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Honor the Olympic Truce

Terrorist bombings in Volgograd, Russia, may have had the Sochi Olympics as their real target. The ideal of the Olympics as a respite from violence must be defended.

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Russian police check a passerby in Sochi, Russia, Dec. 30. The International Olympic Committee says it has no doubt that Russian authorities will be able to provide security at the Winter Olympics that begin in Sochi Feb. 7. Two bomb blasts killed more than 30 people in the Russian city of Volgograd in late December.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

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The Olympic Truce may be under its greatest strain in some time after a pair of apparent terrorist bombings resulted in the loss of more than 30 lives, along with many others wounded, in the Russian city of Volgograd.

The 2014 winter Olympics are scheduled to open in less than six weeks in the Russian city of Sochi, on the Black Sea a few hundred miles southwest of Volgograd. Volgograd, formerly called Stalingrad, also stands as a symbol of Russian pride, the site where during World War II Russian troops stubbornly held onto the city and eventually turned back an invasion by Nazi troops.

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The bombings may be the work of Chechen terrorists, though no one has claimed responsibility at this writing. Doku Umarov, the leader of Caucasus Emirate, a Chechen group, released a statement last summer vowing to use “maximum force” to disrupt the Games in Sochi. The US State Department has categorized his group as terrorists and offered a reward of as much as $5 million for information leading to his capture.

The concept of an “Olympic Truce” dates back to the original Olympic Games of ancient Greece, held nearly three millenniums ago. According to tradition a “laying down of arms” was declared for a period before, during, and after the competition, allowing competitors from many nations to participate in and travel to and from the Games in safety.

The Olympic Truce became an official part of the modern Games in 1993, when the United Nations passed a resolution in support of it. Today the symbol of the truce is a peace dove with the Olympic flame in the background.

Even before the bombings, elaborate security measures were being planned for the Sochi Olympic Games, which take place Feb. 7 to 23. Special troops will roam the surrounding mountains, speedboats will patrol the Black Sea coast, and aerial drones will keep watch overhead. No cars from outside the area will be allowed to enter the region beginning a month before the opening.

That tight security may itself have played a role in the Volgograd bombings. The city may have offered a “softer” target than the Games themselves.

Russian and Olympic officials have vowed to ensure that the Games go on as planned. “The entire international movement joins me in utterly condemning this cowardly act,” declared Thomas Bach, the incoming International Olympic Committee president.

Some reports indicate that the bombings might be the work of Muslim separatists in the Russian Republic of Dagestan, which, like its neighbor Chechnya, has bitter relations with Moscow. The two young brothers suspected of being responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings last April reportedly lived in Dagestan for a time.

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The Olympic Truce puts forth the idea that, even if only for a limited period, people of all nationalities are capable of putting down their weapons, putting aside their disagreements, and celebrating together the highest ideals of humanity.

Terrorist acts are never the proper way to advance a cause. Attempting to tie such attacks to the coming Sochi Olympic Games will only win international condemnation.

What is to be cherished – and defended – at this time is the universal aspiration to live in peace and brotherhood, represented by the Olympic Truce.