Early this week, as all eyes were on the growing Ukrainian protests and photographs of barricades, BBC's Steve Rosenberg tweeted a different sort of picture, writing:
— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) January 20, 2014
The photograph of the two toilets, extremely close together and lacking any sort of barrier, was retweeted over 1,000 times, and caused much hilarity on the RuNet, becoming another symbol of the preparations for the Sochi games, which are seen by many as inept and corrupt. Did someone “economize” on building cabins? Or does the problem lie in deficient planning? Then there is the association between the games and Russia's worsening treatment of homosexuals, which led one blogger to tweet:
В ответ на критику России за ущемление прав сексменьшинств в олимпийском Сочи построен первый в мире гей-туалет
— Дядюшка Шу (@Shulz) January 20, 2014
As a response to criticism of Russia for infringing on the rights of sexual minorities, Olympic Sochi gets the first ever gay toilet
Most of the jokes were visual, however. Arguably, the funniest was this tasteful mashup of the subject with the “red pill, blue pill” scene from The Matrix:
Other approaches were also funny, if a bit heavy-handed. There was the transparently political jokes about the Putin and Medvedev political “tandem”:
And a sports reference:
The Sochi public relations team obviously could not leave this without comment, and so, Elena Greenberg, one of the team members, made a post [ru] on her Facebook account explaining that in reality Russian Olympic prep was not quite so bad. Greenberg wrote that the bathroom in question was in process of being turned into a storage closet, and the toilets were in fact about to be removed. Allegedly, the toilet cabins were already taken down when Rosenberg took his fateful picture. Greenberg posted a photograph of another bathroom, ostensibly in the same building, which looks completely normal:
Turning a bathroom into storage is a slightly odd explanation, but reasonable to anyone who has had experience with Soviet and post-Soviet public spaces. Of course, not everyone believed Greenberg. The were the standard accusations [ru] that the explanation was made up after the fact — as a way to “cover up” the toilet scandal. Others [ru] called attention to the fact that the bathroom has one one toilet paper dispenser (even though there are markings on the right wall where presumably there was another one at some point). Others still said [ru] that if situation did indeed play out like Greenberg says it did, its even worse — because it means that poor planning resulted in an extra bathroom.
Are the “toilet-gate” conspiracy theorists correct in their paranoia? Does it even matter if they aren't? The prevailing narrative of the Sochi games is already one of bureaucratic ineptitude — it will take a truly stellar performance during the Olympics to buck it.