Monthly Archives: December 2013

A Gangrenous Growth

A Soviet helicopter in Afghanistan



Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev called the conflict in Afghanistan a “bleeding wound which can result in gangrenous growth on the body of mankind” in a statement in 1988. Stagnant wars and conflicts are suffered by most aggressive world powers. Ancient empires such as Rome spread their resources so far that they could not control the outer edges of their empire and the focus on the wars with northern barbarians led to instability at home eventually ripping the empire apart. The British empire was stuck in a conflict with its American colonies for over 40 years until after the colonies had rebelled, won a war against the British, and formed their own state all the way until the War of 1812. The American Revolution inspired other British colonies to fight for their freedom and accelerated the governments shift toward constitutional monarchy. The U.S. lost international support during it’s extended war in Vietnam and again with the invasion of Iraq both of which (have) created unrest at home.

The Soviet Union’s foray into Afghanistan turned out much was similar to the above. In an attempt to conquer new territory, for socialism rather than previous empires quest for physical territory but the same as America’s goal of spreading democracy, the USSR got stuck in a war that nobody wanted a part of. The invasion of Afghanistan had no support internationally and was almost immediately condemned by the U.N. Soviet Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev and high Soviet officials wanted to stabilize a new socialist government in Afghanistan that was being attacked. That government had little support in the country and the Soviets found out that they were not welcome as the socialist revolution they thought was happening was not. Brezhnev would not back down from his goals in Afghanistan and the instability and leadership turnover after his death did not allow for the war to end.

A stagnant war with no victory in sight and goals that don’t directly affect people at home don’t end well. Soldiers always come home scarred physically or mentally, and many don’t come home at all, but the losses are accepted as necessary in a war that protects the homeland from invasion or destruction, such as WWII. But when young men die abroad, or come home missing arms, legs, and souls, asking ‘why are we fighting?’ and are answered with an ‘I don’t know’, those losses become unacceptable. The ‘I don’t know’ also doesn’t help with questioning why all the country’s energies and resources are being diverted to a war instead of helping citizens, the government loses support and dissenters creep out of the shadows. When Gorbachev rose to power, he knew this, and tried to figure out why the Soviets were stuck in Afghanistan and what the cost of the war was. As word came out of the intelligence misinformation and lack of any progress in nine years in Afghanistan dissent increased, assisted by Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika. Gorbachev pulled out Soviet troops in 1989, but the message had been sent: the Soviet Union was corrupt, mismanaged, broke, and could not take care of its citizens. In two years it would dissolve, caused by a combination of events, many that had a root in the invasion of Afghanistan.



Moscow to Sochi: The Legacy of the Russian Olympic Host



On February 7th, the Olympic Games will return to Russia for the first time since the 1980 Moscow Summer Games. Unfortunately, just like the Moscow Games, the Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia are surrounded with controversy. Amid the return of the Olympics, and some calls for a boycott, reminders of the boycott of the Moscow Games by 62 nations are everywhere.

On Christmas 1979, the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan in order to take control of a fledgling socialist government that “had little support from the population” (Invasion). The Soviets installed their own leader who executed the man he replaced. Because the socialist revolution in Afghanistan, headlined by secular policies, was not received well, neither were the Soviets, who rather than the stabilizing force Brezhnev believed they would be, were actually invaders who met aggressive resistance.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was not taken well by not only the West, but also most of the Third World. In January, the U.N. condemned the invasion. And on January 4th President Carter threatened that if the Soviets did not leave Afghanistan the U.S. might not participate in the Olympics and on January 20th, on Meet the Press, he set a deadline of February 20th. If the Soviet military was still in Afghanistan at that time, the United States would boycott the Summer Games in Moscow. He proposed to the IOC that they change locations, postpone, or even cancel the Games, but if not, boycotting Moscow had support from most Americans. In April the decision came down from the U.S. Olympic Committee, under pressure from the Carter Administration, that the U.S. team would stay home for the summer. Carter hoped that more teams would join the Americans, de-legitimizing the Soviet government and their invasion of Afghanistan. Reminded of the legitimization that the 1936 Olympics gave Hitler, even with Jesse Owens win, the White House was joined in its push to boycott Moscow by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But the British Olympic Committee voted to go to Moscow against her wishes.

Among countries that joined the U.S. boycott were Canada, West Germany, Israel, Egypt, and Iran; although Britain, France, and Australia sent teams to Moscow. Pravda called the boycotting nations Olympic “enemies” asserting that Carter was holding the USOC and American athletes hostage to his politics while also blasting the organizational “failure” of the Lake Placid Winter Games earlier in the year (although they were probably just still bitter about Miracle on Ice). But the Moscow Games were not the success that the Kremlin had hoped. With the 62 abstentions, only 81 nations competed, and during the Opening Ceremonies 16 teams stayed in the Olympic Village rather than march in the Parade of Nations. The conflict in Afghanistan heightened security threats, leading to an Olympic village that felt more like “a prison camp than a residence for some of the world’s finest athletes” (Fimrite). In addition, two million Muscovites were forced out of the city and Soviet tourists were not allowed in for the duration of the Games. The Olympics usually bring massive foreign tourism to the host city and country, but less than half of the originally predicted tourists came to Moscow.

But the Games went on leaving only a slightly tainted legacy. Four years later the Soviet bloc would boycott the Summer Olympics in L.A. The Soviet military would remain a presence in Afghanistan until 1989, right before the USSR dissolved, making Carter’s goal of the boycott to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan a failure (possibly for the better since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a significant factor in their downfall, then again it gave rise to the mujahideen). All the events sold out and athletes realized their dreams of representing their countries in the Olympics. Except for those of the 62 nations who boycotted, who worked their whole lives to compete in the Olympics and were not allowed to, leaving a ugly stain on the Carter Administration and the USOC.

This is what makes the possibility of boycotting the Sochi Games nonexistent. Criticism of the IOC on giving Sochi the 2014 Olympics is well founded. The city has a subtropical climate and the nearby mountains don’t get much snow, making the organizers jobs that much harder and this the most expensive Olympics of all time. But up to $30 billion of the $51 billion budget has mysteriously disappeared (organized crime is rampant in the former Soviet Union). And Sochi lies close to the Caucuses, people ethnically different from Russians but historically subjected to their governance, persecution, and invasive wars. The area has had a recent Islamic enlightenment that because of wars with Russia have led to a rising tide of extremism. The Olympics are a perfect target for terrorist attacks larger than the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers bombing at the Boston Marathon or the many attacks throughout Russia each year. The calls for boycott, however, stem from the recent anti-gay laws. Putin and the Duma have made it illegal to recognize “the mere existence of LGBT people in any public forum” and can give “two-week jail sentences for any tourist suspected of being gay” (Zirin). This follows a continuing national crackdown on the LGBT community and puts LGBT athletes(prominently gold medalist figure skater Jimmy Weir), coaches, administrators, and fans in actual mortal danger. How the IOC and Russian authorities will handle the imminent protests remains to be seen. Because the U.S. did not compete in Moscow, the protests of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan were limited, but the protests in Sochi could upend the Games, and in addition to all the other surrounding problems, these Olympics are shaping up to be a disaster that will make Moscow look like a model Olympics.


Sources: (list of non-participating countries)