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Sochi in the Russian Imagination

Dreaming of Health and Greatness, From Stalin to Putin

Sergei Kirov and Joseph Stalin in Sochi, 1934. Wikimedia Commons

Russia is back, or at least that is what you were supposed to think while watching the 2014 Sochi Olympics over the past two weeks. To prove it, Russia spent 51 billion dollars on the first-ever Winter Olympics staged in a subtropical climate zone and took great pains to showcase Russian culture, diversity, wealth, talent, and swagger during nonstop coverage of the Olympic mega-event. Although the setting might have seemed odd, it is no accident that the Black Sea resort town of Sochi was chosen to host such an extravagant celebration of Russia’s return as a world power.

For Russia, Sochi symbolizes the achievements of Soviet power that wrenched a backward society out of poverty through socialism, industrialization, and authoritarian rule. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin happened to like to vacation there, and beginning in 1933, okayed massive state investments in medical facilities, cultural palaces, and infrastructure to transform the city from a

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