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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Olympic Flames: China's Crackdown on Tibet

March 26, 2008

March 25, 2008

China's crackdown against Tibetan protesters ahead of the Summer
Olympics in Beijing carries with it a brutal echo from the past. Scores
of people, including school children are reported dead and more
repression has been promised. The People's Daily, the official newspaper
of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), said "[We must] resolutely
crush the 'Tibet independence' forces' conspiracy and sabotaging

Even after decades of occupation, the ruthlessness of the crackdown has
shocked much of the world. It happens the week after the US State
Department removed China from its list of the world's worst human rights

Yet the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the
people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic cash
deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were supposed to
be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen. Britain's Minister
for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark Malloch-Brown told the
BBC, "This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care
to do nothing that will wreck that."

Other countries hankering after a piece of China's thriving economy have
rushed to put daylight between the crackdown in Tibet and the Olympics.
No surprise, the Bush's White House, underwriting their war in Iraq on
loans from Beijing, headed off any talk that President Bush would cancel
his appearance at the Olympic Games when spokeswoman Dana Perino said
Bush believed that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not
necessarily about politics." Earlier, the European Union said a "boycott
would not be the appropriate way to address the work for respect of
human rights, which means the ethnic and religious rights of the Tibetans."

While the nations of the West have ruled out the idea of boycotting the
games, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that the EU
should at least consider boycotting the opening ceremony if violence
continues. Later Kouchner backtracked, saying "We're not in favor of it.
When you're dealing in international relations with countries as
important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's
sometimes at the expense of human rights. That's elementary realism.''

Whatever happens next, China's crackdown is not happening in spite of
the Beijing Olympics, but because of them. It is a bold play by China to
set a tone for the remainder of the year. Since its occupation of the
country in 1951, China has suppressed its Buddhist faith and made
Tibetans a persecuted minority in their own country via the mass
migration of millions of Han Chinese. As monks and young Tibetans took
their grievances to the streets over the weekend, the government made
clear it would brook no protest and tolerate no dissent.

But it's helpful to remember that in many countries, including our own,
pre-Olympic repression is as much of a tradition as lighting the torch.

In 1984, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing of
thousands of young black men in the infamous Olympic Gang Sweeps. Gates
also sent the LA Swat Team to Israel and West Berlin for special training.

The 1996 Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate the gains of the New
South, but the New South ended up looking much like the old one, as
public housing was razed to make way for Olympic venues, homeless people
were chased off the streets and perceived trouble-makers were arrested.
As Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently
recalled in Vancouver, BC, another city poised to crack down on crime,
drugs and homelessness in preparation for the Winter Olympics in 2010,
Atlanta officials "had six ordinances that made all kinds of things
illegal, including lying down. Lots of people were shipped out, and lots
of people were put in jail. [The Olympic Planning Committee] actually
built the city jail. Activists there called it the first Olympic project
completed on time."

Repression followed the Olympic Rings to Greece in 2004. As the radio
program "Democracy Now," reported at the time, authorities in Athens
"round[ed] up homeless people, drug addicts and the mentally ill,
requiring that psychiatric hospitals lock them up." The pre-Olympics
"cleanup" included detaining or deporting refugees and asylum-seekers.
Being the first Olympics after 9/11, police surveillance of immigrant
Muslims and makeshift mosques in Athens greatly increased.

But the worst example of Olympic repression--and the most resonantto the
current moment--came in 1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican
students and workers occupying the National University were slaughtered
in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten days before
the start of the games. Recently declassified documents paint a picture
of a massacre as cold and methodical as President Luis Echeverría's

Echeverría's aim was the same as China's: a pre-emptive strike to make
sure that using the Olympic games as a platform for protest would not be
on the itinerary. The irony, of course, is that while Echeverría
succeeded in crushing the protest movement outside the games, on the
inside US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their
black-gloved fists in an expression of Black Power, cementing the 1968
games as a place defined by discontent. It's a lesson the 2008 athletes
might remember. Officials may try to smother dissent on the streets of
Lhasa and elsewhere in China, but in the games themselves--from the path
of the Olympic torch up Mount Everest to the opulent venues constructed
in Beijing--the risk for protest, and the opportunity, is real.

Dave Zirin is a columnist for sports and the author of "
Welcome to the Terrordome," (Haymarket).
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