Last week, Russian “Prime Minister” Dima Medvedev published a photograph on Instagram of the new “Ice Palace” in Sochi, Russia, which will be the focal point of the 2014 Winter Games. The photo showed the palace at the top of a steep hill mounted by an enormous flight of stairs.
In response, a commenter asked Medvedev: “И как люди передвигающиеся на колясках должны преодолевать эти 100500 ступенек?” In other words, how would a disabled person grapple with such an obstacle.
It was a legitimate question. All across Russia, disabled citizens face relentless discrimination and a near total lack of accessibility, with stone-faced indifference from most of their fellow citizens. Such an attitude is flatly barred by the Olympic Charter, which requires accessibility, and in fact Russia is obligated to host the parallel “paralympics” along with the main show, meaning it would play host to dozens of disabled athletes.
When Medvedev did not respond, we followed up with him on Twitter. We stated: “You were asked on Instagram how a wheelchair-bound fan would navigate all those stairs. What is your answer?”
Medvedev didn’t respond to us, either. But one “ndennisv” from San Jose, California sure did. He stated: “Dumb question. Whoever asked that is a comlete [sic] dimwit. They are supposed to use a ramp or an elevator.”
Welcome to Russia!
Ask an honest question, and get your head bitten off! In fact, Medvedev’s photograph does not reveal any ramp or elevator which could be used by a handicapped person to circumvent the stairs, so the question was very far from being “dumb.”
After a laborious saga of back-and-forth with “ndennisv” following his gratuitous insult, a saga which included plenty more insults, we finally obtained from him a picture of the Ice Palace showing the area to the left of the stairway, which was not apparent in Medvedev’s photograph. In this photograph, it can clearly be seen that there are both ramps and elevators available to the disabled to reach the Ice Palace entrance.
Most people, of course, wouldn’t follow up as we did. Most people, after being ignored and then gratuitously insulted, would simply drop the matter and assume the Ice Palace was just one more example of Russia’s brutal disregard of the interests of its disabled citizens. And they’d come away, of course, with a pretty bitter attitude towards Russia.
Needless to say, “ndennisv” refused to acknowledge that Russia had any problem whatsoever with its treatment of the disabled. In fact, he acted like ramps at the Ice Palace prove their are ramps everywhere, in typical neo-Soviet fashion. What could have been PR win for Russia, in which “ndennisv” promptly and cordially provided an answer to our question on Medvedev’s behalf, and simultaneously acknowledged that Russia has much more work to do beyond the Ice Palace, turned into a confirmation of all that is thought ill of Russia.
This little exchange is, in other words, Russia in perfect microcosm. It is why Russia has been forced to hire Western PR teams to try to battle against the relentlessly negative images that Russians create for themselves, a battle they cannot hope to win because of Russia’s boundless energy and productivity in this regard. It illustrates why it was such a mistake for Russians to seek to host the games, which willy give the world that much more opportunity to experience this brutality up close and personal.
Another perfect example is homosexuals. How is it possible that the Kremlin could be so benighted as to fail to recognize that it needed to wait to commence its crackdown on gays until the Olympics and FIFA world cup proceedings had been completed? By pushing ahead to early, Russians stripped billions of dollars of public relations gold out of their coffers, and turned these expensive events into negatives. And all this is happening just as the Russian economy heads for a double-dip recession!
Welcome to Russia!