Prince Potemkin alive and well in Putin’s Olympic Russia

Uniting the world, thus one of the popular Olympic slogans. That would be something citizens of a small village in the neighbourhood of Sochi, Russia, have a pretty good reason to dispute.

Akhtyr has been cut off from the rest of the world. New sporting venues, new freeways, new railway line (the latter two items apparently the most expensive in the world, in metre-by-metre calculations), and no access to water of any kind, including fresh and drinking for the poor citizens of Akhtyr.

Not only that. Akhtyr has no access to the new freeway, and it provides no access to Akhtyr, either. The old road, one that has served faithfully for ages, is closed. A formerly simple trip to a bus station that used to take a quarter of an hour when going slowly, has now become a two-hour military march.

Speaking of the military: army personnel have taken over a footbridge the locals have been using, and nobody’s allowed to approach it (never mind cross it) without a proper permit. Since nobody had told the locals they would be needing a permit, nobody bothered to apply. Given the Russian officialdom’s speed in solving matters, the poor Akhtyr citizens won’t see any permits until long time after the Olympic Games are over (and the military sentries gone).

In a civilized country, you could complain.

In Russia?

To whom?

All the authorities are concerned with is that nobody sees Akhtyr from either the slopes or any other venues, or the freeways, never mind the railway line. Who cares that construction crews changed the roads inside the village into impassable canyons? Who cares construction crews destroyed their wells and, thus, their water supply? From time to time, you can see a truck delivering water to Akhtyr in a tank, except: it can’t get in because the village has been cut off from the freeway access – and so on, and so forth. The villagers either make the two-hour trek to get some water, or they are out of luck.

But, as mentioned, the rest of the world won’t see any of it.

Welcome to the Prince Potemkin country.

That, if you care to remember, was a Russian noble during Catherine the Great’s time (18th century for those who like their information detailed). His full name was Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski. As legend has it, he created a ruse by building painted façades to mimic real villages, full of happy, well-fed people, for visiting officials to see and enjoy.

President Vladimir Putin’s officials have gone one step further: they didn’t build any new façades, they just made Akhtyr disappear from sight. In fact, they could have made Akhtyr disappear altogether, and there would be no complaints about lacking water, period. Josef Stalin, whose well-preserved museum is located in Sochi, right inside the building he used to use as his vacation home, would have done it without a second’s hesitation. Times, they are a’changing, what?

Why didn’t they think of it?

This is the question many keep asking themselves as they arrive in Sochi. Mainstream media tends to avoid such unpleasant topics as Akhtyr or, heaven forbid, the business of unfinished buildings, from hotels to venues, the grass that hasn’t grown yet (and crews, in a typical Potemkin fashion, had to go around and paint the soil green). The stray dogs of Sochi are a topic that would make SPCA cry in despair.

Thanks to social media we now know that wild dogs have made hotels their new homes. Thanks to social media we now know that water in those hotels – when it runs, that is – stinks like early-morning urine.

What do the Russian authorities do? They follow their leader. Their president was a high-ranking official with the KGB espionage and political police service.

An example? A reporter who had the gall to complain about the quality of water in his lodgings was told he was using too much of it anyway, and when he asked how did the authorities know, they showed him a video of him in his hotel room bathroom. So there.

Nothing beats good surveillance, eh?

Here’s a brief list of some more complaints:

  • As washingtonpost.com has noted, out of nine hotels allegedly reserved for journalists, only six have opened their doors by the opening day.
  • CNN has reserved 11 rooms for its staff; they got confirmation everything was fine five months ago. They have got but one room upon arrival. A digit must have gone AWOL.
  • A reporter for The Guardian had to wait several hours for his room “to be finished,” only to find out there was no central heating, never mind a link to the Internet. He was happy he had a bed, at long last.
  • Speaking of water, Stacy St. Claire of the Chicago Tribune reports that first there was no running water in her room, but they told her at the front desk it would start running shortly (meaning an hour later) but, please do not use it to wash your face, it may be dangerous. How? None of your business. It may be dangerous, you’ve been warned.

The terrorists have been promising to give the Russians a terrible black eye if they dare stage the games in the area Islamist insurgents consider theirs. No need to: the Russians took care of it themselves.

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