When I spoke with chess champion-turned-anti-Putin activist Garry Kasparov in September, he said that other countries should respond to Russia’s anti-LGBT laws, crackdowns on opposition activists and support for Bashar Assad’s (Syria) regime with what he called a “boycott Putin” rather than boycott Russia campaign:
As a former professional athlete, I think that forcing athletes to play a political role against their will is not fair and what happens very often is that politicians who are not ready to make a decision hide behind athletes. I think in Sochi, there’s a very simple solution to send a message to Sochi’s regime. It should start with leading politicians not attending the games.
The ball seems to have started rolling on a boycott of just this kind. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced Monday that neither French President Franois Hollande nor any top French official will attend the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. He did not specify a reason, but the decision to not even send a lower-ranking official certainly feels like a boycott.
Earlier this week, it was reported that German President Joachim Gauck announced he was not attending the games, though it was unclear whether the largely ceremonial figure — Chancellor Angela Merkel actually oversees the government — was boycotting or simply decided not to attend.
Hollande’s stance probably will win him some points at home, but it’s unlikely to have much of an impact unless other leaders join in. Merkel, along with Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic and Donald Tusk of Poland, decided not to attend the Beijing ceremony, but that was little-noticed amid the spectacle of the 2008 Summer Games. If no EU leaders attended the event, then we really might be getting somewhere.
If Hollande really wants to rain on Putin’s parade (which might be the only kind of precipitation at the event) he’s going to have to get some more governments on board.Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.