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February 11, 2014

Area Russian expat: Sochi needs Olympics

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Despite the slew of controversies swirling around the XXII Olympic Winter Games’ host country, SUNY Oneonta professor Yuriy Malikov, who grew up in the Soviet Union, called Russia a “great country” and said there is more to it than meets the eye.

Malikov, an ethnic Russian who was born and raised in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, said Russia’s ability to host the Olympics is, symbolically, very important for the country.

“For Russia, hosting the Olympics demonstrates that it is still a great country,” he said, “capable of putting on this great event.”

Malikov said Russian pride suffered greatly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He said the Olympics will hopefully restore some of the country’s self-esteem.

The choice of Sochi as the host city, although widely questioned and criticized, was a good decision, Malikov said, and is the best place Russia could have chosen for the Winter Olympic Games. He compared the city, which he has visited several times, to California or Florida because of its warm Black Sea and appealing temperatures.

Malikov said Russians have mixed opinions on whether hosting the Olympics was a good choice for the country.

“Some Russians think the money could have been spent on more pressing matters,” Malikov said, “but some think it is a good thing.”

Despite the enormous amount of money spent, Malikov said, he believes the Olympics will ultimately be good for Russia’s economy and self-esteem. 

Malikov teaches various history classes at SUNY Oneonta regarding modern Russia, Central Asia, Europe, the history of empires, borderlands and nationalism studies. His classes include History of Tsarist Russia, History of Soviet Russia, History of Modern Central Asia, and Cossacks and Cowboys: Russian and American Frontiers in Comparative Perspective, among others.

With the improvements made in preparation for the Olympics, Malikov said, Sochi will now be able to compete with other warm-weather vacation spots in Russia. He said the event provided a good reason to develop the region, which was in dire need of an update.

“Sochi has great potential to be a successful resort city,” Malikov said. “But it has always had very bad infrastructure and old buildings.”

Malikov said practically everything in Sochi needed to be changed and rebuilt to accommodate the enormous world-event.

With the onslaught of negative reports from Olympic athletes and journalists regarding unfavorable conditions in Sochi hotels this week, the country is getting a bad reputation for its hospitality. A Twitter account comically detailing the inconveniences in the city called “Sochi Problems” has more than 339,000 followers, roughly 117,000 more followers than the Olympics’ official Twitter account, “Sochi 2014.”

Uncomfortable conditions described by journalists and athletes on “Sochi Problems” paint the picture of a city literally falling apart at the seams. Complaints include numerous reports of botched reservations; unfinished, debris-filled hotel rooms, buildings and streets; and dangerous conditions including unsafe construction, exposed electrical wires in showers, uncovered man holes and contaminated drinking water.

But these inconveniences are minor, compared to other controversies surrounding the Olympics this year. One controversy dealt with the droves of stray dogs that roamed around the Olympic Village and whether they would be humanely removed. 

Another significant controversy surrounded Russia’s anti-gay laws and various statements that were made about it. Malikov explained that Russians have, culturally, a completely different perception of homosexuality than Americans do. Malikov said Russians consider homosexuality to be sociological, not biological. 

“But Russians, in general, prefer to keep their sexual lives much more private,” Malikov said.

Even more concerning were the anxieties regarding the event’s security in light of the December suicide bombings in nearby Volgograd, which killed 34 people, and Sochi’s proximity to the ongoing Islamic insurgency in the Caucasus Mountains. Malikov said he does not expect anything of that nature to occur.

“I hope Russian authorities will make sure that doesn’t happen,” Malikov said of possible attacks.

More than anything, Malikov said, Olympic coverage should focus on the countries’ common interests in sports and competition, rather than on the differences between cultures.

“Of course there will always be differences between countries,” Malikov said, “but I wish the Olympics could be a uniting factor, not dividing.”