German president joachim gauck will not travel to the winter olympics in sochi, russia, in february. This was announced by the federal office of the president of the government in moscow. A spokeswoman for the federal president confirmed a report in the "spiegel" newspaper on sunday. Gauck had repeatedly called for more rule of law and freedom of the media in russia in the past. The country is under international criticism for human rights violations and a harsh anti-homosexual law.
Whether and how chancellor angela merkel (CDU) will attend the sporting event was initially left open. "Who will be in sochi on the part of the federal government will be decided after the government has been formed," a government spokeswoman said in berlin this evening. This question will be on the agenda at a later date.
The cancellation caused discussion in german sports: it had nothing to do with a boycott, said the general director of the german olympic sports confederation (DOSB), michael vesper, to the dpa news agency. "If you don’t go, you don’t boycott something". It is certainly not directed against the german team."
In russia, the cancellation met with disapproval: "german president gauck never once criticized the killing of children and women in pakistan and afghanistan. But he condemns russia so strongly that he doesn’t even want to travel to sochi," wrote the head of the foreign affairs committee in the russian parliament, alexei pushkov, on twitter.
Gauck visited the 2012 summer olympics and the paralympics in london and also wants to welcome the german sochi participants on 24 march. February received on their return to munich. Gauck’s spokeswoman pointed out that there was no fixed rule that federal presidents travel to winter games. Horst kohler was also not in vancouver, canada, in 2010. Gauck has not paid an official visit to russia since taking office in march 2012. His relationship with russia is considered strained, gauck’s father was interned in a siberian labor camp for several years.
Human rights commissioner markus loning called the president’s decision "a wonderful gesture of support for all russian citizens who stand up for freedom of expression, democracy and civil rights. "The winter games in sochi were planned as a festival of the czars," the federal government’s commissioner told dpa. However, this calculation no longer works. "The world public does not let itself be changed by such stagings over the fact that russia violates the human rights in other places massively."
Bundestag vice president claudia roth (grune) emphasized in the "rheinische post" (monday): "this is a strong stance on the part of the federal president and an encouraging signal". The previous coordinator for german-russian relations, vice faction leader of the CDU/CSU andreas schockenhoff, was more reserved: "this is a personal decision by federal president joachim gauck, which deserves respect," he told dpa.
Gauck’s absence could intensify global debate over sochi games. Activists had called for a boycott. These demands had been rejected by U.S. President barack obama and british prime minister david cameron. The "spiegel" had reported in august, citing the chancellor’s office, that merkel also rejects a boycott.