Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Beijing Olympics

The brilliance and splendor of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics should not distract us from the lamentable human rights record of the Chinese Communist Government, and I don't just mean Tibet. It's quite easy to decide to spend a few billion dollars on an event if you have a command economy, where the decisions are taken from above. But, cutting corners economically is also easy when you decide who gets paid and how. For example, hundreds of thousands of peasants were drafted from the countryside to build the Olympic stadiums and housing, etc., but many of them have never been paid. They toil with primitive tools and no safety precautions on high buildings, and many fall and hurt or kill themselves, and there is no medical insurance or compensation.
Sky News interviewed a man who had been badly injured in a fall, who after not receiving any compensation or wages, went to court (yes, there are courts), but the owner of the company laughed at him, and told him "you have no money, so you can't win." His case was dismissed and now he lives back in the country with a broken body, no job and no money. So much for the worker's paradise. Yes, the Chinese communists have rediscovered capitalism, but they are exploiting the workers even more than in the western capitalist states where worker's protection against exploitation is at least legislated and there are rigorous safety regulations.
This strange combination of communism, capitalism and autocracy is apparently successful in China, but at a price. Pres. Bush is right, China could be a lot more successful if it trusted its citizens with rights and freedom of expression. The huge numbers of people and the straight lines in the opening ceremony were symptomatic of the Chinese autocratic approach. I'm sure that in Britain in 2012 there won't be such straight lines!
This kind of showpiece fits in well with the Chinese approach, as does the pride in being able to have the Olympics and to carry it off successfully (if you can see the games thru the air pollution). The Olympics is a pagan festival that has had a rebith in the "modern era" partly because of the emphasis on the nation state and the flag. Each country comes in waving its flag, good PR even if there are only a few participants. Yes, the athletes compete as individuals, but the number of medals won by a country is compared avidly.
Even the Palestinians, although not a country, got to show their flag, and the commentator had to say that their sprinter gets practice racing bullets in the pot-holed streets ("poor Palestinains"). But, he didn't say whose bullets, was it Israel's or Hamas's.
Israel is represented by 53 athletes, a nice turnout. The main positive feature of the games is the oath taken by the officials, in which they swear that they will apply the rules without consideration of race, gender, color, or religious affiliation. I suppose in the final analysis that's why Israel can be represented.


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