TIME movies

Before Noah: Myths of the Flood Are Far Older Than the Bible

Russell Crowe in Noah
Niko Tavernise—Paramount Pictures/AP

While the Hollywood blockbuster has been a hit, it has also faced opposition from Christians and Muslims angry with its supposed misrepresentation of their scriptures. But tales of great floods did not begin with the Bible

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah dominated the U.S. box office on its opening weekend and won critical acclaim, but not without controversy. The film, based on the biblical story in Genesis of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, arrived amid a deluge of outrage from religious groups. Some Christians fumed at the film’s straying from biblical Scripture. Meanwhile, a host of Muslim-majority countries banned Noah from screening in theaters because representations of Noah, a prophet of God in the Koran, are considered blasphemous. Such images “provoke the feelings of believers and are forbidden in Islam and a clear violation of Islamic law,” read a fatwa issued by Cairo’s al-Azhar University, one of the foremost institutions of Sunni Islam. Egypt has not banned the film, but Indonesia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have. “It is important to respect these religions and not show the film,” lectured the main censors of the UAE.

Aronofsky, an atheist, has no interest in defending his film’s scriptural authenticity. Indeed, the director has described Noah as “the least biblical film ever made” and thinks of its chief protagonist in secular terms as the world’s “first environmentalist.” Noah is as much a parable for the modern threat of climate change as it is an Old Testament morality play.

But there’s another reason why the angry religious crowd ought to check their outrage. The story of Noah may be part of the Abrahamic canon, but the legend of the Great Flood almost certainly has prebiblical origins, rooted in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh dates back nearly 5,000 years and is thought to be perhaps the oldest written tale on the planet. In it, there is an account of the great sage Utnapishtim, who is warned of an imminent flood to be unleashed by wrathful gods. He builds a vast circular-shaped boat, reinforced with tar and pitch, that carries his relatives, grains and animals. After enduring days of storms, Utnapishtim, like Noah in Genesis, releases a bird in search of dry land.

Various archaeologists suggest there was a historical deluge between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago that hit lands ranging from the Black Sea to what many call the cradle of civilization, the flood plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The translation of ancient cuneiform tablets in the 19th century confirmed the Mesopotamian flood myth as an antecedent of the Noah story in the Bible. In an interview with the London Telegraph, Irving Finkel, a curator at the British Museum and author of the recent book The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood, described one way the tradition may have emerged:

There must have been a heritage memory of the destructive power of flood water, based on various terrible floods. And the people who survived would have been people in boats. You can imagine someone sunbathing in a canoe, half asleep, and waking up however long later and they’re in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and that’s the beginning of the flood story.

Yet tales of the Flood spring from many sources. Myriad ancient cultures have their own legends of watery cataclysm and salvation. According to Vedic lore, a fish tells the mythic Indian king Manu of a flood that will wipe out humanity; Manu then builds a ship to withstand the epic rains and is later led to a mountaintop by the same fish. An Aztec story sees a devout couple hide in the hollow of a vast tree with two ears of corn as divine storms drown the wicked of the land. Creation myths from Egypt to Scandinavia involve tidal floods of all sorts of substances — including the blood of deities — purging and remaking the earth.

Flood myths are so universal that the Hungarian psychoanalyst Geza Roheim thought their origins were physiological, not historical — hypothesizing that dreams of the Flood came when humans were asleep with full bladders. The religious purists now upset with Hollywood probably don’t want to hear that it’s really just all about drinking too much water before bedtime.

TIME Crimea

It’s Not Just Putin: Russia’s Obsession With Crimea Is Centuries-Old

President Vladimir Putin delivers his address on the Crimean referendum on reunification with Russia in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin delivers his address on the Crimean referendum on reunification with Russia in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, on March 18, 2014. Sergei Ilnitsky—EPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin's power play draws on Crimea's almost sacred place in the Russian imagination as the annexation of Ukraine's contentious peninsula continues

The opening ceremony at the Sochi Winter Olympics included a cinematic montage of Russian history. Its first scene depicted a group of bearded Greeks on an oared galley, rowing through dark waters. They come ashore by an empty expanse of land and triumphantly establish their settlement: this, the viewer is supposed to understand, is the founding moment of Russian civilization.

Where was this hallowed ground? Crimea—the Black Sea peninsula in the eye of a geopolitical storm right now.

Its unilateral secession from Ukraine after a Sunday referendum and de facto annexation by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday drew the ire of Europe and the U.S. as well as the revolutionary government in Kiev, which Moscow refuses to recognize and which looked on impotently as Russian troops fanned out across the peninsula. Tensions are rising. Ukrainian officials reported the death of one of their soldiers posted in Crimea in a clash with Russian forces, while rumors of a possible Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine grow louder. Struggling for options to dial back Russia’s territory grab, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned that the “nationalistic fervor” on display echoed the heated, dangerous mood in Europe before the start of World War II.

