you about my writing showing my “ignorance regarding problems many countries face” and my apparent “lack of understanding of the world”.

Much to the contrary, I do understand not having clean water to drink, having to brush my teeth in bottled water. I do understand not having the luxury of running water at all. I know personally what it’s like to go without tasting fresh milk for months on end, buying hanging lamb meat from the man on the side of the road.

I have experienced the trauma of having someone sell my flat out from under me and say go find somewhere else to live within 10 days. No, Dounia, there is no lack of understanding here-  I do know what it’s like.

And that’s exactly why I can call bull$#!t on #Sochi2014! 

My friends know this isn’t the way the world lives. Yes they’re embarrassed that it doesn’t change. But… they also know the government is the only one with the power to change things and that won’t happen without outside pressure brought by the international community.

Quality Construction: Road collapse on new Sochi road

Quality Construction

You asked, “When did the Olympics stop being about sports and worldwide cooperation…?”

The short answer?  The moment Vladimir Putin chose to mis-spend the equivalent of about $51 billion, that’s when these Games became about more than sports.

The longer answer is that they have always been about more than sports. In fact, the IOC Charter is designed to ensure that all Olympic Games are about more than sports.

Principle #1 of the Olympic Charter says, “Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

The moment these Olympic Games became the justification for taking people’s farms and land, flats and factories, with no public accounting, we became complicit in his fraud if we remained quiet.

Mr. Putin all but ensured that this conversation was focused on everything but the athletes. From the time of the bid, to the time of the closing ceremony this has always been about much more than the games and the athletes. There has been no discourse about joy of effort, social responsibility, or ethical principles.

You say that “Politics is not the point of this post,” and yet, I believe it is absolutely the point.

According to the IOC Charter:

Principle 1:  Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a
way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

Principle 2:   The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

Principle 6:   Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

Somehow I think Mr. Putin missed this day in Olympic class.

For seven years during this building process, the IOC and the Olympic world looked the other way and did not interfere. As farms and lands were appropriated to build the Coastal cluster and the mountain village, the world said little. As Mr. Putin’s new ski resort dacha was installed there was no dissenting voice. How can there be free and competitive Games when there is fear?

As the price tag rose ever higher, it became more important that some accountability be assigned, lest every world dictator think the Olympics are a blank check for raiding state coffers at will and for personal enrichment.

How is it disrespectful to disclose that 25 workers died building Putin’s Games?

Would it be shameful to ask about the migrant workers brought in to build the facilities but cheated out of their promised wages?

Human Rights Watch didn’t think so:

Migrant worker abuses
“The transformation of Sochi from a small resort town to international Olympic host has been made possible by more than 70,000 workers, including tens of thousands of migrant workers from outside of Russia. Many of these migrant workers face exploitation – with employers failing to pay their wages, confiscating workers’ passports, and forcing them to toil up to 12 hours a day with only one day off each month – all in violation of Russian law.”

Nearly all workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Sochi worked in low-wage, low-skill jobs such as odd-jobs workers, carpenters, welders, or steel fitters. They reported typical earnings of between 55 and 80 rubles (US$1.80 to $2.60) an hour.

Workers consistently reported that employers failed to pay full wages and in some cases failed to pay workers at all. A group of workers employed on the Main Media Center, the central hub for journalists covering the Olympics, worked for months without wages, hoping to be paid. One worker from Uzbekistan, “Omurbek,” said that in December 2011 a subcontractor on the site offered him a job paying $770 per month.
“I worked for almost three months … for nothing. Nothing but promises, promises from them,” Omurbek told Human Rights Watch.

No, Dounia, Mr Putin himself made this about politics.

Writers and Journalists used the stories and photographs you object to so strongly to bring both good and bad to light. Ask those who are so highly offended to explain these:

  • In one stark case, the residents of the village of Akhshtyr, which has 49 homes and a population of 102 people, have been without water for a year because of Olympics-related construction.
  • In another example, three cement factories built in the last six months now operate near a large residential area. Residents told Human Rights Watch the factories operate day and night, causing noise, pollution and dust, which interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of their property. They are also worried about the health effects of living so close to the factories. Their attempts to raise this issue with local authorities have had no results.
    The Russian government is resettling some 2,000 families to make way for Olympic venues and infrastructure. But not all of those evicted received fair compensation for their properties and in some cases, homeowners were forced out with no compensation at all.
    In most cases, expropriation will take the form of a forced sale, meaning the property owners are required to sell their property to the government at a sale price less than the current valuation and must pay 13 percent property taxes on the amount of the sale.Human Rights Watch Photo: The home demolition and forced eviction of this family with young children is a tragedy that was completely avoidable. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are tarnished by this needless human suffering. Jane Buchanan, senior researcher for the Europe and Central Asia division
  • The illegal eviction of one family in Sochi casts a dark shadow over preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The home demolition and forced eviction of this family with young children is a tragedy that was completely avoidable. The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are tarnished by this needless human suffering.
  [Reported by: Jane Buchanan, HRW Europe and Central Asia div]

The politics and living conditions in the former Soviet Union are complex to say the least.

I understand why you say, ” I am also fiercely defensive of all my homes, but also of any country I feel is being slighted, misunderstood or portrayed unfairly.

But before you lump the entire discourse into a shocking and shameful display of arrogance, ignorance, and lack of respect, I would ask you to think about the conversations that are being launched, the numbers of people who are understanding the issues.

Some of us actually are not arrogant or ignorant.

Some of us have the utmost respect for the people, but feel not an ounce of respect for a government that can spend $51 billion dollars on new cars, dachas, ski lifts and the like, while simultaneously leaving scores of its own people with no water at all, and thousands of others living with contaminated water and filth. (How is that deserving of any respect?)

I agree with you that, “there are good people everywhere” and we should not judge an entire nation by the actions or beliefs of a few individuals.”

I think you and I are are two of those people. We care passionately about serving others and value our expat/TCK histories.

But I would respectfully ask that before you lump all of us who write about places and politics into one pile, that you remember these words…

There are good people (writers) everywhere- don’t judge an entire profession by the actions or beliefs of a few you may not agree with.

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