The curtain has been brought down on the London 2012 Paralympic Games, marking the end of the greatest summer of sport in Britain. Two months on from the incredible opening of the Olympic Games, we are left with indelible memories and high emotions. New heroes have been taken to our hearts and the billions who watched the sporting action from London have shared so many awe-inspiring moments and enjoyed countless unforgettable experiences.
The support for athletes competing in both the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was tremendous. People came together in the spirit of fair competition to celebrate the power of human commitment and struggle to do their best, regardless of their medal hopes. Across the World, people got behind their teams, cheering them to victory, while military personnel and volunteer games makers ensured that the experience was a smooth for athletes and supporters alike.
After the human rights sham(e) of the Serbian government’s eleventh hour decision to ban Belgrade Pride 2011, there is concern that the country could be on the brink of flouting international conventions again this year. If the authorities do buckle under pressure from agitators and right-wing groups, it could bring the government into conflict with the Council of Europe over the fundamental right of assembly. Serbia’s own Constitutional Court might take issue with it, too.
When the government cited security issues for the last minute cancellation of last year’s event (although nobody has been charged with any associated crime) it was humiliated for being unable to protect people on the streets of its own capital. It was also seen to be riding roughshod over the country’s constitution and received widespread international condemnation for its inability to defend human rights.
Serbians love the water. No matter where they live or how far they travel, Serbians like little more than enjoying life by the waterside. Many head to the coast in Montenegro, Croatia or Greece while, for those in Belgrade, summer in the city is all about having fun by the river.
Day and night, the country’s waterways host bathers, party-goers and people who just want to enjoy life along the river. Novi Sad and Belgrade both host rowing and other watersports, while Belgrade even hosts Serbia’s first blue flag beach at Ada Ciganlija.
Further out of town, people head to rivers and lakes to cool off in the hot Serbian summer. In the vast northern region of Vojvodina, packing up the barbecue and heading to wooded areas alongside the network of lakes and rivers that stretch out across its flat landscape is a popular evening or weekend pastime, as I experienced on a recent visit to the area.
Friday was not a good day for Russian civil society. On just one day, the country’s increasingly conservative agenda and authoritarian forces orchestrated three excessive incursions on civil rights, equality and freedom of expression.
The most prominent among these worrying incidents was the harsh sentence handed down in the show trial against Russian punk band Pussy Riot. The weight of the system was brought down on the heads of three young Russian women after they dared to protest against Putin’s escalating influence over state, religion and the legislature.
On the same day, Madonna was hit with a multi-million pound law suit for ‘morally damaging’ the sensitive people of St Petersburg, and a Moscow court upheld a ban on Gay Pride Parades in the city… for the next one hundred years.