This weekend, Russian cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov (25) posted a photo of himself in a Soviet Union suit. This is interpreted by many as real support for Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.
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– He took a clear position. It’s kind of a declaration of war on his part. He clearly showed support for the war. He didn’t give up, Russian expert and writer Erika Fatland told VG about the plot of Bolshunov, who is Russia’s best cross-country skier.
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At about the same time, Bolshunov posted photos and videos on Instagram wearing costumes from the Soviet Union. This made the president of the Norwegian Sports Confederation react strongly.
– It is best not to mention this strange plot of Bolshunov. In this way to avoid this unpleasant act of getting the attention it deserves and being misused for Russian propaganda purposes, Berit Kjøll wrote in a text message to VG.
Erik Røste is president of the Norwegian Ski Association. He wrote the following to VG:
– I think it’s very inappropriate. What is happening now in Ukraine and against the Ukrainian people, we must all separate ourselves strongly.
Bolshunov himself had the opportunity to distance himself from Russia’s war against Ukraine when he arrived in Norway to ski on February 28, but the 25-year-old later declined to speak to Norwegian media. During last month’s Olympics, he was promoted to captain of Putin’s army as a reward for his sporting achievements.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Ski Federation decided, among other things, to ban Bolshunov and other Russian athletes from participating in competitions.
Thus they had to leave Norway without taking part in the exercises at Drammen and Holmenkollen:
As a social anthropologist, Erika Fatland is an expert in obtaining information about people’s lifestyles and cultural expressions. He is described as one of the best non-fiction writers of our time, having described reality in several countries through various critically acclaimed books.
In 2018, Fatland published the literary work «Grensen. A trip around Russia”, after spending 259 days in 14 different countries, all bordering the regime of Vladimir Putin.
One of the countries where Fatland lives is Ukraine. In 2016, two years had passed since the Russian offensive on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, while what it described as pro-Russian rebels had established themselves in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.
When Fatland visited Donetsk, he spoke with a history professor who believed that the Ukrainians were eager to be liberated from Russia. The same opinion that cross-country skier Bolshunov holds, according to Fatland.
– What is difficult for us to understand is the information bubble inhabited by so many Russians. What Putin has been meticulous about, since he came to power more than 20 years ago, but especially in recent years, is to take full control of the media. Watching Russian TV is an “out of the body” experience, according to Fatland.
– Most of the Russian population is brainwashed by this massive propaganda. But it’s really hard to reason with them because they’re so deep inside this bubble that they believe that we and our media are brainwashed and naive and don’t see what the world really looks like.
Fatland believes that cross-country skier Bolshunov draws clear parallels with the Cold War and a number of countries boycotting the Soviet Union during the 1980 Olympics. Norway also boycotted the championship as a result of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the previous year.
Fatland has been to Russia several times. In 2014, he published the book “Soviet Union”, while in this weekend’s column “The Most Dangerous Neighbors in the World” he talks about how Norway is the only one of 14 neighboring countries that has not been invaded by Russia.
– This has been seen throughout history: All the territories that were once under Russia are in danger of ending up under Russia again. What Putin clearly does not tolerate is the development of democracy and what he sees as “Western thinking” in what he considers Russia’s backyard.
At the same time, Fatland hopes Putin’s propaganda will show.
– There is always news about people in Ukraine who can’t make relatives in Russia understand that a real war is going on. But what may happen this time around, given that so many Russians have friends and relatives in Ukraine, is that more and more people will stop believing Putin’s propaganda. After all, it’s easier to trust relatives or friends – than TV news. And the coffins who returned from the war in Ukraine spoke a clear language.
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