Monday 9 June 2008

Moscow Says Ecological Criticism of Sochi Olympics Hurts Russia’s Image

Window on Eurasia

Paul Goble Vienna, June 7 – Criticism by UN and Russian ecologists of the impact of construction for the 2014 Sochi Olympics is harming Russia’s image, that country’s natural resources minister said yesterday, but it is entirely misplaced and will not lead Moscow to shift any of the venues as many environmental activists had sought.Ecologists both at the United Nations and from a variety of environmental groups have focused in particular on the planned site of the bobsled run, but Yuri Trutnev said he did not believe that construction there would have any impact on the environment although it was affecting the image of the country (

According to Trutnev, the UN Ecology Program had given Moscow had given an overwhelmingly positive assessment of the Russian government’s plans in Sochi, including the Russian government’s commitment to spend four billion rubles (170 million U.S. dollars) on environmental protection of the region.

But despite the minister’s claims and his dismissive attitude toward any objections to what the Russian government is doing, the ecologists, both foreign and domestic, are likely to continue their campaign, given the incredibly sensitive eco-system in Sochi and its surroundings, a system that will be seriously affected by the construction Moscow has planned.

Moreover, the ecologists will get support from three other groups who oppose the games: local homeowners who fear that they will lose their residences as the central Russian government tears down less expensive housing to make way for upscale residences and facilities for the games.

Some of these people took part in a demonstration in Sochi in early May, carrying signs reading “We do not want to be and we will not be BOMZHi” -- the Russian acronym for ‘people without a definite place of residence’ and a derisive term that is usually translated as “street bums.”

A second group opposed to Russian plans for Olympic construction includes members of that region’s Old Believer community. Their cemetery is at risk, and in April, they attempted to bring their concerns to the attention of an International Olympic Committee delegation but were beaten off by local militia.And the third group consists of the Circassians, who number more than 600,000 in the North Caucasus and more than 4.5 million in Turkey, Jordan and other countries of the Middle East and Europe. They object to the games being held where tsarist officials expelled their ancestors in 1864, a genocidal action that led to the deaths of half the community.

On the one hand, Trutnyev’s cavalier dismissal of all objections clearly highlights how little Moscow cares about what those most affected by its plans think. But on the other, his attitude almost certainly will spark more complaints rather than fewer, a trend that points to more trouble ahead for a project Putin apparently wants to have as a capstone of his career.

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