But Moscow’s interest in Crimea dates well beyond that, no matter what historical analogy pundits or politicos choose to explain Putin’s power play in Ukraine. The first Russian potentate to convert to Christianity did so, according to lore, more than a thousand years ago with the aid of a Byzantine Orthodox priest in the former Greek colony of Khersonesos, near the modern Crimean port of Sevastopol. In a speech delivered Tuesday morning to justify the current incursion, Putin reached back and invoked this narrative. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride,” said the Russian President. “This is the location of ancient [Khersonesos], where Prince Vladimir was baptized in [988 AD]. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values” of all Russians.

Putin is hardly the first Russian leader to cast Crimea—for centuries home to a hodgepodge of Muslim Turkic nomads, forgotten Jewish sects, and Greek and Italian merchants, to name only a few of its myriad inhabitants—as a sacred site of Russian Orthodox culture. When the Tsarina Catherine the Great annexed the peninsula in 1783, she proclaimed it an eternal part of Russia. Her imperial courtiers then adopted the Greek name for Crimea—Taurica—instead of the Turkic Krim (or Crimea) used by the region’s native Muslim Tatars (for whom the misery was just about to begin). Russian supremacy over the Black Sea, as far as Catherine was concerned, could restore the glory of the fallen Byzantine Empire, lost to the Muslim Ottomans. On a famous tour of the empire’s conquered Black Sea territories, writes the historian Orlando Figes, the empress passed beneath archways that were inscribed with the phrase “The Road to Byzantium.”

Russian imperial hubris would in part provoke the bloody Crimean War of the mid-19th century: a bumbling conflagration of Europe’s Great Powers that saw somewhere between half a million to a million people die. It may have spawned the age of war photography, but it also led to more myth-making. The Russians endured a grinding, year-long siege at Sevastopol that, despite their heroics, resulted in the eventual Russian surrender; nearly a century later, Sevastopol’s Soviet defenders were almost wiped out in a doomed bid to repel the encircling Nazis. All this provides chords for Putin’s violin: “Where national memories are concerned,” said Ernest Renan, the foremost 19th century theorist of European nationhood, “griefs are of more value than triumphs.”

Now, griefs—or, more accurately, grievances—are being turned into triumphs. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told Russian media that the annexation of Crimea, which after decades of resettlement and the slaughter and forced exile of many Tatars had become majority Russian, would redress a Soviet-era “mistake” of attaching the peninsula politically to the Ukrainian republic. Putin, in his Tuesday speech, lamented how the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. transformed tens of millions of Russians into minorities living in new states to which they didn’t necessarily want to belong. Putin then fired his rhetorical cannon: “It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realized that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered.”

As Crimean politicians journey to Moscow to now kiss the ring, it remains to be seen where Russia’s resurrected ambitions may end. Putin has provided the historical canvas. But, unlike the montage at Sochi, what’s next won’t be fun and games.

TIME movies

Zack Snyder and the West Should Stop Killing Ancient Persians

A scene from 300: Rise of an Empire.
A scene from 300: Rise of an Empire. Warner Bros.

The story of '300: Rise of an Empire' comes from a graphic novel, but it's based on a travesty of history that has long existed in the Western imagination

Shortly after the 2007 release of 300—Zack Snyder’s computerized gorefest about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae—the Iranians issued an angry response. Then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not take kindly to the film’s garish depiction of hordes of feral Persians, swarming and dying around the famous band of Spartans whose last stand 2,500 years ago briefly checked the Persian Empire’s advance into mainland Greece. The film was “an insult to Iran,” said one of Ahmadinejad’s spokesman; it was “part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture,” said another.

The current, more diplomatic Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has yet to react to the movie’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, which made $45 million on its first weekend in U.S. cinemas. But he surely won’t be pleased. Like its predecessor, the new 300 presents a spurious clash of civilizations. The muscled, taciturn Greeks—this time fighting on sea—carry on flexing their freedom-loving biceps, hacking and slashing their way through faceless mobs of easterners. The Persians remain the incarnation of every Orientalist stereotype imaginable: decadent, oversexed, craven, weak, spineless. They are also incapable of winning a battle against the Greeks without the help of a Greek traitor: in the new film it’s Artemisia, a woman consumed by a crazed desire for power and destruction. “My heart is Persian,” she says in a viperous voice.

