Last month, Putin erected a “security ring of steel” around Sochi, host city of a heavily-policed Olympics. Leandra Bias believes the scenario reminds us of the Games in 1980, when prostitutes and other suspect-characters were sent away from Moscow.
English is not the only language that uses understatement. “Girls of a joyful behaviour” is what prostitutes are euphemistically called in Russian. It wasn’t “Joy”, however, that the Communist regime wanted to show the world when it hosted the Olympic Games in 1980. Foreign spectators were supposed to be impressed by the USSR’s greatness, prosperity, and modernity. There was no space for anyone who could possibly drag the Soviet Union’s reputation through the mud. Thus, non-ideal Soviet men and women were banned from Moscow.
The homeless (yes they existed), drunkards, and joyful girls were sent away to provincial cities over 100 kilometres. For all its tragedy, it’s also quite amusing to imagine these women disembarking in rural areas. Most of the prostitutes probably came from remote cities originally in any case. The locals’ calm life, however, was temporarily halted. Beautiful women, dressed in never-before seen clothes and using bold language certainly distressed some of the habitants.
Without doubt Moscow’s KGB and militia agents were also distressed, having relied on prostitutes’ cooperation. The Soviet Union liked to perpetuate a self-image of strict order and moral, but the long-legged girls were a constant part of the hall’s “decoration” in so-called Intourist hotels. This was well known and broadly accepted because in those hotels, where many foreigners stayed, they fulfilled a double role. Not only did they work for their living; they also spied on their clients and exchanged the hard currency they received.
However, during the Olympic Games neither foreigners nor the KGB were to enjoy the girls. Aleksandra Galina used this surreal situation of the prostitutes’ Olympic banishment for a most famous play. First performed in 1982, “Stars in the morning sky” was a popular Perestroika piece but was then forgotten for a long time. It was rediscovered only last year – right before Sochi, an event for which “cleaning” for the sake of security is just as much an imperative as it was 34 years ago.
Back in 1980, even petty criminals had a sort of silent agreement with the police that they would abstain from stealing during the games. They were proud Soviets first of all, and defending the fatherland from criticism was the priority.
In July 1980, Moscow wasn’t only chaste, safe, well organised (for the first time there were no traffic jams) and friendly. It was also terribly empty. Pepsi and Fanta were suddenly available. So were Marlboro cigarettes, salami, and Finlandia vodka. The foreign products came, but the foreign audience didn’t. The US, together with many Arabic countries, refused to attend due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Given that in summer Muscovites wouldn’t stay at home but leave for their dachas, and that the remaining few “suspect” individuals were deported, the capital was considerably depopulated. Sochi too is empty and commercialised, although the reasons have admittedly changed. In 1980, the main objective was to represent a utopia. Today, Russia faces imminent terrorist threats.
Ultimately, one could thus say that the pattern followed in Soviet times is much more of an inspiration for Belarus’ leader, Aleksandr Lukashenko. Belarus is hosting the Ice-Hockey World Championship this spring and in order to create a perfect façade it has already been announced that the capital Minsk will be “cleansed” of drunkards, beggars, and “girls of a joyful behaviour”.