I don’t think I’ve ever felt as disinterested in the Olympic games as this year. I’ve awarded them no more than a passing glance ever since they’ve been on, probably only amounting to 15 minutes or so in total. However, it wasn’t until today that it struck me that much of my apathy has to do with the fact that the games are being held in China. I’ve been vaguely conscious the entire time of the duplicity that’s being presented by the Chinese, so aptly demonstrated by the ruse they put on during the opening ceremonies.*
The sort of hypocrisy and pretense that’s going on there at the moment completely sickens me. The censorship and espionage that are being perpetrated [foreign journalists do not have free access to the Internet despite promises made to the contrary; taxicabs are now outfitted with hidden microphones to allow the government to spy on people]; the fact that they blacklisted anyone suffering from mental illness from entering China prior to and during the Olympics [and leprosy, and anyone with a STD]; the fact that Chinese authorities have put up facades of normal housing in Bejing’s slums, behind which the real slums exist; the fact that they promised to review their human rights policy if they were awarded the games, which of course they haven’t done … all this and more I find absolutely appalling.
Then today, I read a fascinating article in Fréttablaðið. It’s an interview with a Swedish journalist named Sverker Lindström, who has written a book called Det stora sveket [The Big Betrayal] about the conditions of workers in Chinese sweatshops. He draws parallels between Western corporations and the human rights violations in China – Western corporations that are highly visible at the Olympics where they aggressively promote their wares, while they whole time they’re making huge profits from slave labour in China.
The book quotes a young girl who works making athletic shoes in a sweatshop in South China:
We wake up every morning at 6.30 am. In ten minutes we are supposed to get up, wash and get dressed. Then we wait in line in the cafeteria for two pieces of bread. Next we get in line for the supervisor who hands out his daily portion of scolds and threats, then the work begins. Every morning we see the stars in the darkened sky. When the working day is over and we are let out the stars are shining again. We work from seven until eleven in the evening. Most of us are hungry and emaciated. The food is bad. In the evenings we are given a watery meat soup. When a large order comes from Puma we only get a half an hour to eat, then we have to keep working.
In the interview, Lindström is asked the classic question: Is it not important to maintain good trade relations with China? He responds that good trade relations now appear to be more valuable than human rights, respect for human life and freedom of speech. If an athlete is asked how he or she feels about human rights violations in China, everybody gets upset. Evidently some types of questions are not to be asked.
Lindström stresses the importance of placing today’s events in a historical context and draws parallels with the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Before the Swedish Olympic delegation was to set out for Berlin someone managed to distribute a flyer with the locations all of Hitler’s concentration camps and prisons marked on it. This caused an uproar. Swedish papers wrote about the “scandal” that someone was trying to ruin things for the Swedish athletes. Meanwhile, Charlie Chaplin’s film The Dictator was banned in Stockholm until after the war, because Swedish authorities didn’t want to upset Hitler. Why? Because it was important to maintain good trade relations, just in case he won the war.
Has anything changed?
Prior to the games there was some dispute as to whether our President and our Minister of Culture should attend the Olympics. The persistent response was that the Olympics should not be marred by politics and that it was important not to offend the Chinese because “so much more could be achieved” by having dipomatic discussions. Read: they relished a free trip to China and a seat at the table with some of the worst human rights violators in the world. I do hope they enjoy their feast.
IT’S BECOME COLD AND BLUSTERY AND RAINY
The tropical climate we enjoyed a mere two weeks ago has now given way to more fall-like weather. We’ve had spatterings of rain for the last few days, albeit no actual downpours, and it’s been windy and kind of dampclammycold. The temps are kind of misleading because even though they’re about the same as they’ve been, it’s been colder. Lots of people getting sick and stuff. Right now 13°C [55F]. Sunrise in the capital was at 5.26 and sunset at 9.35 pm.
PS – here’s some fascinating trivia: in 1933 two German brothers, the Dassler brothers, joined the Nazi party because they were interesting in marketing their brand of athletic shoes. Their business thrived and their shoes were a hit at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Gradually the two brothers became great adversaries and their business was divided up into two companies: Adidas and Puma.
* Before you ask: no, I did not watch the handball game where Iceland beat Germany!