A quick turn to the source material—specifically, The Histories by Herodotus, the most famous Greek chronicler of the Persian wars—shows how ridiculous some of this is. Far from being a lone, blood-thirsty warmonger, Artemisia was one of countless Greeks serving in the Persian armies and a figure of considerable wisdom. According to Herodotus, she cautions the Persian Emperor Xerxes against fighting the disastrous naval battle at Salamis, which, in the film, is an engagement she pursues with a furious mania. The burly Themistokles, the new 300‘s jacked Athenian protagonist, is made out to be a selfless champion of Western liberty; according to ancient Greek accounts, though, he later defects to the Persians and joins Xerxes’s son.

The larger cultural picture painted by this new 300 is not any more edifying—it sets a tyrannical, violent East against a folksy, democratic West. At various moments in the film, the narrator reminds the viewer with mind-numbing seriousness that the Persians “fear” or “mock” or even “are annoyed by” Greece’s fledgling democracy. To hammer home the crude, ahistorical message, the Persians win their only victory in the film when a suicide bomber is able to destroy a number of Greek ships.

It would be nice to chalk off this atrocity, as many have, to the silly imagination of Snyder, the film’s producer and co-writer, and Frank Miller, the graphic novelist whose blood-drenched books form the immediate basis for the movies. In no other chronicle of antiquity is Xerxes a hairless, bejeweled creature of camp fetish. To be sure, the film’s creators know this isn’t a story based on facts: it takes place in a “fictionalized, mythological world,” says Snyder in notes distributed to reporters at an advance press screening last week.

But Snyder’s bludgeoning Hollywood franchise is hardly alone in its fictions. A tradition of Western myth-making gained traction in the 19th century that insisted these battles between Greek city-states and the Persian Empire were a showdown over the fate of Western civilization itself. Preeminent historians of the time believed that Xerxes’ defeat helped preserve supposedly Greek attributes of free-thought and reason in the face of Eastern backwardness and mysticism. It’s a dubious view that some conservative scholars in the West continue to propagate to this day. The far-right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party in Greece holds ceremonies at Thermopylae, as TIME reported in 2012, chanting “Greece belongs to Greeks” before a bronze statue of the slain Spartan king Leonidas.

300: Rise of an Empire shamelessly indulges this demonization of the Persian—of the alien, dangerous “Other.” That’s far removed from the way many of the ancient Greeks saw their world at the time. The Persians by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, who actually fought at the Battle of Salamis, imagines the scene in the Persian capital in the wake of the empire’s disastrous defeat. There is weeping, lamentation and a cautionary tale about hubris and imperial overreach. It’s a lesson not just meant for Persians. Flush with glory, Aeschylus’s Athens is about to enter a long, grinding war against other Greek states, especially Sparta, that will bring decades of devastation to the Greek world. That’s a story I challenge Snyder and Miller to tell.

TIME Venezuela

3 Reasons Venezuela’s Protesters Won’t Win

Protesters raise their hands in a sign of peace after the Bolivarian National Guard cut the march in two parts, not allowing part of the march to continue, Caracas, March 4, 2013.
Protesters raise their hands in a sign of peace after the Bolivarian National Guard cut the march in two parts, not allowing part of the march to continue, Caracas, March 4, 2013. Eduardo Leal—Polaris

A day after Venezuela commemorated the one-year death anniversary of its charismatic and demagogic former President Hugo Chavez, the clashes and protests that have roiled the country for weeks showed no sign of abating. At least two people died Thursday in Caracas during a confrontation between demonstrators barricading a street and paramilitary and National Guard forces attempting to disperse them. That brings the death toll to 20 in less than a month of unrest.

What began as student protests animated by the disastrous state of the country’s economy—wracked, as it is, by record inflation and food and goods shortages—has morphed into perhaps the greatest challenge facing the regime that Chavez built, which in recent years has been mired in allegations of corruption and incompetence. The opposition accuses Chavez’s handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro, of brutally cracking down on dissent and stifling freedom of speech. Maduro has rounded angrily on his domestic opponents as well as critics overseas, most recently breaking diplomatic ties with nearby Panama. But despite the upheaval, those seeking the collapse of the Chavista state are likely to be disappointed. Here’s why:

Venezuela is not Ukraine. Ever since the country’s unrest began, it has been obscured from global attention by the crisis in Ukraine. The standoff in Kiev, followed by the political chaos that prompted Russia’s power play in the Crimea, is a narrative more urgent to outside observers, staged on a Cold War landscape familiar to the West. Venezuela, in comparison, seems a Caribbean pantomime. A leftist leader fumes against mythical fascist plots and yanqui imperialism; his enemies mutter darkly about the reach of Cuban agents. But Maduro does not straddle as precarious a geopolitical faultline as Ukraine’s now ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. To be sure, the events have many in the region concerned, not least as Venezuela sits atop some of the world’s largest oil reserves. But Maduro retains considerable popular support among a whole section of society uplifted, or at least persuaded, by Chavez’s socialist populism. And while he appears to have unleashed both government forces and paramilitary groups—motorcycle gangs known as colectivos—to vicious effect on the demonstrations, even those who are angry and galvanized among the protesters seem doubtful of winning real, revolutionary gains.

