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German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

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  • German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

    German president Joachim Gauck became the first western political heavyweight to announce a boycott of the Sotchi Olympics in Russia next year. Wether his decision is more due to the recent verbal clashes between Berlin and Moscov over protests in Ukraine ( foreign minister Westerwelle has officially visited the protesters camp in Kiev, which caused a heavy verbal broadside from Putin, to which Merkel responded in equally sharp language), Russias controversial new anti-gay laws, or the treatment of the opposition in general, has been left open. Observers of german-russian relations have called it a matter of time though, until Gauck and Putin would clash. Joachim Gauck, the son of a survivor of a Stalin gulag, has been an anti-communist civic resistance leader and one of the leading figures of the "Monday demonstrations", that led to the downfall of the GDR communists. Later Gauck ran the authority charged with administering and exploring the files of the GDR secret police, the Stasi, and many former agents, informers and crimes were exposed thanks to him. Gauck also advised similar initiatives in other former eastern bloc countries before becoming his countrys president. Russia is Germanys only major partner that Gauck has never officially visited as president and whose leader he has always refused to meet officially (Putin).
    While the german presidency is largely ceremonial, the president is officially head of state and his power in shaping public opinion should not be underestimated. Chancellor Merkel, who is from eastern Germany herself, has studied in Moscov and speaks Russian, has continously lobbied for a more cautious and cooperative approach, but will now be under pressure to either get on board with Gauck, or to expose a rift in Germanys political leadership over relations with Russia. And it will furthermore be interesting wether Gauck remains the only western leader to stay away from Sotchi and say it (unlikely) :

    Joachim Gauck - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    German President Joachim Gauck boycotting Sochi Olympics - World - CBC News

  • #2
    Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

    I would not worry too much about it. The countries that do go will find half the venues are not even ready yet, unsure there will be enough snow, security is still a giant question mark, half the hotels will be like checking into Beirut, and odds are a good 5% of the athletes will be arrested for being gay. Can't wait to see the opening ceremonies!


    • #3
      Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

      Originally posted by Sluggo View Post
      I would not worry too much about it. The countries that do go will find half the venues are not even ready yet, unsure there will be enough snow, security is still a giant question mark, half the hotels will be like checking into Beirut, and odds are a good 5% of the athletes will be arrested for being gay. Can't wait to see the opening ceremonies!

      Well no, the boycott will not change a thing about the Sotchi Olympics that in a nutshell demonstrate many of the problems of modern Russia : the corruption, the exploitation and abuse of poor migrant workers, the oppression of minorities ( in western eyes often embodied by Putins crackdown on gays these days), while holding the most expensive games EVER and the list is not complete yet.
      But president Gauck isnt a career politician and the boycott shouldnt be taken as a purely political decision. The german presidents position as "conscience of the nation" standing above daily politics ( that is the domain of the chancellor, Merkel) is actually rather unique among western nations. The german president is supposed to be a stability anchor in times of stress and often supposed to show the way, aside of opportunistic considerations. He has little formal power, in spite of being head of state, but it is often not wise for the governement to ignore him. Mr. Gauck was swept into his position by his unquestionable integrity respected across party lines, as a GDR dissident who fought the Communists with his word and conscience (as a protestant pastor), and later as chief prosecutor of communist crimes committed in the GDR, who took plenty, also influential figures to task. That the protests in communist eastern Germany toppled a dictatorship armed to the teeth without a single shot fired is to no small extent also his achievement. Gauck is a man who experienced his first democratic elections when he was fifty, and has continously called on his people to accept freedom as a hard won responsibility, not as a gift, and to preserve it by engaging in society.
      Since Gauck doesnt owe his post to a political career, he is also not supposed to act accordingly. If he doesnt doesnt want to sit on the same grandstand with Putin on behalf of his country and honour a regime whose human rights record he has more than once slammed than that is seen as an act of conscience at home and widely accepted. That is the case even if he contradicts the governement.
      A sentence from his autobiography comes to mind that probably explains the intended logic in this move (translation roughly): "As GDR dissident, you never asked yourself, wether your own, personal little acts of resistance could contribute to bring the regime down. If you had done that, you would have despaired. But in the end there were plenty of these little, personal, principled "resistances" that did it".
      The russian governement has responded angrily by the way, claiming damage to bilateral relations, and accusing Gauck of never having condemned US human rights violations in Afghanistan.
      David Cameron, Francois Hollande and also the Obama administration have apparently ruled out boycotting as well......
      Last edited by Voland; 12-09-2013, 02:36 AM.


