Olympic Spirit The 2004 Athens games ended with some embarassment and controversy, but on the whole the Greek government had succeeded in pulling off the organisation of the games despite the criticisms and fears. In the run up to the Athens' games, there were many alarmed press reports as to whether the organisers would complete the necessary facilities on time, often with a tone of contempt for the Greeks thrown in. Oddly, there is, as yet, much less controversy over the preparations for the 2008 Olympics which are due to be held in Beijing. On its website, the International Olympics Committee gushes excitedly:
"a Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sports. The Commission is confident that Beijing could organise an excellent Games".
A link below this reassurance offers us - "Find out more on the election of Beijing". The 'election of Beijing' - now there's an interesting turn of phrase. Human Rights Watch, which has launched a campaign - Olympics Watch - reports on the preparations underway to make China's capital ready:
China’s rapid urban development, fueled in Beijing by preparations for the 2008 Olympics, is leading to the eviction of homeowners and tenants in violation of Chinese law and international standards on the right to housing. In many cities, Chinese local authorities and developers are forcibly evicting hundreds of thousands of homeowners and tenants who have little legal recourse. Evicted residents left with few avenues of redress have increasingly taken to the streets to protest, where they have met police repression.
An earlier HRW report on forcible evictions in Beijing begins with this story:
"At 8:45 on the morning of September 15, 2003, forty-five-year-old farmer Zhu Zhengliang and his wife sat down in Tiananmen Square under the portrait of Mao Zedong. As his wife quietly watched, Zhu doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. Police stationed in the square rushed to his aid, and Zhu was hospitalized in Beijing with minor burns on his arms and back. According to news reports, Zhu attempted self-immolation to protest his family’s forced eviction from their home in a rural region of Anhui province.'Zhu’s was the most prominent, but by no means the only, attempted suicide to protest forced evictions in China in 2003. In August, a Nanjing city man who returned from a lunch break one day to find his home demolished, set himself afire and burned to death at the office of the municipal demolition and eviction department. In September, resident Wang Baoguang burned himself to death while being forcibly evicted in Beijing. On October 1, China’s National Day, Beijing resident Ye Guoqiang attempted suicide by jumping from Beijing’s Jinshui bridge to protest his forced eviction forconstruction related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.5 These suicides and attemptedsuicides were the most dramatic in a wave of almost daily protests that swept cities across China from September to December 2003."
In a courageous open letter to the Chinese government, a lawyer and tenants' rights advocate, Xu Yonghai, explained:
"Demolition and eviction has several decades of history in China. In the past, ordinary people longed for demolition and eviction [because they were moved to better homes], but now ordinary people fear demolition and eviction, they hate [it], and even use death and suicide to oppose [it]... This hatred, this opposition to demolition and eviction has really only appeared in the last few years."
The reasons for this change is that many Beijing residents can no longer expect to receive compensation when their homes are demolished and the demolition itself is often a callous and violent process with armed gangs carrying out evictions and bulldozers starting their work before people leave the area. Faster, higher, stronger! as the Olympic motto goes. Xu Yonghai has since been imprisoned for "circulating state secrets" (i.e. faxing the above to a human rights organisation). Oh Lord, these people annoy the hell out of me.Athletes are not the only people who will be working faster, higher, stronger. In the deformed worker's state, as some still like to call it, the workers are forbidden to strike or form independent labour unions:
"Many workers also lack minimal health and safety protections and adequate wages. Many are compelled to work long hours. Some contract workers may not even be paid by factories for the work they have done. 'Because they lack the right to organize independently, Chinese workers also lack effective ways to resolve these problems in the workplace. Many workers who have organized protests and demonstrations to improve conditions or demand compensation for injuries in the workplace, as well as those who have demanded unpaid wages and unpaid pensions and severance pay, have faced severe state repression. The ACFTU [government-approved trade union body] has never spoken out against the laws and regulations routinely used to justify imprisoning independent labor activists." (emphasis added)
HRW adds that international companies involved in the Olympics preparations are "generally required to abide by these conditions" - as if they needed to be forced into screwing their workforce! In reality, many multinational corporations love China precisely because its one-party dictatorship is so good for business.Such criminal conduct by the Chinese government helps to expose the fanciful notion that holding the Olympic games in China will help to usher in a new age of political pluralism for the self-serving guff that it is. In electing Beijing, the IOC has made one of its worst decisions since going ahead with the 1936 Olympics in the Berlin of Hitler's Germany.Dictatorships use international sporting events to give themselves legitimacy and to divert attention from social problems, of which China has many. Furthermore, they are aware of the potential for dissenters to use the international media presence to tell the world what goes on in the country's dark corners and respond by taking pre-emptive measures.In one notorious example, the World Cup in 1978 was held in Argentina, then run by a military junta made up of outright Nazis. In the run-up to the international football tournament, the regime stepped up the imprisonemnt and torture and killed hundreds of people, drugging them, tying them up and dropping them out of aeroplanes into the Rio Grande to ensure the World Cup went smoothly. Argentina's team went on to win the cup - now there's a story to warm the heart.Can we expect a similar crackdown in China faced with democrats, persecuted religious minorities, Tibetans, and hundreds of millions of poor people who have had enough? In China a security crackdown is something that might make even John Ashcroft or David Blunkett blink - as with what Amnesty International described as an "execution frenzy" a few years ago when the regime decided to punish criminal offences such as corruption and prostitution with the enthusiastic use of the death penalty.A woman is led to her execution following a crackdown on crime in 1999 Some human rights groups have got together to produce a set of minimal demands that the Chinese government should be obliged to meet before being permitted to host the Olympic Games. Failing that - and this is likely - we should boycott these games. Occasionally in the West our governments go through the motions of pretending to deplore the Chinese government's human rights record or the occupation of Tibet. More usually, they are fairly open about the fact that they don't care (and that they have written off Tibet). The rest of us need to decide whether we share that view. HRW: "There are many ways that people outside of China can support Chinese rights activists—by writing a letter to the government, using the Internet to help Chinese citizens get around censorship restrictions, or by linking up with other Chinese and international activists to help build the movement." It would be wonderful for China to have the Olympics at some point in the future, but not under the current regime. For more information, see the Olympic Watch website.