The opposition is weak. Despite his best efforts to publicly bind himself to Chavez’s legacy, Maduro clearly lacks his predecessor’s force of personality. Yet opposition politicians have been unable to capitalize on the former bus driver’s political frailties. Some seem stigmatized by their connections to the country’s traditional elite—whose corruption and abuse of power in earlier decades gave rise to Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution. U.S.-educated Leopoldo Lopez, the now jailed opposition leader who rose to the fore during the protests, made a valiant effort to whip up popular support. But his uncompromising anti-government stance appears to have irked the other prominent opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in elections last year and was slowly, carefully broadening his base in the hope of electoral success down the road. The Chavista camp has too strong a hold on the organs of the state to be toppled by the protests, at least in their present form. And, as TIME contributor Girish Gupta reported last month, many of those massing at the barricades have little love for the opposition either.

If Maduro falls, it’ll likely be at the hands of a Chavista rival. Indeed, perhaps the real political story underlying Maduro’s woeful year in power is that of the machinations of the man who almost won his post—Diosdado Cabello, Chavez’s other favored lieutenant. Cabello now helms Venezuela’s main legislature and is seen as something of a master manipulator behind the scenes, a bullying schemer deeply invested in the survival of the Chavista state and its possession of vast oil reserves. But in recent weeks, there are signs that the tacit struggle between him and Maduro has become “more pronounced,” writes Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a columnist for the Venezuelan daily El Universal. As Maduro’s reputation plummeted, Cabello started to play a more public, outsized role—launching even his own weekly TV show in the style of Chavez. He is believed to command the backing of much of the army as well as wealthy pro-government businessmen. Even if he didn’t replace Maduro, suggests Lansberg-Rodriguez in the Atlantic, he would be Venezuela’s kingmaker: “If Maduro falls, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Cabello does not play an integral role in deciding who and what succeeds him.” That’s a prospect unlikely to excite the anguished crowds now braving tear gas and birdshot on Venezuela’s streets.

TIME Switzerland

This Picture Shows What’s Wrong With Switzerland’s Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

Without multiculturalism, the Swiss would not be at the World Cup

By the smallest of margins, Swiss voters passed a controversial anti-immigration law by referendum on Sunday, which returns strict quotas on migration from the European Union in spite of existing trade and labor agreements with Brussels. The verdict has been met with dismay by the Swiss government and business leaders, as well as E.U. officials who may now seek reciprocal, punitive measures that affect the importation of Swiss goods into the European market. “It means that Switzerland wants to withdraw into itself,” lamented French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Migrants make up roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s population and increasing fears over overcrowding and cultural dilution have led right-wing groups to push back using the country’s unique system of direct democracy. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has spearheaded earlier initiatives to ban burqas and the construction of minarets in the country; it championed the yes vote in this referendum. The SVP’s thinly veiled racial prejudice has raised eyebrows before, but its current success may embolden other ideologically similar Euroskeptic parties across the continent.

Still, many are not impressed. Not long after news of the referendum’s verdict emerged, a satirical German news site released this image in a blog post, which soon spread across social media. It shows what the highly regarded Swiss national soccer team would look like were it unable to select players from immigrant backgrounds.

The Swiss team qualified first in its group for the 2014 World Cup and ranked, surprisingly, as one of the top seeds going into the tournament. Its triumphant form is in large part due to a new generation of young, immigrant talent — including the ethnically Turkish midfield general Gökhan Inler and Xherdan Shaqiri, a budding superstar of Albanian descent born in the former Yugoslavia. The dynamic core of Swiss football is a direct product of outward-looking policies that accepted migrants and embraced the refugees of the 1990s Balkan wars. A thin majority of the country may resent the inroads made by traditionally non-Swiss groups in their society, but you’ll find few complaining when Shaqiri, Inler et al line up in their nation’s colors.

MORE: As Europe Reels, Switzerland Builds New Barriers Against Immigrants

TIME olympics

RECAP: Sochi’s Opening Ceremony

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Opening Ceremony
Performers with balloons representing St. Basil's cathedral. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Three-hour opening ceremony ended with the lighting of the cauldron

The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics concluded in Sochi, Russia with a vivid display of fireworks and two legendary Russian ex-Olympians lighting the cauldron. The spectacle may not remove the problems that clouded the build-up to the tournament: political controversies, terrorism fears and concerns over the venue’s preparedness remain. The Russians so far have responded with glum defiance; others still question the morality of holding the Games at this Black Sea resort. But that all now takes a backseat as the Games begin. Below is TIME’s live coverage of the glittering event.


