Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tibet 1-China 0

AOG, Madrid

or the past few days, Tibet has sought to free itself from China's control. The Chinese Government, ever the eternal sentinel of totalitarianism, managed to control the flow of information at first. Few images, and most of these heavily censured and biased.

However, thanks to modern technology, more images soon surfaced- on the free world anyway (I'm surprised I just typed those words; I had relegated them to the "Cold War" portion of my brain). In China, television images today showed a return to calm. Shoppers shopping,kids playing in school, and no demonstrating monks in sight. Some of the Western papers are amazed that this situation did not surface earlier.

Quick to accuse everyone of wrongdoing, the Chinese Government has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to boycott the Olympic games and the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign if the violence in Tibet goes on and welcomes any investigation by China's authorities to prove that he has not.

I find it amazing that this is their main concern. It reminds me slightly of the situation in Buenos Aires in 1978.
Back then, the Argentine military Government was busy detaining, torturing and killing a few dissidents in order to show the world its best face. So that no one suspected anything, many people died.
For all intents and purposes, the 1978 World Cup was held in complete normality. Alas, along came the Falklands invasion and the military Government collapsed. Argentina and its democracy never looked back.

I am still amazed that the IOC chose Beijing as the best place to hold the 2008 Olympic Games. In 1980, Moscow, as a nuclear power, somehow managed to organise the games whilst ensuring a large boycott because of its invasion of Afghanistan. I remember thinking at the time, as my parents pointed out, that politics and sport should not mix. And yet, when do they not?
Four years later, the Soviet Union retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

It is too late to ask why Beijing will hold these games.

Certainly the Chinese Government has spent millions on building and organising the event and I am sure that for most people in China, hosting the games will be a source of joy as well as national pride. For many in Beijing, the Olympics will help China to continue its -controlled- conversation with the world. It already acts as its factory.

However, I can't help but think about the lack of human rights, the persecution of dissidents, and this latest instalment in Governmental repression by a Communist regime.

According to The New York Times, "To earn the right to play host to this summer’s Olympics, Beijing promised to improve its human rights record. As its behavior in Tibet — and the recent arrest of the human rights advocate Hu Jia and others — demonstrates, China does not take that commitment seriously."

Should this country then be allowed to hold the Olympics? 28 years later I ask myself the same question. Then I said yes, of course, politics and sport should not mix.

But, today, 28 years later, knowing full well that both of these have, in fact, mixed, I am not so quick to support China's "right" to hold the Olympics. Not under these circumstances. Not in a country where people's lives are not held in a very high esteem by their own government.

Some Historians have argued that the Olympics, amongst other things, helped to liberate the stodgy Soviet Nomenklatura of the USSR. By 1990, only 10 years later, the Soviet state was falling apart. We are still living with the consecuences of that socio-political and economic capitulation to liberal capitalism (albeit not Western-style democracy yet).

Perhaps in 20 years time, China might be freer- or even free.

But I am sure that between now and then, many people will continue to die; human rights will continue to be violated; and the West will, hypocritically, continue to allow it to go on given its economic dependence on China. It is hard not to notice that the US removed China from its list of top 10 human rights violators just as the biggest anti-China protests in 20 years erupted in Tibet.

Since no Government is impermeable to criticism, here's a petition to ask it to stop its actions in Tibet.

Hopefully it will make a difference. It does not matter how small.

The protests began March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.

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