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How The Opening Ceremony's Russian History Lesson Handled The Bad Stuff

Every Olympic opening ceremony is essentially the same—the host nation's history, by way of Cirque du Soleil. The real drama is in seeing how they'll whitewash the bad stuff. So, how did Sochi organizers cover the period between the Russian Revolution and World War II, the period of purges and famines that killed millions?

After beginning with the arrival of the Kievan Rus' and progressing through the rise of Christianity and the Russian Empire, the birth pangs of communism were represented by a red light bathing the Fisht Olympic Stadium, and the policies of Stalinism were reduced to a pantomime of industrialization, with massive mechanical sets and a choreographed collective propelling the country into the 20th century. The Great Patriotic War was represented by darkness and silence, then it was on to reconstruction and the space race. The end of communism was represented by a girl releasing a single red balloon into the skies.


There was no mention of the deaths, the forced resettlements, the classicide—nor did (or should) anyone expect there to be.

London did not acknowledge the harmful effects of imperialism; Vancouver had no mention of the forced removal or residential schools of its First Nations people; Beijing did not pay tribute to the millions who died in the Great Leap Forward; Turin did not recognize its fascist period, or Athens, its military junta; and Salt Lake City did not recognize Indian genocide or slavery or Jim Crow or a standing policy of foreign wars.

That's not how the Olympics work. They're the glossiest form of nationalism, with the bad stuff airbrushed away. You want some sort of allusion to the Soviet era? Well, there you go.

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