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Monday, August 25, 2008
Tyranny on Parade

Russia wants its empire back, and China, in its insecurity, is trying too hard to look perfect for the world.

If you stop by the blog here often enough, you might have noticed the absence of new posts for nearly two weeks. It wasn't a self-imposed cooling-off period after American Fork's property tax increase, and I wasn't that captivated by the Olympics, though I did enjoy the events I watched. Nor was I drafted by the US government to employ my fading Russian language skills to help get the Russians out of Georgia. It was much more prosaic than any of that. I came down with an unhappy mix of the flu and too much work to do, and I'm just now coming up for air (cough, cough).

In those two weeks, several noteworthy things have occurred, and, yes, I intend to note them, some now and some later. We'll start with tyranny, Communist and otherwise.

Tyranny on Parade, Part 1

Chinese Communism tarted itself up rather well for the Olympiad, I suppose, but anyone who has been paying attention has probably noticed that ancient nation's slip on rather frequent display. They shut down much of their industry in and around Beijing several weeks before the Games, in an effort to clean up the air. They told the locals not to wear colors that clash too much on the streets, and there were reports of many Chinese being turned away from events because they didn't look -- what? -- cosmopolitan enough? Telegenic enough?

Unfettered Internet access promised to international journalists was, well, fettered. Designated protest zones were both quite distant from events and mysteriously (?) empty of protestors -- not that I really care about political protests at the Olympics -- and some would-be protestors apparently were jailed for applying repeatedly for protest permits. Venues supposedly sold-out turned out to be mostly empty. The child with the beautiful singing voice sang from backstage at the opening ceremony, while a cuter child with better teeth lip-synched for the cameras. I even heard that some computer-generated fireworks images were inserted into the television feed that evening, presumably because someone thought the real fireworks might not be impressive enough to the outside world.

Here are some things I don't know: Have Chinese leaders been more concerned to display their nation's perfection and unassailable superiority to the rest of the world, to themselves, or to their people? Have they worried more about displaying that supposed superiority or persuading the rest of the world that they belong in the company of the modern world's greatest nations? Have they ever heard the adage, "No one who insists, 'I'm as good as you,' actually believes it"? And finally, how does one say Potemkin Village in Chinese? The national insecurities here are massive.

For what it's worth, I'm not nearly the only person who thought of Potemkin Villages. I just Googled china olympics potemkin and got about 14,000 results. Here are three of the better articles I found: one from Time, one from the Columbia Journalism Review, and one from -- forgive me -- The Huffington Post.

Tyranny on Parade, Part 1.1

The Paralympics are coming up in Beijing in September, as is always the case after a regular Olympiad. It would seem to be in character for the Chinese to do one of these two things: Have able-bodied Chinese athletes pretend to be handicapped, so that China can win most or all of the medals. Even China's handicapped people are superior! Or graciously host the whole event for the world, but have no Chinese athletes there, because perfect China doesn't have any handicapped people!

Tyranny on Parade, Part 2

When the news broke that Russia had invaded Georgia on the day before the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, I found myself wondering how many people thought the Russians were marching on Atlanta. I assume my readers, at least, have sufficient geopolitical awareness to realize immediately that the place Russia invaded was the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (called Gruzia in Russian), not the hometown of Coca-Cola.

Russia wants its empire back. Whatever else this little escapade may be, it is a test. Who cares about a little place most folks can't find on a map enough to do something about it? And does anyone remember that Hitler used a similar justification for invading one of his neighbors, the need to defend or unite with an ethnic minority in that country? And does NATO have enough teeth or spine or whatever to welcome Ukraine as a member -- and soon? Ukraine is the biggest, juiciest Russian target, if empire-building is the agenda.

Seven years ago, President Bush met with Vladimir Putin. Bush famously said:

I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.

This led to the best American line so far about the Georgia invasion: Senator and presidential candidate John McCain said he looked Putin in the eye and saw "a K, a G, and a B." It was a good line, whether or not it was original.

Don't expect anything serious from the United Nations in this matter. Russia has a veto on the Security Council, and much of Europe is quite conscious that a large percentage of its energy comes from Russia.

I wonder if the American Left will love Russia less in the coming empire-building years than it loved the Soviet Union during its 70-year tenure. After all, this time the Russian empire comes without the restraint and the (to some) attractive veneer of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Moscow uber alles, y'know?

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