Sadly, the initial reports out of Sochi indicate that Olympic Games are going to be covered in utterly predictable fashion: as a confirmation of everything terrible the West thinks about Russia. The toilets don’t have doors! The water can’t be consumed! The people are impossible!
The shoddy accommodations, in particular, are sure to feature heavily in every Sochi story you will read from now until the Olympics’ end. They play on an old notion of Russia in the Western imagination: a land filled with Potemkin villages. The comparison is appearing in the media, and it certainly won’t go away anytime soon. Is there some truth to the notion that Sochi was largely constructed as a vanity project – and, yes, a Potemkin village – to please Tsar Putin? Certainly. But the metaphor will be deployed with such laziness as to be meaningless.
Julia Ioffe makes related points:
There’s a fine line between fair criticism and schadenfreude, and the Western press has been largely well on the side of the latter. I’d also argue that there’s something chauvinistic, even Russophobic in it. The Europeans may not be ready for their Olympics, but, okay, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. The Chinese prepare for theirs ruthlessly, but we don’t understand them so whatever. We railed on Romney for daring to criticize the preparedness of our British friends, and we wrote in muted tones about Athens not being ready in time for their Olympics, but with the Russians, we gloat: Look at these stupid savages, they can’t do anything right.