Flame of Shame

For those of you who say that the Beijing Olympics shouldn’t be the means by which to hold China accountable for its human rights violations I ask: when is? It certainly isn’t happening through trade, it isn’t happening through the United Nations, it isn’t happening through bilateral political relationships; everyone on both sides cares more about getting rich. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is urging Prime Minister Gordon Brown to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already committed to do, and which French President Nicolas Sarkozy is mulling over. Amnesty International notes that China promised that the Games would improve human rights in China, but the opposite remains the case. Not only has the abuse in Tibet been seen by the international community, but they are still jailing peaceful activists. Surely the means which would embarrass them the most by backing them into a corner must be the Games, which the dictatorship is hoping will bring international prestige instead? Not for Gordon Brown. Not only is he refusing not to attend (he says the Dalai Lama’s advice not to is guiding his behaviour), but he happily invited the Olympic Torch procession through London, as Simon Jenkins quite rightly pointed out thereby colluding with the biggest dictatorship on Earth.

What’s that you say? The Games shouldn’t be political? Hang on a minute, then the competitions to host the Games would have no bearing on national pride whatsoever, then governments really wouldn’t get involved in the bids, the preparations for Games and the PR which goes along with it; competing for and staging the games is at their core a political act. Effectively acknowledging this, the President of the IOC has complained about the violence in Tibet, saying:

“Violence is not compatible with the values” of the Olympic Games.”

How right he is, and what of that of the Metropolitan Police, deployed at a cost of over £1 million, who responded to incursions to the route with brutality? Was their response to protester incursions proportionate? Really? The Metropolitan Police were widely acknowledged to have been used as a political tool during the Miners’ Strike in the 1980s – were they not used in the protection of the flame on what was a relay laid on by China, once again as a political tool, and one again of repression? And what of the blue-suited Chinese ‘security’, whom Sebastian Coe referred to as ‘thugs’? Was their behaviour compatible with the values of the Olympic Games? A ‘flame of shame’ indeed. Fortunately London itself did manage to hold China to account, effectively subverting the entire purpose of the ‘Journey of Harmony’, despite the best efforts of the Metropolitan Police; Livingstone wasn’t going to, Brown wasn’t going to. Will the bad PR for the relay change things for the better in Tibet or China? Probably not, but it did prove effective in highlighting an ever growing clash of symbols – the Tibetan flag fighting to be seen vs. the Chinese flag determined to dominate it, unconditional human rights vs. totalitarian dictatorships, governments willing to stand up to China and ones (like ours) happy to appease them at all costs.

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2 responses to “Flame of Shame

  1. Pls kindly publish the picture where a protester punch a defenseless woman athlete holding the Olympic Flame in Paris. Where is her basic human right, i.e. life itself.

    Protesters have every right to voice their causes, but pls do respect the human right of others.

    BTW, the Olympic Flame belongs to the world, not China. Unless these protesters are ignorant of history.

  2. You make a valid point in saying that torch bearers had the right not to be assaulted – quite right. I don’t recall a single instance of violence inflicted directly on a torch bearer in London though (which was the point of the post? As far as I’m aware even the most committed protester in London was not violent to any of the torch bearers, which was as it should be.

    The Olympic Flame indeed belongs to the world, but the Relay using it is a historically brand new event, and a political one at that. It was something which China chose to do (rather than following a tradition), at the same time as saying its human rights record would improve in the run-up to the Games. Given that the exact opposite is taking place, I don’t think disrupting the Relay is remotely inappropriate. On the contrary – I’m extremely proud of how London chose to make its feelings about China’s behaviour known.

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