      • #4
        Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

        So is this more of a personal decision or will it prompt the athletes not to go?


        • #5
          Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

          That remains to be seen, but there is no pressure on the athletes to stay away from Sotchi as well, which some, associated with the gay rights movement however, have hinted at doing. Gauck has recieved praise from human rights and gay rights groups, but also recieved criticism from politicians, domestic and abroad ( making things with Russia more complicated and putting Merkel under pressure f.e.). But as head of state he doesnt take orders from the chancellor, therefore there is little that she can do.
          Gauck has so far not personally commented.


          • #6
            Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

            Originally posted by Voland View Post
            David Cameron, Francois Hollande and also the Obama administration have apparently ruled out boycotting as well......

            There were similar conversations when the olympics were in China, and there was plenty of response from China once the media let it out nations were considering boycott for whatever reason.

            The nature of the talk from Germany (or the US or anywhere else) suggests it is more political than we are giving credit. I am not saying the "conscience of the nation" is not important, it clearly is. But, when we put that in the hands of leaders and it ends up subject to politics. Hence, Russia's response.

            It will be interesting to see what all these nations really do here the closer we get. So many preparations for the athletes, families and fans just to be where they are today let alone closer to opening ceremonies. I suspect the US will go anyway, we need better relations with Russia these days over pulling a boycott stunt.


            • #7
              Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

              Originally posted by Sluggo View Post
              I suspect the US will go anyway, we need better relations with Russia these days over pulling a boycott stunt.
              Yeah, I don't expect Obama will honor any boycott... especially since this is a US (former?) Ally leading the boycott.

              Also, I think Obama has a man-crush on Putin...


              • #8
                Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                Originally posted by Sluggo View Post
                I would not worry too much about it. The countries that do go will find half the venues are not even ready yet, unsure there will be enough snow, security is still a giant question mark, half the hotels will be like checking into Beirut, and odds are a good 5% of the athletes will be arrested for being gay. Can't wait to see the opening ceremonies!
                If you think the contestants will be arrested for being gay then you either do not understand the Russian law and you are unaware that Russia stated that they would not be enforcing that law on Olympic participants and those who travel there to enjoy the games. Also, it's kind of sad that you think the Olympics are about the amenities and not about the spirit of competition. So what if a hotel isn't the Ritz Carlton?


                • #9
                  Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                  Super, better chance of getting a medal in the bobsled now.


                  • #10
                    Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                    Why president Gauck, an ex-GDR civic resistance leader, may seek to spoil the Sotchi party for the ex KGB man Putin is obvious by superficially checking his biography. Even without "only" a stunt in mind. And of course his message is also political, not least because the party has already been spoilt, even if nobody ultimately joins Gauck. Since the narrative of the Sotchi Olympic games, carefully prepared as a PR show for Putin, will now be incomplete without the boycott discussion. Gauck is not some lefty professional protester after all, he is a person to be taken seriously, regardless if one agrees with his move or not.
                    But the move also reflects something else. The days when Germany could be scolded for an overly passive, WW II related foreign policy are over ( in case someone failed to notice).
                    The foreign minister meeting the Kiev protesters (foreign minister Westerwelle is openly gay by the way), the chancellor openly and actively building up the anti-russian opposition leader Klitchko, the president boycotting Olympic games in Russia, while the Obama administration is more or less being absent from the Kiev stage, are moves that are diplomatically almost agressive, and that Putin cannot and will not leave unanswered (though not ahead of the Sotchi games most likely). That means the wrestling over Ukraines western or eastern orientation has also become a wrestling between Merkel/Gauck (that for some time appear to have played a Good cop/bad cop game with Russia) and Putin, between Berlin, that quite obviously leads EU policy and punches its own weight around, and Moscov. Since both have invested considerable credibility, neither can be seen as backing down. And the game is far from over :

