Monday, February 24, 2014

The Winter Olympics and What Lies Ahead

Indoor Floor Sliding Gold Medal Winner
The Olympics have come and gone in these past two weeks, and we have seen lots of admirably refined athletic talent, competitive spirit, and well-earned triumphs. The skis and the sleds were a taming of speed, while the skaters amazed us with their elegance, virtuosity, and lightness upon the ice.

While they skated on television, the Janaros had their own "skater" in slippers and a ballet outfit, sliding and spinning across the living room floor to the accompanying music. She won the gold medal in our house (for "slipper sliding," at least).

Meanwhile we rooted for our team U.S.A. in hockey, and for our Capitals stars on other world teams. But the Canadians, once again, showed everyone that they own the game of hockey regardless of how good the rest of the world gets at imitating them.

The Russians do not need to convince anyone of their skill, ardor, and gracefulness. Russian athletes proved it once again in many venues. The political condition of the ancient land, however, is far more perplexing. Sochi, a temperate resort town on the Black Sea, was an unusual place to have a Winter Olympics, and we will never know if the vast sums of money spent on building its infrastructure will improve life for the people there.

Mr. Putin wanted the world to see that Russia was competent as well as vast, but his purposes and those of his regime remain inscrutable, and fail to inspire any sense of trust in anyone who has observed history.

Then there are the people. What does Russia desire to be? How does she desire to rebuild her identity as a nation, a people, and a force for good in the 21st century? It is difficult to take the pulse of a people who are still in part exhausted by the profound alienation of the Soviet epoch. The aspirations they do have arise from conflicting and contradictory impulses that must as yet unfold and perhaps struggle against one another.

Not far from the Olympic games, another contest has begun in Ukraine that holds a far greater significance for the history of the region, and that places again before Russia the necessity of taking a position. Will the words of Solzhenitsyn finally be heeded, and will the Russian nation and her leaders take the road of humility? Will there be the restraint (indeed the spirit of "penance") that must be embraced in order for Russia to be healed and rise up with the spirit of her saints, so as to be servants of peace in the world?