The German government’s deputy spokesman Thomas Steg couldn’t have been any clearer at a regular press briefing this week. Despite concerns about how the Chinese authorities are treating Tibetan protestors, Berlin considers boycotting the Beijing Olympics counterproductive and it will not take part in any such action.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that neither he nor Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to attend the Beijing Olympics opening, but implied this was not linked to Tibet.
“The sports minister does not plan to participate, and I don’t think the Chancellor or I will,” he told reporters while attending an EU summit in Slovenia. He added that there had been “no need to scrap anything” as there had never been any plans to attend the grand Olympic opening in the Chinese capital on August 8.
The German Olympic Committee also added its two cents on Friday, confirming its opposition to a boycott of the games to put pressure on China politically. The sporting associated said it was concerned about the situation in Tibet, but a boycott was “not an appropriate measure to resolve the regions problems for good” and the Olympics “must not be used for political pressure.”
That stance – rejecting any sort of boycott – is one that has largely been shared by the German media. The country’s most influential opinion pages this week have almost exclusively come out against an Olympic boycott. However, their reasoning for taking part in the Beijing Games almost always has little to do with the official line.
Berlin’s centrist daily Der Tagesspiegel makes comparisons to the 1936 Berlin Olympics that took place under the shadow of the Third Reich and are often called “Hitler’s Games” in Germany. Whereas Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was able to present choreographed and harmonious image to the rest of the world, China cannot manipulate public opinion in this day and age, the paper argues.
“Hitler’s Reich appeared before the eyes of the world as a peace-loving host country. But in Beijing there won’t be a Leni Riefenstahl to create beguiling images of competitive sports heroism that offer the military a comfortable place to hide.”
The paper points to the protest at the ceremony in Greece lighting the Olympic torch as proof that China will not have an easy ride in the coming months. The paper condemns the catastrophic attitude toward the freedom of the press shown in China’s reporting on the events in Tibet and calls for an information offensive by the international media – before the symbolic Olympic flame is extinguished on the way to Beijing.
“The unrealized boycott of the Nazi Games must now, 72 years later, lead to the unflinching examination of the lacking human rights in Tibet – and in the rest of China,” writes Der Tagesspiegel.
The left-wing Tageszeitung considers a boycott counterproductive just like the German government – but for entirely different reasons. The TAZ writes that the protest at the torch lighting ceremony shows why it’s important to go to the Olympic Games: “Exiled Tibetans have announced they will stage further protests along the 97,000-kilometre route that the Olympic torch will travel around the world.”
The paper urges activists and the media to seize the opportunity to press China on its miserable human rights record – something than can only be done if the Summer Games go on. “The Olympic Games in Beijing aren’t simply a sporting and commercial event. They are also political games and China’s regime should not be allowed to get away with its human rights abuses.”
The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also calls into question the motives behind any boycott. How can athletes in Beijing make clear that their participation doesn’t make them complicit in China’s actions both at home and abroad without risk being stripped of their medals? “Will an Olympic champion lose his gold if he wears a ‘Free Tibet’ shirt on the at the awards ceremony?” asks FAZ. “Professional athletes cannot survive with a conscience these days.”
Munich’s centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung addresses the disconnect between asking athletes to take a moral stand that isn’t asked of anyone else – for example, the countless western companies doing business with China. “There are no easy answers. But the fixation on a yes or no to a boycott suggests the opposite,” the daily writes. “As if this decision would help a Tibetan monk whose monastery is surrounded by the army or a dissident fighting for freedom of speech would be protected after the Games were over.”