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Performers wave Russian flags near the Sochi 2014 countdown clock just outside the Kremlin in Moscow in February 2013, a year ahead of the Games.
Why are the Sochi Winter Olympics organizers and American comedian Stephen Colbert the greatest pollsters?

Because they both know how to ask leading questions.

During George W. Bush's presidency, Colbert was fond of asking guests, including Democratic congressmen, whether Bush was "a great president or the greatest president."

WATCH: Stephen Colbert quizzes his guests on Bush.


An online poll on the official Sochi Olympics website appears to leave just as little wiggle room for respondents (H/T to Kirit Radia).

"Are you looking forward to the Olympic games?" it asks.

The options:

"Yes, I've been waiting since the victory in Guatemala! I can't believe there is so little time left!" (The International Olympic Committee chose Sochi as the site of the 2014 games in 2007 in Guatemala City.)

"I'm really looking forward to them! The Games are a great event, not only for our country, but for the whole world!"

"I'm looking forward to them, because I enjoy sport and follow every Olympics."

"I'm looking forward to them, because I hope for great results from our athletes!"

"Other"


Despite the optimism of the Olympics pollster, the Sochi games have had their share of controversy: Preparations for the two-week sporting event are said to have cost some $51 billion -- 10 times as much as any previous Winter Games; rights groups have complained of environmental and human rights abuses; terrorism fears prompted by two recent attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd have prompted an unprecedented security clampdown; and an antigay law passed in Russia last year has caused some activists to call for an Olympic boycott.

But perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has taken to the optimism of the organizers. He recently walked back a decree banning "gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets" before or during the Olympic Games, promising to set up special "protest zones" in Sochi.

-- Glenn Kates
A controversial 2014 calendar devoted to Josef Stalin published by the Russian Orthodox Church has sparked a flurry of outraged comments.
The Russian Orthodox Church is under fire for publishing a calendar devoted to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Pictures from the 2014 calendar have been making the rounds on the Internet, sparking a barrage of criticism and prompting a lively discussion on the Moscow Patriarchate's troubled ties with Stalin.

The calendar, published by the printing house of the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow, presents photos and biographical information documenting Stalin's evolution from a young seminary student in his native Georgia to the gray-haired Soviet leader.

The publishing house advertises the calendar on its website as a bestseller and "an excellent gift for veterans and history buffs."

It sells for 200 rubles ($6) online and in bookshops.

Mikhail Babkin, a noted Russian historian specialized in Russian Orthodox Church studies, fuelled the controversy on January 8 by posting photos on LiveJournal.

"The link between the Moscow Patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church and Stalin," he wrote, "remains close to sacred."

His post has sparked a flurry of outraged comments.

"The Russian Orthodox Church has long turned into a business structure and churches into shops offering religious services," wrote one reader. "Worshippers are only considered to be sources of wealth."

"It's shameful, a disgrace and an insult against all those who died" under Stalin's rule, another one said.

Stalin had a complex relationship with the Orthodox Church.

He attended an Orthodox seminary in his youth but was expelled for reasons that remain unclear.

As Soviet leader, he oversaw a vast campaign of persecution against the Russian Orthodox Church that saw countless churches being destroyed.

After World War II broke out, however, Stalin softened his stance and allowed the Church to operate, albeit under close state scrutiny.

-- Claire Bigg

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About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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