A Look Behind Geopolitical Choreography of Olympic Games
Buzgalin: With the Olympics coming to a close, Western media’s focus on Pussy Riot misses the true stories of Russian struggle
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
The Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are in full swing. During the opening ceremony, all the pageantry was on full display, with fireworks, ballet, and large-scale choreography.
But there’s also behind-the-scenes choreography on a political level taking place at the Games. Two members of the Russian group Pussy Riot were arrested on Monday under suspicion of theft, and on Tuesday they were released. One of the Pussy Riot’s members said they were trying to highlight the oppression and limited speech in Russia.
Now joining us to discuss the geopolitics of Russia is Aleksandr Buzgalin. He is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University.
Thank you for joining us, Aleksandr.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMICS, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you for opportunity to talk with you.
DESVARIEUX: So first just give us your assessment of the Games in relation to the geopolitics. Just explain for us what you’re seeing really transpire here, especially between the United States and Russia.
BUZGALIN: First of all, I want to stress that Olympic Games is, first of all, huge event for sport, for culture, for dialog between different people, for pleasure, and so on. And this is important, and please don’t forget about this.
Geopolitics, social, political questions are behind these games. They’re important. But not only these questions are important. And for Russians and, I think, for U.S. people, for people all over the world, the Olympic Games is a lot of fun, a lot of interesting games, sport, competition, and so on.
But we have also very important social, political, and geopolitical aspects of this big event. Partly they’re interconnected between–because they’re interconnected with, maybe, real contradictions between different countries in this world, different centers of competition in geopolitical sphere.
Russia has double life, if I can say so. We have our officials who are trying to show for the West, for everybody, that they are something, and that Russia pretends to be maybe small but superpower. It’s like a paradox, small superpower, but something like that.
From another side, we have a lot of Russians who are friendly, who wants to cooperate with different people and open for international cooperation. And, again, but: but we have this contradiction between authorities, between elite and between ordinary, normal Russians. And this is important question number one.
But there is important question number two, because very often we have also image of United States and other NATO countries as enemies of Russia, and this is partly continuation of the situation which took place 20, 30 years ago when Soviet Union existed. And in this context, very often we look on Olympic Games like a political competition between two superpowers–big United States and small Russia, which is the center of opposition to the U.S. I don’t think that Putin and his team is opposition to the United States.
But from another side, when all talks about Russia are interconnected with Pussy Riot or sex questions or formal freedom of speech for elite intelligentsia and really nearly no comments about problems of social differentiation, about Russian oligarchs, about contradictions between very poor, biggest part of population of Russian towns, villages, and elite which is living in Moscow, when there is no such debates about Russia and only artificial (for 90 percent of Russian) questions, like Pussy Riot, of course we have feelings that mass media and the elite of the United States is so far from Russian problems, from our interests, that we cannot understand each other. And this is really not good.
Also with Olympic Games, I have very contradictory attitude. I’m a patriot of my country, and I don’t afraid to talk about this, and I’m happy when our team has victory in hockey, in, I don’t know, other competitions. But I don’t like the idea to spend enormous amount of dollars for prestige projects. In my country, it’s necessary to build thousands and thousands sport place for kids, for young generation, especially in small towns, in different regions of very big Russia. And we have a few of them. Now, after Olympic Games, we can have only five, ten very expensive stadiums for, again, elite, for, again, rich people. And I do not–.
DESVARIEUX: –discussing the cost, ’cause I want to go a little bit further, because there are different estimations. The low estimates put the cost of the Sochi Games at about $51 billion. That’s more than four times the estimated costs–and this is according to the Dutch newspaper NRC. I want to ask you–and you already sort of alluded to it and spoke to it a bit–is: who is really benefiting from all of these expenditures?
BUZGALIN: This is big question, because of course Russia is country with corruption and with different problems around operation of big–realization of big projects like Olympic Games. And of course mainly private business, and especially very big companies, had benefits from this Olympic Games.
But more or less this is normal for Olympic Games in any country. In some countries there is more control from below, and people can say we do know where our money–how and for what our money was spended. In Russia, this control is not so big and is absent in many aspects. And that’s why we do not know how many money–how big costs really took place and what was the real price of Olympic Games. I think nobody knows this, and foreign estimations are only estimations, nothing else.
But the problem is, again, not problem of big spendings for Olympic Games. The problem is that it was huge profit of corporations. And the problem is that we had also concentration on Olympic Games but not concentration on other projects which are very important for Russia.
DESVARIEUX: [crosstalk] I want to ask about the state and how they work hand-in-hand with the oligarchs that you mentioned before. Can you give just specific examples?
BUZGALIN: Unfortunately not. I’m trying to be far from any secret information about cooperation of our big business and our state officials. You know this is not my subject. This is subject for a spy or–I don’t know anybody else.
I can say that from point of view of professor, it’s really very close cooperation. And of course such projects are based on the model of power in my country, and this is the power of big corporations and top bureaucracy. This was realized in the Olympic Games, and there are a lot of such examples in other spheres of our life. Olympic Games are just symbolic one.
But also I want to stress that it’s important when you criticize the Russian oligarchs, Russian bureaucracy, and so on maybe to make comparative analysis with Games in other countries, because I don’t think that United States are white and beautiful and clean and democratic in all aspects and no corruption and no cooperation between corporations and state bureaucracy and only in Russia took place such cooperation. Russia is something like a caricature on the world capitalism and on the United States. You have maybe a little bit more democratic, a little bit more clean, but the same model of organization of all events. This is my opinion.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. I want to pivot and talk about the gay rights issue, and as well as the Pussy Riot’s–two of the members being arrested. These were the two members that have been all over the U.S. media. They were even on the Stephen Colbert show. But I want to get your sense: what do you make of the Western media’s focus on the Pussy Riot’s–and especially the gay rights issue?
BUZGALIN: I’m very critical about this, because at the same time we have a lot of people who are real militants of social movements who are fighting for civil and social rights of Russians. Sergei Udaltsov, one of the leaders of left movement, young person, is under the control of–he is now at home, arrested, if I don’t mistake, and there are a lot of threats that he will be in prison next day. And all other militants are in the same situation. And it’s permanent struggle. And no interest at all, because they’re talking about social rights, because they’re talking about contradiction between corporations and ordinary Russians, and not only about abstract human rights
I am supporter of human rights, and this is important. But, please, when you are speaking only about two or three girls who are–who–concentrating in these sex issues, I think this is really very bad for not only Russia, but for relations between our countries in general, and maybe in general atmosphere in the world and image of Russia in the world. This is very unpleasant for us and very useless, I think, for everybody
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Aleksandr Buzgalin, professor of political economy at Moscow State University, thank you so much for joining us.
BUZGALIN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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