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Friday, January 25, 2008

Beijing Olympics and Politics

Earlier this week, the Belgian Olympic Committee issued the following edict:
Not a single [Belgian] participant in the games will be allowed to give a political opinion at the Olympic venues (e.g.: competition sites and the Olympic village).
Apparently the Belgians felt games in Beijing deserved special mention in this regard more than, say, Nagano. Today Canada's Olympic Committee announced it will not follow Belgium's lead, but is dismayed that it expects other nations to follow suit.

We all know why this has even come up:
Back in 1968, I find it hard to believe that such an explicit ban on expression would have been allowed--not because it was such a more liberal and open time than now (it wasn't) but because of the prevailing politics of the day.

There was a time when a common response to a question such as "Mind if I sit here?" was "Hey, it's a free country, man". People don't say that anymore. The point of it all back then was that in the western world, the official enemy (the Communists) were totalitarians who squelched freedom of expression, among other things. It's not the actual reason they were the enemy--there were plenty of regimes the USA/NATO were friendly with who were plenty nasty to their own people--but it was a very real and awful thing and deserved to be opposed. These days the official enemies are a bit more nebulous and as such the natural deterrent to a democratic government trying to control its own people is gone like the wind.

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