                    EU Grooms Boxer Vitali Klitschko to Lead Ukraine Opposition - SPIEGEL ONLINE

                    While "regime change" is too strong a term for what Germany is seeking, it's not entirely off base. Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the European People's Party (EPP), a family of European conservative parties, have chosen Klitschko as their de facto representative in Ukraine. His job is to unite and lead the opposition -- on the street, in parliament and, finally, in the 2015 presidential election. "Klitschko is our man," say senior EPP politicians, "he has a clear European agenda." And Merkel still has a score to settle with Putin.
                    Much of the work happens behind the scenes. Klitschko's party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), formed in 2010, became an observer member of the EPP recently. EPP offices in Brussels and Budapest are training UDAR personnel for parliamentary work and providing support in the development of a nationwide party structure. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which is closely aligned with the CDU, also plays an important role, and Klitschko has expressly asked Merkel's advisors for help from the foundation. Four UDAR members of the Ukrainian parliament paid a visit to Berlin last week, where they met with German CDU lawmakers......................................... .................................................. ......Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schrder once characterized Putin as a "flawless democrat." The chancellor held a similar view at first, but marked by more skepticism. In her view, it was important to help Putin modernize and democratize his country, step by step, and not to constantly use Western European standards as a measure of progress. While that was her position eight years ago, Merkel has completely distanced herself from it today. She seems to have given up hope that Putin truly wants democracy and a market economy, rather than the re-establishment of a Russian zone of influence, tightly controlled by the Kremlin and incompatible with democratic pluralism.

                    Ukraine is the central building block in Putin's grand design. Without Ukraine, Moscow would lack an arm that reaches all the way to central Europe. With Ukraine, Putin could revive the dream of restoring Moscow to its former status as a superpower, at least in part.

                    And as much as it would be typical of Merkel to resolve Ukraine's either-or predicament to build a realistic future with Russia, she senses that nothing will come of it as long as Yanukovich remains in power in Ukraine. And even if he is replaced one day, Putin will still be waiting. He dreams of a greater Russia. And if he had his way, he would reverse the outcome of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
                    Last edited by Voland; 12-11-2013, 03:40 AM.


                    • #11
                      Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                      Interesting announcement by the french governement today, especially for those that claimed a boycott led by the german president wouldnt matter anyway. Neither french president Hollande nor any other high level representative of the french governement will attend the Sotchi 2014 Olympic games in Russia, french foreign minister Fabius announced today. An explanation was not given. Previously Viviane Reding, european commissioner for justice, and representative of Luxembourg on the european executive body, had announced that no member or representative of the EU Commission would travel to Sotchi as well :

                      Y! SPORTS


                      • #12
                        Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                        President Obama has previously ruled out a politicians boycott of the Sotchi Olympics, and to follow France and Germany. That appears to have changed. The US will not send a president, vice president, former president, first Lady or acting member of the administration to Russia apparently. Instead, and in a move that is likely to irk Putin, president Obama has appointed at least two openly gay delegates to the american delegation :

                        Obama names Billie Jean King as one of two gay Sochi Olympic delegates | Sport |


                        • #13
                          Re: German president announces boycott of Olympics in Russia

                          Obviously the Cremlin is claiming a pure coincidence, but an amnesty bill is set to pass the russian parliament that would, among others, free the female Punkband Pussy Riot, serving a two-year sentence for a performance in an orthodox church, and also the international crew of a Greenpeace Ship arrested for a protest against environmental pollution in the russian arctic :

                          Jailed Pussy Riot members could be freed on Thursday, officials say | Music |