1:55 p.m. | The cauldron at Sochi has been lit.

Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

Darron Cummings / AP

The Olympic Cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7.


1:54 p.m. | The other ex-Olympian who lit the flame was Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary goaltender for the Soviet Union who is considered perhaps the best ever to play his position. He never played in the NHL, but did have an unfortunate turn in the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game.


1:52 p.m.


1:51 p.m.


1:42 p.m.

Actors perform "Swan Lake" during the opening ceremony.

David J. Phillip / AP

Actors perform “Swan Lake” during the opening ceremony.


1:37 p.m.


1:29 p.m. | Russian President Vladimir Putin: briefly opens the Winter Olympics: “I pronounce these Games open.”


1:26 p.m. | Yep, that’s Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, sleeping during the Opening Ceremony:


1:17 p.m.

Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2014.


1:14 p.m.

TIME’s correspondent in Sochi sums up the historical gloss we just watched at the Opening Ceremony:


1:12 p.m.

Opening Ceremony

HOW HWEE YOUNG / EPA

Lubov, the so-called ‘Hero Girl,’ is lifted up on strings at the start of the Opening Ceremony.

Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

Mark Humphrey / AP

Artists perform during the opening ceremony.


1:08 p.m.


1:06 p.m.


1:02 p.m.


12:59 p.m.


12:58 p.m.

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Jim Young / Reuters

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony.


12:57 p.m.


12:51 p.m.


12:50 p.m. | Reports have surfaced that a flight from Ukraine bound for Istanbul was grounded and searched by Turkish security forces after a passenger claimed a bomb was aboard the aircraft. The alleged bomber reportedly tried to divert the flight to Sochi.


12:47 p.m.


12:43 p.m. | So far in Sochi’s grand-narration of Russian history, we’ve seen flying horses, ancient Greeks and Vikings. But no mention yet of the Circassians— the people indigenous to Sochi forced into exile in the 19th century. — Ishaan Tharoor

Long before the punk-rock group Pussy Riot or global gay-rights activists sought a boycott of the Olympics, a forgotten community clamored loudly against the events in Sochi. The Circassians, whose history of dispossession and exile Umarov opportunistically invoked, are a scattered, largely Muslim people native to the Caucasus, now found mostly outside of Russia in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Their original homeland stretches from the eastern rim of the Black Sea — where Sochi sits — to the rugged western highlands of the Caucasus, but few of its indigenous inhabitants remain there.


12:40 p.m.


12:38 p.m.

Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

David J. Phillip / AP

The Olympic mascots are seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2014.


12:34 p.m. | A video montage charting Russia’s origins and epic history just ended. It’s followed by imagery of the symbolic Russian troika, a three horse-drawn chariot:


12:29 p.m.


12:25 p.m.


12:24 p.m. | Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. just played Team Russia into the procession, which may seem like an odd choice: the two found success in the early 2000s with the single ‘All the Things She Said,’ the video of which showed the girls wearing school uniforms and kissing in the rain.


12:23 p.m.


12:22 p.m. | Not so ‘Cool Runnings': The Jamaican bobsled team just marched. They had to raise money on the Internet to make it to Sochi.


12:19 p.m. | An overhead shot of Team America marching in the procession:

Athletes from the United States wave to spectators as they arrive.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Athletes from the United States wave to spectators as they arrive.


12:16 p.m. Team Ukraine is marching in Fischt Stadium. The two countries have seen closer ties since Ukraine’s President snubbed a trade and association deal with the European Union in November to instead pivot toward Russia. Since then, violent clashes have rocked the capital Kiev.


12:14 p.m. | The Boston Bruins’ giant defenseman Zdeno Chara led out Team Slovakia:


12:09 p.m. | The American Olympians have arrived and are marching:

[https://twitter.com/Sochi2014/status/431837563108986880]


12:08 p.m.


12:06 p.m. | Here’s the reason why India’s three contestants marched under the Olympic flag and not that of their nation:

The IOC gave India until February 7 to vote in new, untainted leadership, but India’s Olympic Association scheduled a vote on February 9, two days after the opening ceremony. As a result, India’s athletes will have to parade as “independents” under a generic Olympic flag.


12:02 p.m.


11:59 a.m. | Interesting seating arrangement!


11:56 a.m. | If you’re tracking the politics of the ceremony so far, TIME counts a very robust Sochi cheer for Venezuela, whose government enjoys thumbing its nose at the U.S. Deathly silence when the Georgian team marched. Next door to Sochi, Georgia fought a war with Russia half a decade ago and riles the leadership in Moscow. — Ishaan Tharoor


11:55 a.m.


