From Volgograd to Sochi, by Elena Dyachkova
Russia is hit by terrorist attacks on New Year’s Eve, but is ready to host safe and spectacular Winter Olympics
It’s been over a decade now that Russia can’t feel too safe when it comes to terrorism threat. Sadly, pretty much every year something of that kind happens. It is something you can never be quite ready for and something you can never get used to. Those terrorist attacks trace back to the Chechen War of the 90-ies and mostly happen in Chechnya, Dagestan and adjacent regions of Northern Caucasus. However, the deepest resonance is caused by those that happen in “peaceful” places, where war and violence aren’t a part of everyday reality. Moscow, the city where those in power are located, is typically the main target. But not too long ago another city has been hit hard – Volgograd.
The first explosion happened there on October 21st in a bus. On December 29th another suicide bomber targeted a railway station killing 17 people. The very next morning – another explosion in a bus also carried out by a suicide bomber. The police announced the “Dagestan trace” right away and published names and pictures of suspects. They actually did it on December 29th, yet couldn’t prevent the following attack. It was shocking. It felt like the attackers succeeded in proving the inefficiency of Volgograd’s security system. Combined with a silence from our President Putin it was even more puzzling.
The last two attacks happened right before the New Year celebrations. In Russia it is the biggest holiday of the year; like Christmas and Thanksgiving combined (we don’t celebrate the latter at all and don’t celebrate the former widely after being an atheist country for the most of the XXth century). With a couple of days to go, the whole country was busy buying presents and food, cooking, decorating or getting ready for vacations as everyone gets eight consecutive days off. So the reaction to these terrorist attacks was far less loud than it would be on any other day. It would probably be a reason to declare a country-wide day of mourning, but surely not on the New Year’s Eve. Some TV-channels did cut back on their entertainment programming, but most didn’t, causing a fair amount of critique.
Athletics’ community, in turn, was one of the first to react and express its support to those affected by the tragic events. Volgograd is the home city of Olympic champions Yelena Slesarenko, Yelena Isinbayeva and Tatyana Lebedeva. Luckily none of them or of their friends and relatives were affected. Isinbayeva expressed her condolences through the All-Russia Athletics Federation website shortly after the attacks.
In the media (both Russian and foreign) the news about the bombings went alongside the mentions of the forthcoming Sochi Olympics. It is such a major event, plus it can’t escape having a political context, so the concern of our future guests is understandable. However, I wouldn’t say that there is any major threat. When it comes to big events, Russian Federal Security Service is strong. They start to get ready for international events in advance and they are thorough. They don’t make any concessions for the LOC to make the latter’s life easier. We’ve learnt it in Moscow while organizing the IAAF World Championships. It wasn’t easy to deal with security sometimes, but it was for a reason. There will be no random people in the event’s zone in Sochi. The foreign guests undergo a serious check while getting their visas or accreditations; the regular fans have to receive a “spectator’s passport” with a photo and a ticket number, it will only be activated on-site with a valid passport or birth certificate. And there will be no lack in officers and metal detectors for sure.
As for the other Sochi 2014 concerns: there is plenty of natural snow in the mountain roster right now, so skiing is under no threat, the facilities are ready, test events have been held, Putin even surrendered under international pressure and allowed (approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs) rallies in Sochi during the event period. Of course, there are some problems left, like majorly overpriced accommodations and language barrier, and they won’t be left unnoticed by the international guests.
All in all, Russians like to procrastinate and to be late with interim deadlines, but we like to impress by our hospitality and scope of our country’s potential even more. I’m pretty sure the event will be a success. Will it leave a legacy and justify enormous investments made? Tough question. It will take a lot of effort and wits to maintain winter resort and sports facilities operational and popular in the warmest place and the one and only big sea resort in Russia. But time will tell.