Thursday, August 08, 2013

Russia’s War on Gays - Haunting Lessons of Nazi Olympics

The condemnation of Russia and its new anti-gay laws continues to mount.  Not that newspaper editorials and petitions and boycotts will miraculously provide a spine to the International Olympic Committee ("IOC") which seems destined to reprise its embrace of dictators and regimes that audaciously engage in human rights abuses as was the case in 1936 when the IOC jumped into bed with Adolph Hitler.  An op-ed in the New York Times, an editorial in the Washington Post and an opinion piece at CNN all rip Russia and by extension condemn the IOC if it continues to follow it appeasement approach with Russia and/or retaliates against athletes who engage in pro-gay activities.  Here are telling excerpts from the CNN piece:

Usually when we talk about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin we focus on two men -- Adolf Hitler and Jesse Owens -- and rightfully so. They are the two with an undeniable impact on history, albeit in vastly different ways.

But in light of President Barack Obama's recent remarks on "The Tonight Show" denouncing Russia's new anti-gay laws, laws that have led to bloodshed in the streets, it is important that we remember Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller. 

They too were at those games. They too left a mark.  You see, the day before they were scheduled to run in the 400-meter relay, their coach, Dean Cromwell, replaced them.

They were not injured.  They did not break any team rules nor were they disqualified for any violations.  They were, however, Jewish, and this was Nazi Germany, which had adopted the Nuremberg laws limiting Jewish citizens' rights a year earlier. Apparently, Cromwell, along with leaders from the U.S. Olympic Committee, decided it would be best if Glickman and Stoller did not compete.
Today we know better.  Today we look at that decision and lower our heads in shame, understanding that it made us complicit with something that evolved into a far worse crime than unjustly replacing a pair of sprinters. In the moment when we should have spoken up, we remained silent. 

And so here we are again: an Olympics on the horizon, another host country with recently legislated laws persecuting a group of people, and for a while, we were silent. And then Tuesday happened.

Last month Buzzfeed provided the world photos of LGBT people being violently beaten by anti-gay protesters and police in Russia.

There are reports of LGBT teens being kidnapped, bullied, tortured and killed.

Russian officials have said they don't condone the attacks, but police have stood by while they happened and then arrested the battered victims for being gay.

I just want to remind you that the Holocaust did not happen overnight. It was subtle. Surgical.  In silence.

These new anti-gay laws are disturbingly similar to the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws Hitler passed before the 1936 Olympics. And with the Pew Institute finding 84% of Russians believe society should reject gay people, perhaps some saying they object to gays for fear of arrest, the world should question how far Russia intends to go.

We should question how far Russia, our lukewarm ally, intends to go and what our participation in the 2014 Olympic Games will look like generations from now.

In one of his final interviews before passing away in 2001, Glickman told the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage that there had been some talk of boycotting the 1936 Olympics because of Hitler, but no one foresaw what would happen to the Jews a short time later.
  Well said.  And here are highlights from the Washington Post's editorial:

While Russia and the Soviet Union before it have generally been hostile to gay people, the recent intensity of Mr. Putin’s war is part and parcel of his lapse into xenophobia, religious chauvinism and general intolerance as the urban middle class increasingly questions the legitimacy of his authoritarian rule. But if Mr. Putin believed that persecution of gay people would be a domestic issue of little interest to the world, he miscalculated. As Mr. Obama rightly highlighted, the dignity with which gays are treated has been recognized as a fundamental human rights concern in much of the world. No country, especially not one on the cusp of hosting the Olympic Games, should expect such bigotry to go unnoticed. 

Mr. Obama, speaking on the eve of his cancellation of a summit meeting in Moscow, said he felt Mr. Putin would surely understand “that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.” The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should understand that as well. On Wednesday the committee received a petition with more than 300,000 signatures urging it to boycott Sochi as the host city. 

That may be unlikely, but the IOC will have to take some definitive stand in the weeks ahead, especially after Vitaly L. Mutko, Russia’s minister of sports, pronounced that Olympic athletes of all nationalities would be subject to the “propaganda” law. Those words stand in contrast to the IOC’s commitment that “the Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes.” The Olympic spirit is not compatible with a gag order on expressions of human freedom.
All these years after the 1936 Berlin Games, the IOC still hasn't grasp the concept that bad things happen when good people do nothing.  The IOC needs to either move the games - which would be a PR disaster for Putin - or allow athletes to act as suggested in the New York Times op-ed.  This would likewise be a very public and stinging rebuke to Putin and the Neanderthals in the Russian Orthodox Church whom he is courting.  As noted in prior posts, the Russian Orthodox Church has a very ugly history of siding with tyrants and betraying both the Gospel message and the general citizenry.

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