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SBD Global/February 17, 2014/Olympics

Putin's Designated 'Speakers Corner' Hosts Few Protests Since Start Of Sochi Olympics

When Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the creation of a special protest area at the Winter Olympics, "it looked like a victory for freedom of speech," according to Timothy Heritage of REUTERS. A week into the Games "his decision to ease the blanket ban on protests in Sochi, presented as a liberal concession to critics, has done little or nothing to lift the lid on dissent during the Games." The "Speakers' Corner" is tucked away in a small, "scruffy park overlooked by a noisy highway in the Sochi suburb of Khosta, 20 minutes by train from the nearest Olympic venue and out of sight for athletes, foreign dignitaries and fans." There have been small protests by gay rights activists elsewhere in Russia during the Games, "but only two sparsely attended meetings this month in the protest area itself." One drew attention to the plight of Russians born in World War Two, "the other supported Putin." It is not "exactly the stuff revolutions are made of," and the people of Khosta hardly even noticed. Lyuba Kuznetsova, a woman walking her dog through the park on a sunny February morning, said, "Protests? Here? Are you sure? What's there to protest about?" Police "detained gay rights activists who tried to protest" in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Feb. 7, the day the Games opened. About 30 people with the gay pride flag "protested in Moscow on Saturday against homophobia and political repression" (REUTERS, 2/15).
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