With pundits divided on his personally funded, semi-official trip to Sochi, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told a daily that given the controversial themes raised by these Games, officials are in a difficult position whether or not they chose to attend.
In an interview with Eesti Päevaleht published today, Ansip said he wanted to keep sports and politics separate. Saying he would have been attacked even if he had decided against going, he stressed the importance of supporting Estonian athletes on the ground and networking with other politicians. Ansip also made a visit to the descendants of Estonians who, in the late 19th century, founded Estosadok village, the location of skiing events.
Ansip rejected the assertion that other leaders are boycotting the games, naming the royals of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden among the attendees and adding that Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and German Chancellor have never attended the Olympic Games.
While several leaders have voiced distaste for an outright boycott, the German president Joachim Gauck formally announced his intention to shun the games due to Russia's shortcomings in the rule of law. Other conspicuously absent leaders include British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama, who instead announced a US delegation that includes three openly gay athletes: tennis champion Billie Jean King, Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and figure skater Brian Boitano.
Although Ansip intended to go to Sochi on an unofficial holiday, he told ETV he is attending the games as prime minister, even though he is covering his travel costs himself.
Domestic pundits weigh in
Prior to his arrival in Sochi, the former editor in chief of Postimees newspaper Anvar Samost started a petition calling for Ansip to drop his plans, collecting nearly 1,000 signatures. Other opinion leaders were more ambivalent.
In a recent opinion piece in Postimees, Kadri Liik, a foreign relations specialist at the European Council of Foreign Relations think tank, noted that as an avid sports enthusiast, Ansip has more reason to attend the games than most politicians. However, attending the opening ceremony would be like a stamp of approval to all the violations and worrying trends in Russia, Liik said.
“True, there is little Estonia can do about Russia's behavior. It's true we must try, on a practical level, to deal with the Russia we have, not the Russia we wish we had next to us. And feebly vicious criticism towards Moscow will hardly make things better. Still, some distancing from the Putin show would have been a dignified option that was unfortunately not taken,” Liik wrote.
Echoing this view, columnist Ahto Lobjakas told Delfi that Ansip's visit would be justified if he condemns the human rights violations and avoids openly propagandist formal events like the opening ceremony.
Rain Kooli of uudised.err.ee finds that the issue is not whether sports and politics are kept separate, but whether a boycott of a sports event is an efficient way of resolving international human rights issues.
“One could argue that by not boycotting the Berlin Olympics, the world only poured oil in the fire started by Hitler. On the other hand, with his four gold medals won at the games, Jesse Owens demonstrated just how little the Nazi idea of the supremacy of the white race and the German nation was worth,” Kooli wrote.