By Patricia H Kushlis
I must admit I quite enjoyed the Russian propaganda show that opened the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Friday night. Russians have been extraordinarily adept at story-telling for seemingly forever and staging extravaganzas –first religious then secular - for centuries. This recent three hour long display was no exception. And it was heartening to see the Russian government pay special tribute to a number of its world famous artists, writers, cinematographers and musicians - dead and alive – several of whose works had been banned or hidden in warehouses, closets, drawers or transported abroad for safe keeping during the Soviet period: Chagall, Malevich, and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and the Ballet Russe as a few for instances. This is a step forward. (photos of Opening Ceremony are from media photo page from the official Sochi Olympics website)
But what happened to Mikhail Bulgakov – or was that cute little eleven year old girl guide who flew high above the crowd floating from era to era in record time really, perhaps, his Margarita in disguise? What about Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Better left off the program because his description of the Soviet Union penal system did not sugar-coat the image? Or other dissident writers, painters, cinematographers; the true Russian chroniclers and dreamers. Yes, alright, the film-maker Sergei Eisenstein was honored – but face it, his works were some of the biggest propaganda displays the Soviet Union ever produced.
And one must never be allowed to forget the importance of Peter the Great’s 17th century secret venture West to steal ship-building technology or to pay special tribute to his founding a city on a swamp (built by unmentioned Finnish conscript laborers who were the original inhabitants) complete with a photo of the oversized bronze horseman statue of Peter in a park near the Neva embankment. (photo of the bronze horseman by PH Kushlis, 1990)
But the Potemkin Village notion was officially absent – except, of course, for the opening ceremony itself which it most closely resembled.
The Russian orthodox religion had a place in the Sochi Opening, too but was subtly done. Kievan Rus was downplayed (likely to the relief of the Ukrainian team). Communism? Or the “70 years to Nowhere” experiment, was only shown in cleaned up and polished constructivist terms and figures. Yes, tribute - as usual - was paid to the over 20 million Soviet deaths in World War II but this time almost in a perfunctory fashion – or maybe that was just the impression from the television footage I saw on NBC.
But the young, spiffily dressed white suited young ladies with dark briefcases slung over their shoulders prancing off to work in the latest fashion supposedly there to represent the latter days of the Soviet period was, well, over the top. (Sorry, no photos of them appeared on the Sochi website).