11:52 a.m.


11:49 a.m. | A member of Austria’s Olympic team fell during the procession

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY-DELEGATION

ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP / Getty Images

A member of Austria’s delegation lies on the ground after falling during the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7, 2014 in Sochi.


11:42 a.m.


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11:40 a.m.

The athletes of each nation are marching out now in procession. TIME’s Simon Shuster describes the scene: “The athletes start marching out onto the stage as a large ring of people in what look to be marshmallow suits clap and do a little two-step dance, swaying back and forth. Not quite the Beijing opening ceremony, but at least they are more or less synchronized. Which is cool.”


11:25 a.m. | Wardrobe malfunction?


11:23 a.m. | We’re being taken on a tour of Russia’s time zones. Does it really need nine of them? We looked at the issue last month:

In 2010, Moscow trimmed the number of zones down to nine (some experts think just four would suffice), but considerable quirks remain: for example, though Russia’s Asiatic port of Vladivostok sits clearly to the west of Japan, the time there is two hours ahead of Tokyo.


11:20 a.m. | Turkish Olympians pose with an official Sochi mascot


11:05 a.m.


11:00 a.m. | The Opening Ceremony has begun.

OLY-2014-OPENING-CEREMONY

Damien Meyer / AFP / Getty Images

A military choir performs during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7.


One hour before the Opening Ceremony began, TIME’s Simon Shuster recounted the lead-up. Follow him on Twitter @shustry for more:

19:15 One hour to go till the opening ceremony. The announcer calls in the hosts into the stadium, Ivan Urgant and Yana Churikova, who ride out, somewhat anticlimactically, in a golf cart. No disco lights or anything.

Churikova goes all in: “Welcome to the center of the universe!” I guess Russia was never really known for modesty.

19:17: They hop back into their golf cart and ride back off stage. A Russian pop song comes on.

19:20 The golf cart’s back, running laps around the stage with a news camera in toe. Apropos of nothing, a recording starts to play of the words “Welcome to Sochi” in about a dozen different languages. (Or so I assume from the languages I understand.)

Just a few minutes in, and Urgant attempts his first joke. “The people of Sochi are really unique,” he says. “They speak all the languages of the world. But only two phrases. “Welcome,” and, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” Falls a bit flat. In the English translation, not clear if he’s talking about panhandlers or check-out clerks at the liquor store.

19:24. So then. Nothing to kill an awkward moment like a Queen song, especially one song with a Russian accent. “We are the Champions!”

19:27 Urgant: “Now we’re going to reveal a secret of the opening ceremony. The hero is a little girl, and her name is Love.”

Wait, it gets cheesier.

“I’m overflowing with love right now,” Urgant blubbers. “Can I hug you?” Yana accepts. “Cameraman, can I hug you?” The cameraman accepts.

Then it gets weird.

You know the kissing game they do at the ballpark with the jumbotron? Right. Usually they only zoom in on couples in the stands. Not in Russia.

“Hugs!” Urgant shouts. “Hug everyone!” The camera pans around to the press box. Confusion descends. “Everyone hug your neighbor! You, lonely cameraman, yes, you! Hug the person next to you!” The poor guy concedes.

19:30 Rough transition back to song. Churikova: “There is a Russian tradition that when you hear this song you have to hug someone.” I grew up in Russia and I’m pretty sure there is no such tradition. Anyway, the song was nice.

19:36. Cue the golf cart. Urgant: “Now let me tell you how everyone can become a part of these Games.” Well, at least everyone in the stadium. Urgant pulls a trick from Opera Winfrey’s hat. Everyone is told to reach under their seat and get a light-emitting medal to put around their necks. They all start flickering the Russian tricolor, which looks pretty awesome. For some reason, Churikova feels the need to add, “Don’t worry [the medals] are absolutely harmless for your health.”

TIME russia

Sochi Olympics Stirs Nationalism of an Exiled People

Circassians protest in Turkey against Olympic Games 2014 in Sochi
Members of a Circassian ethnic group shout slogans during a protest against the Olympics in front of the Russian Consulate in Istanbul, Feb. 2, 2014. Sedat Suna / EPA

Long before Pussy Riot or gay rights activists sought a boycott of the Olympics, a forgotten community native to Sochi's black pebble beaches clamored loudly against the games

Last July, Doku Umarov, a shadowy militant leader operating in Russia’s North Caucasus, urged Muslims through a video message to launch attacks on the Winter Olympics, which begin this week in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The events to be held there, Umarov claimed, constitute “Satanic dancing on the bones of our ancestors.” His dark pronouncements, as well as terror strikes that recently hit a southern Russian city, set the tone: Sochi’s Games have become the most anxiety-ridden and militarized Olympiad in recent memory. If there is any sort of dancing to be done, it will involve quite a few heavy army boots. But what of those ancestors’ bones?

