One Olympic Victory—A Commentary by Ronan Farrow ’09 and Mia Farrow
The following commentary was published in The Wall Street Journal on February 19, 2008.
One Olympic Victory
By Ronan Farrow ’09 and Mia Farrow
Almost a year ago on these pages we questioned Steven Spielberg's position as an artistic director of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. We highlighted China's role as business partner, diplomatic protector and underwriter of Sudan's campaign of ethnic destruction in Darfur.
The piece, which labeled the games the "genocide Olympics," provoked immediate self-protective action from the People's Republic of China. Within days, Beijing placed rebuttal letters in prominent papers, hired two international press firms to sanitize their image, and appointed a special envoy to Darfur. Most significantly, China reconsidered its long-standing obstruction of United Nations Security Council actions on Darfur, and for the first time signed on to a resolution authorizing peacekeepers for the region.
Beijing's determination to keep the 2008 Olympic Games from being tainted proved to be a unique point of leverage with a country that has long been impervious to criticism. This sensitivity sparked new hope for Darfur.
Steven Spielberg responded too. He sought advice about China's role in Darfur, and tried over many months to engage Chinese officials, urging them to address the Darfur crisis in advance of the Games. His efforts were futile -- Sudanese government forces have intensified attacks on civilians, killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands within the past two weeks. Expressing frustration last week, Mr. Spielberg resigned. In an eloquent statement, he explained that "my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual."
For an unthinkable five years, governments have watched the slaughter in Darfur and failed to take action. And so an unprecedented trend has emerged: Individuals have taken up the responsibility to protect this tormented population. Mr. Spielberg has joined scores of U.S. congressmen and European parliamentarians, as well as Nobel Prize winners, athletes, entertainers and ordinary citizens who have taken a public stand urging China to use its influence to stop the killing. In doing so, these individuals may just move China to reassess its no-strings-attached backing of abusive regimes across the globe.
The 2008 Olympic Games were to be China's post-Tiananmen Square coming-out party. That the event has prompted frantic street cleaning, construction and anti-pollution measures is unsurprising. That China's human rights record has been called into question is also no surprise. But that the typically intransigent regime might actually be pushed to action on human rights issues -- and by a movement of individuals, not governments -- has caught many off guard. The slogan of the Olympic Games is "One World, One Dream." The dream of a modern China observant of human rights domestically and in its foreign policy is rapidly becoming the defining theme of these Games.
If that dream is to become a reality, new voices will need to be heard. Other powerful individuals lending their imprimatur to Beijing also bear the burden of conscience that Mr. Spielberg described. President George W. Bush, who plans to attend the Games, said "I view the Olympics as a sporting event" and smoothly refused questions about China's abuses and its backing of mass atrocities abroad.
We don't care what Mr. Bush does next year, but this year he is representing the American people. Should he be taking his place next to Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Genocide Olympics? Mr. Bush and other powerful political figures should, at minimum, release strong statements of concern regarding China's human rights record. Better still, they could follow the lead of Prince Charles of Wales, who recently decided not to attend the games.
Corporations, too, will have to act. Mr. Spielberg has thrown the ball squarely into the court of those most likely to have China's ear in the lead-up to the Games: those underwriting the ceremony. Now, more than ever, corporate sponsors must step up and do their part.
McDonalds, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Visa and Microsoft should join the ranks of responsible individuals protesting the Games. These companies should publicly express concern, and do their utmost to persuade Beijing to actively seek change in Darfur. This cannot be, as Mr. Spielberg notes, "business as usual."
One powerful artist has added his voice to the movement of citizens working to ensure that the Olympic Games herald not just self-promotion, but real reform. "With growing influence," Mr. Spielberg observed, "comes growing responsibilities." If China's rise as a global superpower is to be tempered with that kind of responsibility, individuals and institutions supporting the Games at all levels must join the chorus.
Mr. Farrow, a student at Yale Law School, has traveled in Darfur and worked on human-rights issues at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Ms. Farrow, an actor, recently returned from her eighth trip to the Darfur region.