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Russian President Putin Claps In Sochi, Helps Add To Carnage in Syria

February 11, 2014

Putting things into perspective with the help of The New Yorker.

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Most viewers of the Olympics are aware that Sochi is only a few hundred miles from Chechnya—that’s part of what’s given these Winter Games their tension. It’s less widely known that Sochi is only a thousand miles from Homs, Syria. The two cities are separated by the Republic of Georgia, Turkey, and the ruins of Syria. I thought about their proximity after watching the men’s downhill on Sunday—the most exciting event of the Winter Olympics, as far as I’m concerned, won (as usual) by an Austrian, Matthias Mayer, on a nearly lethal course that had skiers flying down the mountain at close to ninety miles an hour, with one jump taking them almost the length of a football field—and then waking up to a picture from Homs.

It was taken by a Reuters photographer, and there was something immediately familiar about it: the straggling line of people, lugging their belongings in duffels and plastic bags along bullet-pocked walls, picking their way over the rubble of concrete blocks, fleeing for their lives but already without hope. You can see it in their haggard expressions, in the angle of their heads. We saw these faces in Sarajevo, Leningrad, Madrid—besieged cities that were bombed and starved for so long that the survivors appeared to be among the dead themselves.

I’ll be watching the Games anyway, because they’re still about sports—though not only sports—and life is made of compromises and we have to take some of our pleasures where we find them. I’m not even sure that the Games shouldn’t take place in repressive countries like Russia, or China, though it’s useful to remind ourselves to stop short of Berlin in 1936. But I would like the standard for the success of the Sochi Olympics to be something other than hidden surveillance cameras in the showers of foreign correspondents’ crappy hotel rooms. I would like to be able to say that the downhill skiing was breathtaking—but these Games were a failure anyway, because of Homs.

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