Beijing (AsiaNews) – At least 80 were welcomed by Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People for an “Olympic banquet”, launching the day that China has been waiting for, for over 7 years, the beginning of XXIX Olympiad, on the 8th of the eight month 2008. The host greeted his guests– from Bush to Putin, from Sarkozy to the presidents of the tiny Polynesian islands – with a smile and an official photo shoot. Ahead of the lunch, in a lavishly decorated hall, Hu underlined the “cultural and spiritual” values of the Olympic tradition that has lasted over 2800 years.
Festive music and wide smiles seem to have pushed aside all problems. First and foremost the threat of terrorist attacks. Yesterday evening a new video in Uyghur was posted on the internet by a so-called group from the Turkestan Islamic Party promising fresh attacks on city’s hosting Olympic events. The symbol of the Beijing Olympics is set on fire in the video clip and an explosion destroys the ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium. Chinese press and TV speak of none of this, but security has been tightened across the board. Beijing residents have been invited to stay at home ‘for traffic reasons’, but many are afraid of an attack. Over recent days, the working groups that had tickets to the opening ceremony struggled to find people to attend because of their fears of becoming the victims of a probable explosion.
The smiles and warm handshake between President Bush and his Chinese counterpart also seem to have set aside the recent discord. Right up until yesterday, during his Asian trip, Bush did not miss a single opportunity to underline his respect for China as an economic power but also the nation’s continuous violation of human rights and religious freedom. Anyone who dares to bring up these issues is immediately silenced by the accusation that they are “politicising the Games”. What is forgotten is that it was China in the first place that “politicised” them, when it defended its candidacy swearing it would improve its human rights record. Some dissidents note that the nation continues to politicise them: the Olympics are being advertised as the crowning glory of the Communist government and not – as the slogan claims – “the peoples’ Olympics”.
The absence of the people
In fact the absence of the ordinary people from the Games is felt. In the gigantic attempt to show China at its best, the people are being ‘invited’ to stay at home and watch the Games on TV; there are no crowds following the torches route through the capital, only specially selected groups who are given scarves and flags to wave; restaurants, threatened with closure if they fail to observe hygiene and courtesy standards for the ‘Olympic guests’, are terrified that an Olympic VIP should sit at one of their tables. “They used us – says a Beijing worker – and now they have caste us aside ashamed to show us to the world”.
The monopoly of lies
These Olympics mark an apotheosis not of China itself, but of its political and economic power, and anything that threatens to disturb this monopoly must be silenced. Dissidents, protestant pastors, underground Catholic bishops have been warned not to carry out any activities, or ‘invited’ to leave Beijing so that the show is not interrupted by their problems.
And yet within the Olympic village itself – segregated from the rest of the city – there is full religious freedom: prayer centres for the diverse religions have been set up, even those not recognised by China, such as Judaism and Hinduism. The Olympic Committee hosted Shimon Peres closet o the ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium so he could return on foot to his quarters this evening and thus not violate the Jewish Sabbath.
Even pollution has become a non-issue: yesterday International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge declared Beijing air “healthy”, assuring that it would not harm athletes. This despite the fact that the quantity of particles present in the capital’s air is three times the standard norm recommended by the World Health Organisation.