Long before the punk rock group Pussy Riot or global gay rights activists sought a boycott of the Olympics, a forgotten community clamored loudly against the events in Sochi. The Circassians, whose history of dispossession and exile Umarov opportunistically invoked, are a scattered, largely Muslim people native to the Caucasus, now found mostly outside of Russia in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Their original homeland stretches from the eastern rim of the Black Sea – where Sochi sits – to the rugged western highlands of the Caucasus, but few of its indigenous inhabitants remain there.

By the mid-19th century, Tsarist Russia sought to expand its dominion to the south, eyeing the ancestral lands of the Circassians and other realms of the Caucasus, which were earlier under the loose control of a declining Ottoman Empire. In 1864, Russian forces defeated the last resisting armies of the Circassians and carried out “the first modern genocide on European soil,” writes Oliver Bullough, author of Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus, a critically-acclaimed book on the region.

The conquest, by some accounts, led to an ethnic cleansing: during the great expulsion of the Circassians, violent deportations, slaughters of civilians and the onset of famine and disease decimated half of their then 2 million strong population. Russian colonization followed. According to the Financial Times, Sochi’s lavish ski complex at Krasnaya Polyana is “built on the site where most of the Circassians ‘cleansed’ from the surrounding region froze and starved to death—almost exactly 150 years ago—as they awaited deportation.” Those who survived mostly fled to the Ottoman Empire, which itself was soon to collapse. Currently, some two to five million people in Turkey claim Circassian or other Caucasian heritage. Circassian diasporas exist in Jordan, Syria, Israel and even as far afield as New Jersey.

But after more than a century in exile, their hold on the global imagination is thin. That wasn’t always the case: Circassian women, renowned for their beauty, were lusted after by generations of monarchs across the Mediterranean world, while early European Orientalists obsessed over the Circassians’ elegant coats and robes. Still, the exoticism of the past has yielded no clout in the present and some liken the Circassians’ plight to the much-diminished Native Americans of North America.

A Circassian lobby group in Israel wrote a letter to the International Olympic Committee after it awarded the Winter Olympics to Sochi, insisting that “we regard the holding of the Olympic Games on our homeland in the places of mass graves and genocide as an act of vandalism.” The IOC did not even respond to the message. Months of protests by Turkish Circassians outside Russian institutions in Istanbul and elsewhere raised awareness, but achieved little else. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to Sochi on Friday; Russia is a key source of oil and natural gas for Turkey.

In Russia, where some 700,000 Circassians — known as Adyghe — live, their objections have been met by silence and intimidation. Decades of Tsarist and Soviet population policies have seen myriad communities dispersed and relocated, borders redrawn and ethnic homelands erased from the map. The Circassians’ experience is a particularly brutal one, but they are hardly alone. And Russia’s rulers are in no mood to pander. Bullough cites Russian President Vladimir Putin taking a stand on Russian history during a speech in 2007: “It must not be allowed that we are forced to feel a sense of guilt,” he said.

When Putin made his pitch for Sochi, reports the FT, he hailed its rich cultural past, citing the coastal colonies of the ancient Greeks. But, to the ire of Circassians around the world, he made no mention of the people Russia removed from its soil. In recent weeks, Circassian activists and members of civil society who may have voiced their disquiet over Sochi have been detained or called in for questioning in neighboring Russian republics. The contrast between this and the previous Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where Canadian organizers made special effort to spotlight their native inheritance, could not be more stark.

“The Russians have not preserved the memory of their wars for the Caucasus,” writes Bullough, “and the ghosts of their victims will haunt them till they do.” The terror fears surrounding Sochi are in part a consequence of this. But that’s hardly a consolation for the millions of Circassians whose own history has been scribbled away in the footnotes of others and who may look at the celebrations taking place in their homeland only with a sense of loss.

TIME India

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Marks Another Victory for Indian Americans

New Microsoft Chief Executive Officer of, Satya Nadella
Microsoft's new chief executive officer Satya Nadella Microsoft / EPA

Indian Americans don’t need Satya Nadella — the Hyderabad-born techie named Microsoft’s CEO today — to feel good about themselves. Look around the U.S. and you already see “desis” in leading positions, and not just in the Indian-heavy IT sphere where Nadella has soared. Indian Americans are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, agenda-setting lawyers, celebrated comedians, prominent politicians, beauty-pageant winners, TV personalities and, heck, top editors at some of America’s most venerable publications.

