In the last days of the Weimar Republic, Berlin won the honor of hosting the 1936 Olympics. The fall of the republic, the Nazi rise to power, and the establishment of the Third Reich led to some hesitation regarding the participation of some countries and contributed to the debate over the matter, yet ultimately not one country chose to boycott Nazi Germany.
The Olympics went ahead and turned into a German display of propaganda. Germany’s power, the complete order that prevailed there, and the satisfaction of its citizens were widely publicized. The Nazi regime fully exploited the propaganda and displayed its power and popularity far from the concentration camps. Persecution of the Jews and the pressure exerted on churches were eased for several months and Germany enjoyed recognition and honor.
Sevent- two years following the mistake of holding the Olympics in a dictatorship such as the Third Reich, the world is again granting the recognition and honor of the Olympics to a dictatorship - this time around it’s China
China is a country featuring a Stalinist political regime and an unrestrained market economy. The country openly represses its citizens’ human and civil rights, and exports cheap products of low quality produced by laborers who work for very low wages, while making a very thin layer rich and creating a capitalist oligarchy. China also pollutes water, air and land with no restraints in order to continue its economic development, it continues to use the death penalty while selling the body parts of those executed, and so forth.
Ranging from Tibet, which was occupied in the 1950s, to the industrial zones of Manchuria, the Chinese regime embodies the combination of totalitarianism and capitalism similar to the Third Reich, and now it hopes to display its strength and power in the Olympics, just like Hitler.
In the days of the Berlin Olympics, countries that monitored Germany with concern had many good reasons to turn a blind eye to what was going on in the Third Reich and legitimize the regime through the very participation in the Olympics. Democratic powers did not wish to infuriate Hitler and push him to extremism, while the non-democratic regimes viewed Germany as a model. Other countries maintained their neutrality and simply showed no interest in what was going on in Germany.
Today, the countries of the world are repeating the same mistake. Nobody wishes to anger the Chinese, democracies do not wish to undermine their business dealings with China, and non-democratic states do not wish to give up the support they receive from China and view it as a model of combining a non-democratic regime with a market economy. The neutral countries again don’t care. They may be uninvolved in the international political game, but they are not neutral economically, and who wants to undermine their ties with the world’s rising economic power?
Balance of terror - in dollars
Economic ties have replaced the classic political balance of terror that prevailed on the eve of World War II. Everyone competes for investment in China and trade terms. Who in our neo-liberal world cares about the price of cheap Chinese products in terms of human rights, the environment, or recognizing the first capitalist dictatorship since Hitler’s Third Reich?
The recognition granted to China proves that the economic common denominator overcomes divisive political considerations. As long as it’s possible to do business in China and make money, the West has no problem with what goes on there.
The Olympics will be a platform for recognizing the new China of the past 20 years, just as it served Hitler and his regime.
Hitler wanted to conquer the world with tanks, while the Chinese do it with industrial production. The Third Reich repressed dissidents, the Left, and the Church, while the Chinese repress dissidents, Tibetans, professional unions, and churches. The world cooperated with the Third Reich despite the concentration camps and persecution of dissidents, and today it repeats the same mistake with China.
Boycotting the Olympics would constitute a clear signal to China that it cannot continue to pollute the environment, repress its citizens, and flood the world with defected merchandize just so it can keep making Stalinist officials and their associates, the new oligarchs, richer.
Boycotting the Olympics would indeed have symbolic meaning, but this is no less significant than setting a strict standard when it comes to Chinese merchandize or an environmental or social standard for Chinese products.
In 1939, the world paid the price for the legitimacy it granted the Third Reich; today, there is still a year to prevent that same legitimacy from China.
The writer is a PhD student at the history department of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University