Our View: Ceremony’s version of Russian history fell short of reality

February 10, 2014 

We’re not sure who, precisely, was the choreographer of Friday’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony extravaganza in Sochi, but it wasn’t Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn.

While technically stunning – except for only four of the five Olympic rings being illuminated – it lacked something: reality.

Now, art is art, and politics are politics. If the United States were to host another Olympic opening ceremony, we doubt it would spend much time covering slavery, or the genocide of Native Americans. However, it might not skip over 90 years as if they didn’t happen.

To be sure, Putin’s Russia is not Stalin’s Soviet Union, and we do not advocate igniting any new Cold War. But the Sochi show was stunning in its intellectual dishonesty.

The beginning was fine. Peter the Great was indeed a historic figure worthy of note. The visuals projected by more than 60 projectors created an amazing computer-generated sea. Marvelous ballet dancers moved the narrative forward to the Russian Revolution, which was illustrated by a floating red locomotive in a fog.

There were 1950s Soviet cars and Russian sock hops. There were animated red gears grinding slowly to a halt, followed by a young girl in a white dress releasing a red balloon representing, we suppose, the new Russia. Harboring Edward Snowden and persecuting gays somehow were omitted.

No Stalin, no Lenin, no purges. No peasant famine. No KGB. No dissidents. No persecution of Russian Jews.

So, did we really expect that? Obviously not. But what we expected was an extravaganza that would highlight sports, since that is presumably what the Olympics are all about – or so we tell ourselves. If not that, something vaguely French with symbolism we can’t penetrate but can at least laugh at. Instead, we got this entirely sanitized history lesson.

A ceremony highlighting athletic competition would have been more unifying and would have improved Putin’s image far more than the gaudy historical rewrite. Similar to China’s Olympic Opening Ceremony, Russia used theirs as a disinformatsya infomercial.

The competition began Thursday and continued throughout the weekend, allowing us to thrill at extraordinary performances on snow and ice. But Friday’s Games weren’t athletic. They were political.

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