Many of you are already familiar with Nidra Poller, a free-lance American writer and former Pajamas Media correspondent who lives in Paris. I had the privilege of meeting her in Washington D.C. a couple of years ago, and we renewed our acquaintance last fall in Brussels.
Ms. Poller has kindly offered to post occasional articles here, and her first contribution contains her observations about recent events in Paris when the Olympic torch came to visit.
Semi-righteous Indignation snuffs out the Olympic Flame
Paris 9 April 2008
by Nidra Poller
The vision of fleet-footed runners coursing through postcard pretty Paris like Greek demigods bearing the hallowed Olympic flame turned into a vulgar roughneck demonstration this week. Stéphane Diagana, the first athlete in the aborted 28-champion relay, skipped lightly down one flight of stairs of the Eiffel Tower, kissed the torch, and got into stride. But the protective bubble — composed of interlocking circles of Chinese handlers, riot policemen, firemen on rollerblades, motorcycles and police cars — burst at the first attack from hissing, spitting demonstrators waving protest banners and Tibetan flags. Confused and confusing — you no speak Chinese — handlers in pale blue sweat suits gave orders, the police tackled activists determined to extinguish the flame, the relay was interrupted and the stifled flame pushed into a bus trundled through angry streets, looking more like a prisoner than a symbol of upward and onward sports.
On its way to the riverbank headquarters of France Télévisions in time for the midday newscast, the delegation stalled in a dimly lit underpass. The France 2 anchorman waited in a shower of hail and icy rain. The newswoman in the studio improvised appropriate commentary as viewers stared at dark figures milling around headlights in a tunnel. “What are we seeing there? Are those riot policemen? Are these pro or anti Chinese demonstrators?” Finally the torch re-appeared, briefly entrusted to a frail handicapped Chinese athlete in a wheel chair. The handlers must have thought no one would dare assault her. They were wrong. While the police wrestled the wannabe flame douser to the ground, the handlers scuttled the handicapped champion back into the bus.
The bus passed in front of the Assemblée Nationale — a few dozen deputies stood behind a human rights banner waving Tibetan flags — and inched over the bridge and up the Right Bank to the Paris City Hall where Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, whose 2012 Olympic bid was trumped by London, displayed a huge blue & white banner proclaiming “Paris Defends Human Rights Everywhere in the World.” Just as the delegation reached the square an upstairs window opened and the black Reporters without Borders banner with the Olympic rings as handcuffs was defiantly unfurled below a Tibetan flag. Furious, the chief Chinese liaison officer jumped out of his car and informed the police chief that the City Hall ceremony was cancelled.
The flame limped to its final destination at Charlety Stadium and was whisked into its private plane, heading for San Francisco like a weary tourist who’d had more than enough of the natives and just wants to get home.
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Do Chinese wrongs make the demonstrations right? The small contingent of genuine Tibetans fighting for their cause was surrounded by a mass of fellow travelers who can be mobilized easier than Pavlov’s dog. They protest the war in Iraq, genetically modified corn, globalization, capitalism, Zionism… Their talking heads and political allies are putting pressure on Nicolas Sarkozy to prove he is a Frenchman and boycott the opening ceremony. Human rights are so mixed up with the Olympic rings, you would think that one empty place in the grandstands could free the political prisoners and the media, raise sweatshop wages to EU levels, and turn China into a model democracy overnight.
Yes, but the same forces that are mobilized for Tibet are adamant about the president’s decision to reintegrate NATO’s command echelon and send additional troops to fight in Afghanistan. The Socialist opposition framed a no-confidence motion this week. They accuse the president of betraying the independence established by de Gaulle in 1966 and indulging in shameful “Atlanticism”— the code word for being friends with the U.S. These pols and pundits who defend human rights in Tibet have lost interest in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is an old story and the Taliban are no worse than the next guy. Why can’t Karzai just form a national union government and turn war into peace? They also want to negotiate with Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, the FARC …in short, anyone who carries a knife, a Kalashnikov, or a nuclear bomb and won’t hesitate to use it.
For the moment they feel quite certain that the Chinese will take a proper scolding and hang their heads in shame, leaving the champions of human rights to fly their banners and perpetuate the glorious protest tradition. Yesterday they were wearing keffiehs, today they are all Tibetans, but don’t think they just discovered China. In the 70s they were… Maoists!