Human Rights and the Isolation Factor

Latest news has it that Sarkozy will attend the Olympic opening ceremony after all. In the end, German chancellor Merkel may be one of rather few leaders who choose to stay away – possibly along with Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper, Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk and the Czech Republic’s president Vaclav Klaus. Their absence doesn’t amount to a “boycott”, but it is important.

It is probably no coincidence that three of the politicians just mentioned grew up in Eastern European states. Merkel herself was born in Hamburg, but her family moved to East Germany soon after her birth. She remained an East German citizen until Germany was united in October 1990.

Another East German, Günter Nooke, is the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid. He is facing a lot of skepticism, even within Germany, with his human rights agenda. Misgivings about his work are that it is bad for German business, that every country has to make its own choices, etc.

Nooke, himself a dissident in East Germany under Communist rule back then, told German news magazine Der Spiegel how he was mobbed by his superiors in the army (military service was mandatory in both German states).  After he had been listed as a “candidate” for an internment camp, he transferred his rights and duties to foster his children to his sister’s wife for making sure that they wouldn’t be put into a state children’s home.

He knew that there were people outside East Germany who hadn’t forgotten him. To feel that gave him a lot of strength, he says. A dictatorship could only work efficiently as long as it remained a vacuum, without any hope for the dissidents to be heard. As long as their isolation isn’t complete, there is still some hope.

That’s why the decision about attending the opening ceremony or staying away does matter. That’s why every word about human rights does matter. That is no hostility towards China. It is a human duty. I sometimes get the impression that many of those who call it “hostility” may only fear for their own business, or, if mainland Chinese, do not wish to confront themselves with the actual issue because they are – understandably – afraid. But this should blind noone who is in a relatively safe position himself or herself.

Whenever fear is absent, a conscious choice can be made. And there are distinguished people like Hu Jia who won’t even be stopped by fear. There is no need to blindly admire or emulate them. But we can learn from them. If we want a better tomorrow, we should. They make huge sacrifices. To reciprocate at least at a minimum level, we must let them know that they we are aware of them.

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