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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 13 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 50
German President and EU Commissioner will boycott Sochi Olympics
Section One
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German President and EU Commissioner will boycott Sochi Olympics

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

German President Joachim Gauck has informed the Russian government that he will not attend the Sochi Olympics, according to reports in Der Spiegel newsweekly.

The move 'is understood to be a response to the Russian government's violations of human rights and harassment of the opposition,' Der Spiegel noted.

Two days later, on December 10, Gauck was joined by Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Citizenship, and Fundamental Rights.

'I will certainly not go to Sochi as long as minorities are treated the way they are under the current Russian legislation,' Reding tweeted in reference to Russia's so-called 'Don't Say Gay' laws.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama have gone on record opposing the idea of a boycott of Russia's Winter Olympics, although both have criticized Russia's anti-Gay policies.

Gauck is a longtime critic of Russia and a supporter of LGBT rights. Since becoming German President in 2012, he has repeatedly criticized the Russian government's 'air of imperialism,' and the 'deficit of rule of law' in that country.

In June, a scheduled meeting between Gauck and Russian President Vladmir Putin was cancelled - officially because of scheduling problems, but reportedly because Gauck was growing increasingly uncomfortable with Putin's authoritarianism.

A Lutheran pastor from the former German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, Gauck played an active role in the anti-Communist protest movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two Germanys. Gauck also led the commission investigating the crimes of the East German secret police - the Stasi - and its relationship to the Soviet KGB, of which Putin was a member.

LGBT rights are one of Gauck's particular causes. In a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year, Gauck said that he was 'encouraged' by 'debates about equal rights for LGBT people in more and more countries worldwide.'

He has also said that Germany, where civil partnerships are legal but same-sex marriage is not, needs to have 'a proper discussion in our society about the next steps for equality.' Chancellor Merkel is opposed to equal marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples.

Reding is also a veteran advocate for human rights, especially those of European minority groups, and she is not shy about expressing her views.

As an EU Commissioner she clashed with both the current and the former Presidents of France, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, over French deportations of Roma immigrants. Reding compared them to Roma deportations carried out by the Nazis in the 1940s.

Until Gauck and Reding announced their plans to boycott the Sochi Olympics, the idea of a boycott had been promoted mainly by celebrities like Lady Gaga, Harvey Fierstein, and actor Stephen Fry.

In an open letter in June to the British prime minister and the IOC, Fry said 'an absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 in Sochi is simply essential.' Prime Minister Cameron, however, ruled out a boycott, arguing that anti-Gay prejudice would be better tackled by presence rather than absence.

The endorsement of two prominent world political leaders may give the boycott idea a new lease on life, however, although time to organize it is short. The games are scheduled to begin February 7, 2014.

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