Why Russia's Plan to Limit Olympic Protests Might Actually Cause More


Student and civilian protests 10 days before Mexico hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics led to what is now known as the Tlatelolco massacre, the killing of protesters by Mexican government employees in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City. The crackdown included 1,345 arrests that day, and an ambiguous death toll ranging from 30 to 300 lives, depending on the source.

The 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada also sparked violent clashes by protesters and was marked by controversy over homelessness, anti-poverty, and aboriginal issues.

It is unlikely that the Olympics consistently happen at the wrong place and wrong time. Rather, they are intertwined with such phenomenon because the social and political issues already salient in the host country are exacerbated by activists acting out of frustration at their government's inaction toward these issues in preparation for the Olympics. More interesting in the history of dissent during the games is the insurgency that follows.

The Sochi Games is an interesting case where protests against Russia's controversial new law banning "homosexual propaganda" have gained international attention after Russia announced its implementation of an invasive surveillance system in preparation plans for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) advocates for "every connection and every move made online in Sochi during the Olympics [to] be absolutely transparent to the secret services of this country".

On the one hand, a leaked conversation between Saudi Arabia and Russia this September discusses serious terrorists threats to the Olympics and perhaps demonstrates the need for such extensive monitoring. But protectionist reasoning to justify increased surveillance hasn't convinced those worried about the implications of extensive monitoring of telephone or data traffic on increased criminalization of those discussing or protesting the new law that incriminates any alleged promotion of "nontraditional sexual relations" to minors.

The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sent a letter to the CEOs of the sponsoring companies on August 29 calling on them to clarify that their sponsorship is aligned with the Olympics, not the Russian government.

Despite the unwillingness of the corporate sponsors to publicly raise the issue of gay rights during the Olympics or drop their sponsorship, the head of the Sochi Olympics this week assured that the new law will not apply to people who participate in or attend the events. Let's hope that is true.