Russia has officially outlawed all forms of protest for more than two months around the 2014 Winter Olympics, which begin in less than six months in Sochi. President Vladimir Putin signed an official decree, published in the official government newspaper, that will ban all “gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets” that aren’t a part of Olympic ceremonies from January 7, a month before the Olympics begin, until March 21, a month and a half after they end.
The protest ban’s most obvious effect will be to silence criticism on the Russian anti-gay law that bans “homosexual propaganda.” The law sparked a rash of criticism from world leaders like President Obama, LGBT activists, and athletes from around the world. The International Olympic Committee’s lack of decisive action and the Russian government’s insistence that it will enforce the law during the Games was likely to draw even more criticism and potential protests during the Olympics.
Other human rights issues may have drawn protests too. Human rights groups have criticized Russia’s treatment of migrant workers during Olympic construction and the imprisonment or silencing of journalists who have written about abuses, and Russian citizens near Sochi are unhappy about forced evictions that took place to seize land for stadium construction.
Russia also may fear protests around the cost of the Olympics, which are now expected to carry a price tag exceeding $50 billion, enough to make Sochi the most expensive Olympic Games — winter or summer — in history. Olympic and World Cup spending costs played a role in the massive protests that swept Brazil during a tune-up tournament this summer and those events and the global news coverage they received are no doubt fresh in Russia’s mind.
LGBT activists have called for turning the Sochi Olympics into the “gayest Olympics ever” in response to Russia’s anti-gay law, but Putin’s decree, which also bans the entry of any unauthorized vehicles into Sochi during the same time span, will only make that harder. That may place an even larger importance on vocal or symbolic protests from athletes like those that took place at the Track and Field World Championships last week when American runner Nick Symmonds publicly dedicated his silver medal to his LGBT friends and when Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro donned rainbow nail polish to protest the law.