06.10.2010, Tunne Kelam, Member of the European Parliament
Circassians have been subjected to one of the most severe persecutions among the ethnic Caucasian nations. Since the 18th century, when the authorities of the Russian empire started massive ethnic cleansings and deportations of the native population, more than 1.5 million Circassians are estimated to have been killed. The continuation of Russian colonial policies has had a dramatic impact on today’s Circassians. Sadly, their situation has not eased in the 21st century.
While Moscow is pursuing its preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is only fair to take into account that Sochi and its surroundings are situated on the ancient territories of the Circassians. The playgrounds of the 2014 Olympics are located in the long-time post-Soviet conflict areas – conflicts for which the Russian Government has to share responsibility. These conflicts are still unresolved as demonstrated by the August 2008 Russian military invasion of Georgia as well as Russia’s official support for the secession of two separatist entities from Georgia. Potential conflicts pose a real threat to the security and safety of Olympic athletes.
The indiscriminate way Russian authorities have carried out the preparations for the Winter Olympics shows that this is not merely a problem for one single local nation. It is by necessity a political, social, humanitarian and ecological problem concerning the whole of Europe, especially if the European nations decide to take part in the Games.
First, it is clear that in the course of preparations for the Olympics, the human rights situation in the region has dramatically worsened.
Second, blatantly ignoring environmental standards has damaged the ecological balance and caused severe deterioration of the environmental situation with probably irreversible consequences for the local people.
Third, according to different testimonies and observations, abuses by the political and administrative powers and corruption in the region have reached an unbearable level.
All the listed issues are in serious conflict with the noble ideals of the Olympics. Clearly, the Sochi Winter Olympics cannot be considered a success at the cost of systematic repression of the civil rights and cultural identity of a small native nation, or at the cost of ignoring environmental damage which, in all likelihood, nobody will rectify after the Olympic flag has been lowered. This is the responsibility the organizers must pay for conducting the Sochi Olympics first and foremost to boost the political prestige of Moscow.
The abnormal and tragic situation of the Circassians and other Caucasian native peoples also demands a prompt response from the EU member states based on common European values. TheRussian Federation is a strategic partner to the EU; Russia has joined several international conventions and should therefore live up to the commitments and standards stemming from those agreements. If numerous violations of the rights of citizens, native nations and environment are confirmed, the EU should react robustly to the situation. A boycott of the Sochi Olympics by Western nations cannot be ruled out. Dispatching an EU fact-finding mission composed of independent observers and experts to the region is one of the necessary first steps to acquire objective information about the Circassian situation as well as to assess the risks and costs of the Olympics in question.
The readiness of the Circassians to engage in political dialogue is encouraging. Such an attitude deserves respect. The organisations speaking for the rights of the Circassian people exclude any kind of extremism in their actions and emphasize the secular and just nature of the Circassian movement. The EU cannot leave Circassians alone in their struggle to survive. Their civil and cultural rights and above all, the need to guarantee their identity and language in the foreseeable future, cannot be trusted to the official declarations of the Kremlin’s authoritarian rulers. Europe is called on to take responsibility for this part of our continent.