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Beijing 2008: It Takes a Village
July 24, 2001

The story is familiar. Back in 1787, after inspiring the Russian annexation of the Crimea, Gregory Potemkin arranged for Catherine the Great to sail down the Dniper River to tour her new acquisitions. Eager to validate her romantic fantasy of happy peasants in tidy homes, he erected false fronts along the riverbank to hide the slums and hoodwink the tsarina. His scheme succeeded and won Potemkin a place in metaphor history. But the Russian dupe is dwarfed by its latest incarnation - a façade that will be seven years in the making.

Dateline: Beijing. Already, the regime is primping for its Olympic close-up, and like the clueless queen, the West imagines rosy preparations. Holding the Olympics will be "an opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern country and as a progressive country," burbles a State Department spokesman. Perhaps he's referring to the "modern" means China uses to harvest organs from prisoners or the "progressive" way it sterilizes mothers.

Since the celebratory streamers were cleared from Tiananmen Square, China's real street sweepers have gone to work. This morning, after just 30 minutes of deliberation and no witness testimony, a three-judge panel sentenced Gao Zhan, an American University researcher with permanent U.S. residency status, to 10 years in prison for "providing state secrets and intelligence to Taiwan." Last weekend, the government closed 2,000 internet cafes and suspended the licenses of 6,000 more. Those still open must install "information purifiers" which monitor forays to sites with "socially destabilizing content." Finally, members of Falun Gong, who gathered last week to mark the anniversary of the ban on their sect, were arrested and may die in the dungeons as 50 of their bretheren have the past month. Their "crimes" are the subject of a state-sponsored photo exhibit visited by 10,000 bused in each day from government work units. At the display's opening last week, Vice Premier Li Lanqing said, "We have won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games. This shows that the international community has acknowledged the fact that China is marked by social stability and progress….Our comrades should root out Falun Gong and ensure that our country remains stable and peaceful for a long time."

There's precedent for this kind of pre-Olympic cleansing. In anticipation of the 1936 Games in Berlin, Hitler ordered all anti-Jewish slogans scrubbed from city centers and his ministry of propaganda cautioned German journalists that "The racial point of view should not be used in any way in reporting sports results…" There's also precedent for ostrich tendencies on the part of the free world. Hitler's 1935 march into the Rhineland and Brezlinev's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan disqualified neither dictator from hosting the Olympics the following year.

We're winding up for another round of self-deception. Beijing will be sanitized long before the cameras arrive, and like trained seals Americans will applaud the fulfillment of our democratic delusion. But we know how Communists clean up, and if the work of the first week since China won the Games is any indication, the tyrant's grip is tightening. Innocents will die in the name of sport as the PRC prepares to stage this global spectacle, for rather than the regime being swayed by Olympic scrutiny, the West will be motivated to justify our decision by maintaining silence. In so doing, we'll bestow legitimacy on a nation pocked with gulags and governed by thugs. And we'll convert the world to our own deception: that the PRC is a normal country - as normal as neighborhoods of two-dimensional Crimean cottages.

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