The stereotype of the hardworking model minority has evolved: sure, Indian Americans still win spelling bees, but they also rap and smoke weed on camera. As a group, Indian Americans comprise the wealthiest and most educated single community in the U.S., a position of societal prestige that may last for some time yet — a recent survey found that no ethnic group in the U.S. saves more for their children’s college education than Indian Americans.

Given such overwhelming evidence of success, some could be tempted to subscribe to the much derided thesis of Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s new provocative book, The Triple Package, which congratulates Indian Americans as well as a few other ethnicities for having the right cultural attributes to flourish in the U.S. (Last month in TIME’s print publication, Indian-American journalist Suketu Mehta wrote the definitive takedown of the Chua and Rubenfeld “cultural” argument, which he likened to a new form of American racism.) Nadella’s journey to Microsoft’s top post moved along the same path furrowed by thousands of other Indians — a hypercompetitive college education in India (though his university was only a midranking one), followed by graduate studies in the U.S. and a berth in Silicon Valley. But the application, the ingenuity, the business savvy and the drive that saw him excel were all his own.

His ascension as Microsoft CEO is making headlines in India, where the country’s NRIs (nonresident Indians) are often held up as national heroes. For decades, the successes of pioneering, entrepreneurial Indians abroad were seen in contrast to the poverty, stagnation and political sclerosis of their country of origin. But that aura of respect and celebrity is dimming: see the invective hurled at U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara — accused of being an Indian “Uncle Tom” — for his role in the controversial case against Indian deputy consul Devyani Khobragade last year.

It’s hard to imagine Nadella drawing that sort of ire, but his triumph in the U.S. comes at a moment when NRIs are flocking back to India, drawn by opportunities in their rapidly changing homeland. The rise of India’s economy has created a new domestic confidence and swagger. Hyderabad, where Nadella was born, is now one of Asia’s main tech capitals, key to Microsoft’s global plans. Perhaps the next Satya Nadella may not even need to be a hyphenated Indian American.

TIME photography

David Guttenfelder Is TIME’s Pick for Instagram Photographer of the Year

David Guttenfelder is TIME’s pick for Instagram photographer of the year. The veteran photojournalist is a seven-time World Press Photo award-winner. He has traveled the world for the Associated Press, covering wars, elections and natural disasters in over 75 countries.But in 2013, Guttenfelder, the AP’s chief Asia photographer, won over a new audience after he became one of the first foreign photographers to be granted the ability to work in North Korea. And he featured some of his most striking, intimate pictures from the Hermit Kingdom on Instagram.

North Korea, an isolated country ruled by a paranoid and brutal regime, is of instant fascination to the outside world. It’s so closed and sealed from foreign eyes that for years the dominant image of the place was of its huge Stalinist propaganda displays at events such as the annual Mass Games. That projected North Korea was less a nation of real people, it seemed, than an eerie totalitarian spectacle, forever wrapped around the myths and cults of the ruling Kim dynasty.

Guttenfelder’s year of work chips beneath the pariah state’s absurd façade. A government minder shadows him wherever he goes, but his sustained presence in North Korea has yielded a unique perspective. “Nobody knows anything about [North Korea] and what it looks like,” says Guttenfelder, speaking to TIME over Skype from a hotel in Pyongyang. “I feel like there’s a big opportunity and a big responsibility.”

In his Instagram pictures, we see the spectral emptiness of Pyongyang’s Orwellian city blocks, the hushed quiet of passengers in buses, the coiled patterns of a carpet in an otherwise non-descript waiting room. The photos that end up on Guttenfelder’s Instagram feed are often ones he says wouldn’t have a home elsewhere—of the margins of a scene, of objects cast in still-life.

Because much of what he does in North Korea is rushed and shepherded by official guides, Guttenfelder says the country “is not the kind of place where you can make what photojournalists call good pictures very easily.” Instead, says Guttenfelder, “it’s really more about the sum of all the parts. When you add up all the pieces something interesting starts to emerge.” To that end, Guttenfelder, who studied anthropology in university, has compiled a running series of North Korean “artifacts” on his Instagram feed: curios and knick-knacks collected in his travels there that are in equal measure mundane, dated, alien. “They are little pieces of the puzzle I’m putting together,” he says.

Guttenfelder’s Instagram work, though, was not restricted just to the puzzle of North Korea. It ranged from the cornfields of Iowa—where he journeyed to attend his grandmother’s funeral—to the nightmare of the central Philippines city of Tacloban, ravaged by one of the most devastating typhoons in recent memory. For all the strangeness of North Korea, his pictures from elsewhere are charged with a similar energy and vision. “I tend to see things that are melancholy or a bit surreal,” he says from Pyongyang. “I don’t think I’m photographing rural America that much differently than this country.”—Ishaan Tharoor

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