Among the best things to come out of Russia in recent years are Garry Kasparov and Pussy Riot.
Funny, during the ponderous intro to the Socchi games (before the cool hi tech on the ceiling took over) there was no mention of one unquestionable Russian achievement. No, no not vodka. And no, not the Russian Orthodox Church. And no, not the mass emigration to the United States, which, if nothing else, has enlivened certain otherwise moribund areas of Brooklyn.
No, I mean chess. Russia aka the USSR achieved unquestioned dominance in that sport.
Not a winter sport? Can't be played in snow? Anyway, no mention of it at Socchi. (And no images mention of chess would inevitably have occasioned of Garry Kasparov getting arrested for demonstrating against Putin in defense of Pussy Riot).
Yes, they got to do a bit of Swan Lake. How bold. How dull. But otherwise the Socchi intro had no use for that most venerated of Russian composers, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Is that because he was a member in good standing of the LGBT community?
Finally, yes, some musical reference to that emigré anti-communist, Igor Stravinksy: a touch of his "The Rites of Spring."
(But no Shostakovich and no Prokofiev, right where his musical depiction of irreducible Russian resilience to all and every onslaught, in the music he wrote for "Alexander Nevsky", might have best of all summarized the "Russian spirit" that the intro fumbled with.)
Some touch somewhere, I've read, of Nabokov, who would have spat on, or rather, have fled from, Putin. (And not only because Nabokov adored chess, wrote a great chess novel, and composed arcane chess problems. No, a Russia that might include Vladmir Nabokov while celebrating Vladmir Putin blows the — admittedly limited Western — mind.)
It must be tough to be Putin trying to figure out what's remotely presentable to the twenty-first century of his country's conflicted history. Lenin? Nyet, basically and embarrassingly nyet.
Stalin, nyet and yet more nyet. Putin may long for Uncle Joe but has to keep such wet dreams to himself.
Maybe Putin dreams mostly of Putin.
There he was at the end, on that high platform overlooking the frolics, like the twenty-first century oriental despot, neither precisely Stalinist nor precisely Romanov, he aims to be.