Storm in a Samovar? Opening Ceremonies Irk Russian Nationalists

Western media took little notice when Russian nationalists complained about the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. The spectacle, largely produced by non-Russians, celebrated aspects of the culture typically noted by outsiders but little known by ordinary Russians, and out of sync with Vladimir Putin’s campaign to return to “traditional values.” Professor of Government Peter Rutland, writing in the Moscow Times, noted that “nationalists complained Putin had contracted out the country’s national narrative to a cosmopolitan intellectual elite.

“Indeed, Vladimir Gomelsky, deputy director of state-controlled Channel One, explained that ‘Our ceremony was designed for an international audience.’ Producer Konstantin Ernst, general director of Channel One, insisted that the show was an ‘expression of love for our homeland’ on behalf of  ‘real Russians, untainted by decades of propaganda and the Cold War.’ ”

“It turns out that Ernst relied on international experts to script and stage much of the show,” Rutland writes. “They included the New York-based George Tsypin, production designer for “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark,” who presented a tableau of dancing puppets at the 2002 Venice Biennale. Costumes were designed by Kim Barrett, another “Spiderman” veteran. Two producers had worked on the London Olympics ceremony, three aerialist experts came from the Cirque du Soleil and a director of the Shanghai circus choreographed the gymnastics.”

The debate over the content of the opening ceremony, according to Rutland  “may be little more than a storm in a samovar, but it does illustrate the continuing ambiguities around Russian political identity.”