Soviets try to shrug off Olympic boycott threat
"Nye seriozno" -- "not serious." That's the way a member of the Communist Party Central Committee is said to hae dismissed Western talk of a boycott or shift of the 1980 Summer Olympics when meeting with a group of visiting East European officials a few days ago.
Any effective, widespread boycott, or an actual shift away from Moscow to another site, would certainly anger and embarrass Soviet leaders and people. But so far at least, the Soviets say they simply do not see a real threat.
However, they clearly feel the need to hit back hard at Mr. Carter in public -- and some here believe this indicates they realize the growing danger of a boycott or shift of venue.
Tass news agency let loose some of the harshest criticisms ever seen here of President Carter Jan. 21, accusing him of holding athletes and the Olympic movement as "some kind of hostages" to his own political ambitions.
Tass said the Carter TV statement linking action on the games to a pullback of Soviet troops in Afghanistan within a month "clearly has the nature of an electoral campaign move," since it came on the eve of delegate-election in Iowa.
Mr. Carter, Tass charged, "had no use for the rights of others if these run counter to his political ambitions." Clearly, the Kremlin is extremely sensitive to criticisms of the Moscow Olympics.
For the Kremlin, the Olympic Games in July are a vital political event. The Soviet leaders think success will shower their country with world legitimacy and approval, advertise the achievements of Lenin's revolution over the past 63 years, and "prove" the Soviet desire for peace.
The Kremlin is watching not just American, British, and Canadian government actions, but the attitudes of the Muslim world and of Africa as well.
The third world is always a primary target for Soviet propaganda. The Soviets see communism as its "natural ally." If Muslims pull out of the Moscow games in force, the Russians would consider it a serious diplomatic blow.
As for the US, the Soviets will refuse to do anything under threat of the deadline Mr. Carter set Jan. 20 for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
The Soviets are confident because they believe governments cannot make the final decision, and that only private Olympic committees and the International Olympic Committee hold the keys to the future of the games.
The Soviet press endlessly quotes IOC president Lord Killanin as saying it's Moscow or no games at all. Sovietsky Sport has reprinted columns of support for the games from athletes and officials in Venezuela, Australia, the US, Canada, Spain, Syria, Brazil, France, and elsewhere.
With relish, the paper quoted Bernard Fell, head of the organizing committee for the Lake Placid winter games, as saying the IOC had established after Montreal that anyone who engaged in a boycott could not attend the next games.
So the US might be barred from attending the games in its own city of Los Angeles, the paper cited Mr. Fell as saying.
At the same time, this very desire by the Soviets for the games to go ahead does indicate how vulnerable the Soviets remain to any successful move to shift the games.
The Tass news agency has cited a survey of 919 Moscow residents as all expressing interest in the games. Unsurprisingly, given the official line, the survey showed everyone thought the games would help strengthen "peace, cooperation, and mutual understanding."
Most of those polled wanted to know how to get tickets, but Tass said they realized not everyone could get in. More than half said they would watch the games on TV.
The games do have a negative side for KGB and internal security police. Some 300,000 foreign guests mean enormous amounts of surveillance and passport-checking. Moscow party chief Viktor Grishin has urged party workers to step up indoctrination against foreign ideas and subversion.
The KGB is anxious to prevent any Jewish demonstrations on behalf of jailed dissident anatoly Shcharansky and others. Schoolchildren are being sent out of Moscow in the summer to make room for visitors -- and to ensure they do not fall under harmful foreign influence (or become impressed with wondrous Western consumer goods).
Yet officials stress the positive sides of the games: above all the propaganda triumph of beaming, in full color, Soviet ballet, housing, cars, architecture, industry, and other achievements into millions of Western and third-world homes.
Moreover, the Soviet Union will put to good and lasting use the 99 Olympic projects being built in Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn, and Kiev. Moscow already has gained a new computer center (for results, and later for city use), a huge new swimming and living complex, a new velodrome, a complete Olympic village (later to be used for city housing), and more. Total investment: about 230 million rubles (about $362 million). Other Olympic developments
President Carter will ask Congress for special powers if necessary to enforce a US boycott of the Olympics, officials say. The White House plans to suspend athletes' passports and to order currency controls if the US Olympic Committee does not honor his boycott request.
Lord Killanin said Monday the boycott proposal will be discussed at next month's meeting of the Olympic movement leadership. NBC may claim more than $80 million on the insurance market if the US boycotts the games. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, leading the Iranian presidential race, says his country likely will boycott the games if he is he is elected.