Military personnel with canine units patrol the Olympic Park in Alder, Russia. The region will host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics starting Feb. 6. Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images.
Did you miss the whole Soviet thing?
Or if not, do you?
If the answer to either is “yes,” you’ll want to sign up for a Back in the USSR nostalgia trip – alias the Sochi Olympics.
For decades Olympics sites have been vying to outdo each other in security, especially since the open-ended “war on terror” began. It’s all part of the mine-is-bigger mentality that has turned the games into a budget-blowing international PR contest for leaders looking to buff their legacies.
President Vladimir Putin is no slouch at flexing his oft-displayed muscles when it comes to battling opponents, whether terrorists or peaceful protesters. So with real enemies facing him in the embattled Caucasus – where he installed a Chechen regime of brutal force that helped to spark a widening conflict – he plans to own the podium for retribution against the rebels who have ruthlessly bombed, kidnapped and killed from the mountains to Moscow.
He may even outdo China, whose concentric rings of steel around Beijing made New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s four-day traffic jam look like an Olympic sprint event. London called in warships and ground-to-air missiles, in case terrorists planned to invade in battalions by air or sea.
Even Canada, modest by those standards, spent nearly $1 billion on “planes, tanks, ships and thousands of military and police personnel” to defend the Vancouver Olympics, not to mention batteries of electronic surveillance devices.
But Sochi tourists will have the added thrill of starring in a personal reality show on what life was like in the Soviet days, when police, paramilitary or even military forces would pop up unexpectedly if something suspicious was going on. And everyone was watched by a network of spies and the now quaint surveillance gadgets of the time, handily updated to all-seeing, all-knowing 21st century devices.
Sochi features a mix of old and new. Alongside the old anti-ballistic missiles are exciting state of the art underwater machine guns, guaranteed to give anyone planning to strap on a bomb and swim to Sochi a long sleep with the fishes.
But there’s still lots for nostalgia buffs. Laws that keep down dissent – and the morality-menacing gay community – are already back in place and civil society groups are labeled “foreign agents.” Suspected evildoers will face much the same courts and charges as in Soviet times, adding a frisson of retro fear.
The tourists, of course, can go home after Sochi, dining out on their experiences for months. For Russians, there’s no end in sight.
Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union from 1992 to 2002. She just missed the USSR.