(Editor’s Note: This post received commendation in the Comrade’s Corner)
In 1980, Moscow was set to host the Summer Olympics. This opportunity had been granted to the Soviet Union in 1974 by the International Olympic Committee, and “represented an unparalleled opportunity to showcase the superiority of Soviet athletes as well as the achievements of Soviet socialism before a world-wide audience” (Siegelbaum). This was a chance for the Soviet Union to demonstrate its strong sense of national pride and to remain in the international spotlight.
As most countries (past and present) do before hosting the Olympics, the USSR went to extraordinary means to prepare for the Games. The country was bustling with new construction projects and beautification efforts, resulting in freshly-paved roads, stadiums, hotels, training buildings, newly-planted trees, and murals around the city. Flags, in addition to many of the city’s murals, featured ““Misha,” the cuddly bear who was the mascot of these Olympics, festooned the boulevards” (Siegelbaum). In addition to the construction jobs, many jobs were created as interpreters and translators, security guards, and tour guides. These jobs were highly competitive and sought-after.
As early as October 1978, “Soviet media was authorized to crank out publicity about the games to counteract negative propaganda from the West” (Siegelbaum). This was big, because many Western countries, including the United States, were already considering boycotting the Moscow Games. The Soviet Union released a plethora of publicity promoting the events and condemning the Western boycott. Articles found throughout the Current Digest of the Russian Press offer a wide range of Soviet opinions on this subject, from pre-Olympics to post-Olympics.
Another article, featured on the Seventeen Moments page, is particularly interesting. This article directly points out that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) “unanimously chose Moscow as the site for the Summer Olympics in 1974. In accordance with that decision, representatives of the IOC and the Soviet Olympic Committee assumed a number of obligations. Recently an IOC session reaffirmed the decision to hold the Olympic Games in Moscow. And they will take place on schedule, in spite of the scheming of enemies of the Olympic movement” (Pravada). The ‘scheming of enemies of the Olympic movement’ obviously refers to the United States, among other actors, as the article goes on to point out. It emphasizes how Washington D.C. is using “division, disunity and tension” (Pravada) to discourage other countries from participating in the Games. I found this discussion interesting and very typical of Soviet media, yet it was still unique in that it pointed fingers directly at President Carter and reaffirmed that the IOC was on the Soviet side.
Ultimately, regardless of all the bad press they received in the Soviet Union, the “United States and 55 other nations decided to boycott the games in protest over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979″ (Siegelbaum). No matter, though: millions of Soviets still attended the Olympic events: “In all, 5.2 million tickets were sold of which 3.9 million were purchased by Soviet citizens. The boycott thus failed to cast a pall over the 1980 Olympics, although it did deepen the atmosphere of Cold War. Four years later, the Los Angeles Summer Olympics were boycotted by the Soviet Union and most other Communist nations of eastern Europe, ostensibly for security reasons” (Siegelbaum).
Pravda Editorial, (Editorial)-The Price Of Ambition. March 18, 1980. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1980pravda2&SubjectID=1980olympics&Year=1980
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Moscow Olympics.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1980olympics&Year=1980&navi=byYear
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 30, Vol.32, August 27, 1980, page(s): 5-6. http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626705
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 21, Vol.32, June 25, 1980, page(s): 5-5. http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626507
The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 21, Vol.32, June 25, 1980, page(s): 6-6 http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13626534