Russia steps away from its Soviet past one cuddly Olympic mascot at a time

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: It's not just Sochi; all across Russia, there's a lot of buzz about these Winter Olympics, just two weeks away now. The good kind of buzz, despite terror threats and last month's bombings in Volgograd. That's according to Natalia Antonova, the acting editor in chief of the Moscow News. Natalia Antonova: Winter sports are incredibly big in Russia, so it's exciting. And also Russia hasn't hosted since 1980, so now people feel it's about time. Werman: Right. I mean, the 1980 games, that was a huge deal for the former Soviet Union. Are people seeing Sochi as a kind of rebirth for the games, post-Soviet Union? Antonova: Well, I think yes and no. I think it's obviously--to them, it's seen as a symbol of kind of the new modern Russia, and there's lots of parallels. One of the mascots is kind of weirdly reminiscent of the old famous Olympic bears that Moscow had. And you know, there's some nostalgia attached to it, but I think overall, there's this sense that this is kind of a symbol of what Russia has become since the Soviet Union disintegrated. Werman: Is it kind of pride about strutting the modern Russia out on the world stage? Antonova: There's definitely lots of pride. I mean, obviously there's plenty of critics of the games, but the majority of the population is still really excited about it. And I think that even a lot of the critics, when the games actually start, they're going to be watching them and... You know, it's sports, it's exciting, it's beautiful, people are gonna respond to it. Werman: How much is the security situation a distraction for Russians? Because some parents of athletes, here in the US, are staying home for safety reasons. How do the Russians feel? Antonova: Well, you know, it's interesting. Obviously, after the Volgograd bombings, there's a heightened sense of danger. But then again, Russia is one of those countries that has been dealing with terrorism consistently for so many years now. Obviously there's concern, but there's also this notion of "life needs to go on, we have to go on. Like if we don't go on, well, then these guys win." So I think the majority, once again, is just focusing on the more positive aspects of these games. Werman: What about the Russian media? Is there a particular bent they're taking? Antonova: You know, most of the media is, once again, being really excited and proud, I think it's a prestige thing for everyone. To be able to show these games, to be able to, like, talk to the athletes, to cover this historic event. So it's not as if there's necessarily a ban on discussing the security situation, I know people are discussing it, but that's not the biggest topic right now. Werman: And I gotta say, the gay issue as well. It almost feels like it's Russia versus the world on this one, and yet nobody's boycotting these Olympics. What do Russians have to say about gay politics coming into these games? Antonova: I haven't seen any kind of hatred towards many possibly openly gay athletes being there. I think the general sense is that "these are the games, you're supposed to be welcoming. We're hosts." There's annoyance with how big this issue has gotten, but the issue got big because of very obvious reasons; because of the laws that were being passed. Werman: Natalia Antonova, acting editor in chief of the Moscow News. Thank you. Antonova: Thank you.