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Olympics In Russia Provide An Opportunity To Reflect And Learn


The Olympic Games are once again upon us, and they are a great time for our nation to come together and rally around a single cause, and to take pride in our accomplishments.

The fact that these games are being held in Russia also has spurred much conversation worldwide about the conditions within Russia. The government of Vladimir Putin has a questionable record when it comes to human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, a fair and impartial judiciary and prison system, and corruption. That these things are taking place in a modern, advanced country such as Russia should make us pause and think about the word "freedom."

In the United States, we harp on the word so often that it almost seems to be without meaning. But the concept and reality of freedom does not exist in a vacuum. The people of Russia do not enjoy the freedoms enjoyed by the people in this and many other countries. The government keeps very strict control of the media in Russia; people are not allowed to freely assemble and peacefully protest; freedom of speech does not exist as we know it here; regional leaders are unilaterally appointed by the central government; and corruption and cronyism are rampant (According to the nonprofit think tank Transparency International, which tracks the openness, transparency, and corruption of world governments, the government of Russia ranked 127th out of 175 in its Corruption Perception Index for 2013, on par with such notoriously unstable governments as Pakistan, Mali, and Lebanon.).

We should show tremendous gratitude for these freedoms. If we are unhappy with our leaders, we can show our unhappiness without having to fear reprisal from the government. These types of freedoms feel natural, but to people in Russia and in so many other countries throughout the world, these freedoms don't exist.

We don't have the strong ties to Russia that we have with the last two Olympic host countries, Canada and the United Kingdom; because of that, the people of Russia can feel like part of a different world. But they are real people going through real problems; we should also take this opportunity to learn more about Russia, its people, its government, and the problems faced by people in other troubled countries throughout the world. Because things can only change if we take notice, and care.

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