Stephen Fry: An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

Stephen Fry compares Russian Winter Olympics to Nazi-hosted 1936 Olympics in letter to David Cameron.

Dear Prime Minister, M Rogge, Lord Coe and Members of the International Olympic Committee,

I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, three years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.

Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians. Beatings, murders and humiliations are ignored by the police. Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law. Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment. It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village. The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma. Let us not forget that Olympic events used not only to be athletic, they used to include cultural competitions. Let us realise that in fact, sport is cultural. It does not exist in a bubble outside society or politics. The idea that sport and politics don’t connect is worse than disingenuous, worse than stupid. It is wickedly, wilfully wrong. Everyone knows politics interconnects with everything for “politics” is simply the Greek for “to do with the people”.

An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world.

He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it. I know whereof I speak. I have visited Russia, stood up to the political deputy who introduced the first of these laws, in his city of St Petersburg. I looked into the face of the man and, on camera, tried to reason with him, counter him, make him understand what he was doing. All I saw reflected back at me was what Hannah Arendt called, so memorably, “the banality of evil.” A stupid man, but like so many tyrants, one with an instinct of how to exploit a disaffected people by finding scapegoats. Putin may not be quite as oafish and stupid as Deputy Milanov but his instincts are the same. He may claim that the “values” of Russia are not the “values” of the West, but this is absolutely in opposition to Peter the Great’s philosophy, and against the hopes of millions of Russians, those not in the grip of that toxic mix of shaven headed thuggery and bigoted religion, those who are agonised by the rolling back of democracy and the formation of a new autocracy in the motherland that has suffered so much (and whose music, literature and drama, incidentally I love so passionately).

I am gay. I am a Jew. My mother lost over a dozen of her family to Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at seeing history repeat itself.

“All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke. Are you, the men and women of the IOC going to be those “good” who allow evil to triumph?

The Summer Olympics of 2012 were one of the most glorious moments of my life and the life of my country. For there to be a Russian Winter Olympics would stain the movement forever and wipe away any of that glory. The Five Rings would finally be forever smeared, besmirched and ruined in the eyes of the civilised world.

I am begging you to resist the pressures of pragmatism, of money, of the oily cowardice of diplomats and to stand up resolutely and proudly for humanity the world over, as your movement is pledged to do. Wave your Olympic flag with pride as we gay men and women wave our Rainbow flag with pride. Be brave enough to live up to the oaths and protocols of your movement, which I remind you of verbatim below.

Rule 4 Cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace

Rule 6: Act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement

Rule 15 Encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education

I especially appeal to you, Prime Minister, a man for whom i have the utmost respect. As the leader of a party I have for almost all of my life opposed and instinctively disliked, you showed a determined, passionate and clearly honest commitment to LGBT rights and helped pushed gay marriage through both houses of our parliament in the teeth of vehement opposition from so many of your own side. For that I will always admire you, whatever other differences may lie between us. In the end I believe you know when a thing is wrong or right. Please act on that instinct now.

Yours in desperate hope for humanity

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry | August 7th, 2013

Protest this Saturday 10th of August in London on Richmond Terrace, opposite Downing Street, from 1pm to 4pm.
STOP the LGBT violations in Russia NOW !

5 Responses to Stephen Fry: An Open Letter to David Cameron and the IOC

  1. Susan Bradman

    100% in support of Mr Fry,s petition. would be marching if I was in London

    • BFG

      ‘ “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” so wrote Edmund Burke’.

      Exactly. Putin is reacting against evil – practicing, active (as opposed to just having a tendency) homosexuality. He is, in other words, heeding Burke’s admonishment. Therefore he is a good man. Stephen, you can rest easy. ;)

    • bill

      look if one country like to ban any forum of gayness they can do it, as for a punishment of the act of gay/ women slap on the hand be ok, prison time thats a over kill.

      the gay action i think is degrading who do it, as for the jews they live by the letter of law of their forefathers and not some sinful degrading action. can’t force your degrading action on to-another country way of life, if you don’t like it then don’t go there or if you live in said country that’s ban gayness acts then leave it. the law is the law of any country they place there! visit a said country that ban gayness action with in borders said country! then before warn stay out of that country that has ban on type of action with-in a country that are not welcome there! laws are set by the people of a country for a reason they ether welcome it or not! if Russian people who don’t wish to have gayness with in it country! i say then boot them out to a country that welcome gay people into!

      the people of any country can vote to place any laws with in it’s own border, not up to world to tell them they can set law on their own that’s plain wrong

  2. Sally Hawksworth

    Firstly, that’s a powerful piece of pleading, and a very well written letter by Stephen. Secondly, I am fully in sympathy with him and the Secular Europe campaign in their outrage at this stupid and evil Russian law, and their opposition to Putin, who seems to me as cynical, corrupt and brutal a dictator as the unfortunate Russians have suffered all too frequently in their past, though fortunately he seems to be both more intelligent and much saner than Stalin, Hitler and numerous other tyrants, and may not plunge his country and/or other countries therefore into as great a bloodbath as they did.

    However, I’m not convinced that this campaign to relocate the Winter Olympics is the right way to go about things, particularly since I AM convinced that it hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.

    The modern Olympic movement (and of course the ancient Olympic movement to an even greater extent) was tainted from the outset with racism, sexism and classism. And hypocrisy and cheating and corruption and propaganda and political manouevering at local, national and international levels. And why should we be surprised at this, when these things are so prevalent in the world at large? It’s the same humans with the same human nature in the sporting world as in the world at large.

    The Olympic ideals are very praiseworthy, as is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Does any country live up to them? CAN any country? No – though some come closer than others, and I’m thoroughly in favour of having these ideals and promoting them and holding those who countervene them to account where we can. But not by cancelling an already made decision to hold the Games in a country which is not actually and formally at war with other countries. Nor by boycotting a Games held in a country whose politics or human rights record one disapproves of. This was tried before in the 1980s. It didn’t work. It only ruined the careers of an awful lot of sportspeople. And, sadly, this is a fairly unpopular cause. I would estimate the majority of the countries participating in the Olympics have some degree of inequity in their treatment of LBGT people, and possibily the majority of their populations some degree of prejudice, for cultural or religious reasons.

    Hitler may or may not have scored a propaganda victory in his own daywith the Berlin Olympics. Nowadays I suspect what is remembered of them by most people is Jesse Owens’s 4 gold medals and Hitler’s loss of face. (And Leni Riefenstal’s film, which was a magnificent achievement artistically even though she was a Nazi.)

    What we need is not to try to stop the Winter Olympics from happening in Russia but to use the opportunity to do precisely what Putin’s stupid law forbids in Russia – promote the cause of gay rights with as much publicity as we can while the Olympics is on the world stage. As protesters did over China and human rights during the 2008 Olympic torch relay.

    Celebrate, with as much publicity as possible, former Olympic victors, particularly Winter Olympic victors, known to be gay (and indeed other non-Olympic sportspeople, like the tennis players Bill Tilden, Gottfried von Cramm – who was imprisoned by the Nazis – and more recently Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova). If they’re still alive, try to get them to talk about how homophobia has impacted on them. If they’re dead, get their relatives or biographers to do the same.

    Maybe some current gay participants in the Olympics would be prepared, if they won medals, to risk some sort of protest in post -competition interviews, or even medal ceremonies.

    And so on. It’s a golden opportunity. But don’t waste your efforts on trying to get politicians and sporting authorities to fight your battles for you. They won’t, and they probably shouldn’t.

  3. Joanne Poole

    Erudite and beautifully written, as usual.

    I agree 100%

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