Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It feels like 1936...

This summer's Olympics won't make a blind bit of difference to Chinese tyranny and it's naive to think they will ...

Daily Mail UK : By GUY WALTERS - More by this author » Last updated at 23:15pm on 25th March 2008

...In fewer than five months, our athletes will once more be playing sports in a nation whose dictatorship is cruelly at odds with the most fundamental freedoms that we in the West take for granted.

Yet again, we are being told that the Olympics will be a force for good, and will help a totalitarian regime to adopt more liberal policies. Such thinking is, at best, hopelessly naive and, at worst, downright deluded.

Those who believe that Beijing 2008 will improve China's shameful human rights record are surely as myopic to the realities of modern China as the appeasers of the 1930s were towards Hitler.

Have we really learned nothing since 1936? It would seem so, because as someone who has spent two years researching a history of the Berlin Olympics, I find the parallels with Beijing as startling as they are disturbing.

First, there is the similarity between the two host nations.

LIKE Nazi Germany in its earliest years, China executes thousands of people every year for a wide variety of "crimes".

Capital punishment is meted out not only to convicted murderers but to those found guilty of any of 68 listed offences, which include daring to speak out against the regime and "splittism" - the advocating of independence for regions such as Tibet and Taiwan.

Chillingly, just like the Nazis, the Chinese make the families of the executed pay for the bullets that kill them.

Those "criminals" who are not executed often serve their sentences in the Chinese equivalent of concentration camps - the infamous Laogai, a network of some 1,000 labour camps where an estimated 40 million people have been incarcerated since the 1950s.

Of course, those who visit Beijing this August will see none of this, because the Chinese, like the Nazis, will present a sanitised view of their country.

During the 1936 Games, the Nazi regime ordered an "Olympic pause", during which the bestial and repressive measures against Jews were temporarily halted.

"Undesirables", such as gipsies, homosexuals and prostitutes, were rounded up and turfed out of Berlin.

In Beijing today, a similar process of sanitisation is already under way to prepare the city for the Olympic influx.

Some of these measures sound harmless enough.

For example, polluting factories in and around the city are being ordered to shut down or relocate during the Games to ease Beijing's choking smog, while drivers are allowed out onto the roads only three times a week.

But other initiatives have a sinister air of social cleansing about them that the Nazis would have thoroughly approved of: fares on the city's underground have been cut to just two yuan (14p) for any journey to keep poorer people off buses, and beggars and street sleepers are being moved to out-of-town camps or given rail fares back to their home provinces.

As for those labour camps, I would wager that the Chinese authorities will show journalists around a sanitised camp, just as the Nazis proudly opened up the gates of Dachau in 1936, in order to convince visitors they were "detaining no one but gangsters".

But despite such window-dressing, there can be no disguising the fact that both Nazi Germany and modern China were and are in flagrant breach of the Olympic charter.

Point 5 of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism states: "Any form of discrimination with regards to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."

Try telling that to a Jew who survived the Third Reich, or, for that matter, to a present-day member of the outlawed Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong, whose members constitute 66 per cent of all reported torture cases in China, and at least half of the forced labour camp populations.

The problem lies not with the Olympic charter itself but with the shameful way that the International Olympic Committee has refused to act upon it.

In the 1930s, the IOC willingly allowed itself - through cronyism and a desire to see a magnificent Olympics - to be misled by the Nazis, even though restrictions against Jewish athletes were widely reported.

Objections were brushed aside, just as they are today, as the IOC continues to mutter lofty platitudes about peace and unity, while turning a blind eye to the wholesale human rights abuses of the host nation.

The only thing that might shame them to their senses would be worldwide calls for a boycott.

But, sadly, protests today are proving as pitiful as they were 70 years ago - too little, too late.

In the 1930s, there were some sporadic murmurs of dissent from participating nations but these were often dismissed as coming from "Commies and Jews".

One former athlete from 1936 told me that those who complained were often seen as being "a bit pious".

Today, the boycott movement is similarly weak, with those who have been campaigning to highlight China's oppression of Tibet seen as little more than hippyish troublemakers.

Even Monday's attempt by one brave protestor from the free-speech organisation Reporters Without Borders to interrupt the lighting of the Olympic flame was dismissed as a fringe stunt.

So what will happen this August? If Berlin can continue to serve as a model, then expect the Games to go ahead with minimal controversy.

Just as in Germany in 1936, very few - if any - of the athletes will dare speak out against the host nation.

Indeed, in an especially cowardly measure, British competitors have been obliged to sign a contract which explicitly bans them from criticising the Chinese regime.

Such diktats put in mind one participant at the Berlin Games, who told me how she had received a letter from a concentration camp inmate during the tournament, begging her to publicise the plight of prisoners.

She gave the letter to her chaperone, who advised her to keep quiet about it. And like the fellow competitors who had received similar missives, she held her tongue.

I also have no doubt that the Chinese, like the Germans, will put on a wonderful show.

The spectacular nature of the event will mask the sinister reality of China's brutal excesses, and most competitors will return home saying that all the talk of political executions and torture is just journalistic hype.

Few, I suspect, will be brave enough to echo the words of Godfrey Brown, who won a gold medal for Britain in Berlin in the 4 x 400 metres relay.

"Some of us went to Berlin with a mistaken idea that we were going to watch or take part in a sports meeting," he wrote. "Instead, we were treated to political propaganda."

However many medals Britain comes home with this summer, it will scarcely matter. Because, just as with Germany in 1936, there will be only one true winner in 2008 - and that's the host nation's vile regime. (more)

• Berlin Games by Guy Walters is published by John Murray

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008


Kristin said...

China is certainly not alone in it's persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder of those whose beliefs (or whatever) it does not approve of. Unfortunately, persecution of others in various forms, it seems is also part and parcel of the human condition.

MaKina said...

I agree, but why reward those dictators with the Olympics?