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Russia: Ugly Side of Olympic Nationalism

Russia came away from the 2012 Summer Olympics with 24 gold medals, a slightly higher count than what it ended up with in Beijing four years ago. But, during the first few days it was touch and go. There were only three gold medalists, all of them judo wrestlers. All three also happened to be Russians of South or North Caucasus heritage. This predictably caused an immediate outpouring of hate from Russian nationalists. Here is a particularly odious gem [ru]:

Честно говоря, мне, как чистокровному русскому и патриоту России неприятно смотреть на этот позор. Лучше уж никаких медалей, чем такие Чемпионы, которые еле говорят по русски [...]

Honestly speaking, to me, as a pureblooded Russian, and Russian patriot, it is distasteful to look at this disgrace. It’s better to have no medals, than to have Champions like this, ones who hardly speak Russian [...]

There is also a hunt for reasons “other” than talent, training and hard work, which can explain the success of the sportsmen.

Nationalist ideologue Konstantin Krylov writes [ru]:

Тут люди удивляются – как же это так происходит, что всё золото для России добыли кавказцы. [...] А всё просто, даже совсем простенько. В кавказскую борцуху вкладываются НЕМЕРЯНЫЕ деньги. Любогом мускулистого зверька облизывают и осыпают деньгами, его самого и его семью.

People are wondering, how is it that men from the Caucasus earned all of the gold for Russia. [...] It’s simple, even very simple. There are immeasurable amounts of money being invested in Caucasian wrestling. Every well-muscled animal is coddled and showered with money, him and his family.

Meanwhile, according to Krylov, ethnic Russians don’t get a as much funding.

If it’s not money, it’s something else. There is an article by a Russian wrestling coach [ru] making the rounds on LiveJournal which alleges that wrestlers from the North Caucasus use fake passports to lower their age, win junior competitions, all to easier move into national teams. This is why men from the Caucasus are over-represented in the Russian Olympic team, claims [ru] nationalist blogger Egor Prosvirin.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union some Russians have struggled with the tension between civic and ethnic Russian identity. In this case, the nationalist reaction is exacerbated by the fact that many of the men and women who win medals for former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, are ethnic Russians.

This has prompted an online poll [ru], comparing an ethnic Armenian competing for Russia and an ethic Russian competing for Kazakhstan. The poll asks a simple question: “What do you view as a victory? The gold medal of Russian Federation citizen Arsen Galstyan? Or the gold medal of ethnic Russian Aleksandr Vinokurov?” Over eighteen thousand people have voted so far, and the results are 80% in Vinokurov’s favor. Coincidentally, ethnic Russians make up around 80% of Russia’s population.

There is, of course, plenty of other ethnic tension in Russia. Recently a Dagestani wrestler and mixed martial arts champion Rasul Mirzaev, punched a Russian man in a night club. The man fell down, hit his head, and later died in the hospital. Mirzaev is currently on trial for manslaughter. Nationalists have used the case in their usual “Russians are being killed by [insert ethnicity]” way.

Russia's Olympic medalists and MMA fighter Rasul Mirzoev in his prison cell. Collage appearing in LiveJournal blog jurialhaz.livejournal.com. Screenshot, Aug 14, 2012

The reaction may only get worse, now that it looks that Mirzaev is likely to get away with two years of parole [ru]. After all, there are already signs of tying his case [ru] to the Olympic medalists:

[...] поражает изменение отношения к делу Мирзаева со стороны государства после получения олимпийского золота бойцами с Кавказа – теперь ему на 2 года просто запретят ходить по ночным клубам и убивать людей [...]

[...] I am amazed by the change in the way the government is treating the Mirzaev case after the fighters from the Caucasus got the Olympic gold – now he’ll just not be able to go to night clubs and kill people for two years. [...]

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