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MOSCOW, September 30 (Alexey Eremenko, RIA Novosti) – A Dutchman who was awarded the veritable Oscar of photojournalism for a compilation juxtaposing the construction of the most expensive Olympics with poverty and insurgency in the neighboring region said Monday that he been denied a Russian visa ahead of an exhibition in Moscow.
Rob Hornstra, whose collaborative “Sochi Project” won last year’s World Press Photo prize, told RIA Novosti that he was denied a visa in July and that, ever since, Dutch officials had been unsuccessfully trying to get Russian diplomats to explain why.
“It would be most interesting to know why they did this,” Hornstra, 38, said by telephone. He said the rejection might have been related to his coverage of Russia’s North Caucasus, a volatile and impoverished region where state forces battle insurgents almost daily.
The Russian Foreign Ministry did not return a faxed request for comment in time for publication. Nobody could be reached by phone at the Russian consulate in the Netherlands on Monday afternoon.
Hornstra’s “The Sochi Project,” which combines text, photos and video footage, is slated to be exhibited at Moscow’s Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art in mid-October as part of the Dutch-Russian year of cultural exchange, co-sponsored by the Russian government.
Hornstra’s partner on the project, writer Arnold van Bruggen, currently has a visa application pending. The two spent four years repeatedly visiting Sochi and the surrounding area, meticulously documenting the life of the mountainous Black Sea coast that will host the Winter Games from February 7 to 24.
“Up in the mountains of the Caucasus there’s not only snow but an ongoing war against separatist rebels,” says a video for the project. “On the other side of the mountains lies Russia’s poorest region.”
The Sochi Olympics have been seen as President Vladimir Putin’s pet project, and “The Sochi Project” video juxtaposes criticism of Russia’s political climate with Putin graciously accepting the selection of Sochi as Russia’s first Winter Olympic venue.
The Sochi Olympics have seen much domestic hype, including as a regional development opportunity. However, the organizers have also faced harsh criticism for alleged rights abuse of workers and environmental damage, as well as the record-breaking price tag of $50 billion.
Hornstra’s visa rejection came three months after he and Van Bruggen published a book about a woman from the North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia whose husband went missing, allegedly as a victim of an extrajudicial killing by Russian state forces, according to “The Sochi Project” Facebook page.
The organizers of the Dutch-Russian year of cultural exchange could not immediately comment about the visa rejection. Winzavod’s press service refused any comment, including on whether the exhibit would proceed with Hornstra barred from Russia.
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The main event of the third day of the 11th meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi was the closing session with President Vladimir Putin. The atmosphere was calm and open, despite the current political tensions and the Russia-West confrontation. The Russian president said that it corresponded to the spirit of the Valdai Club.