Protection for the Olympic Flame

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If we were to take to the letter the government spokesman's statement that protests against China's occupation of Tibet go against the spirit of the Olympic Games, we would also have to ask the following question: Is it in accordance with the Olympic spirit for the Greek Olympic Committee and the Greek police to refuse to make public the exact route of the flame's relay around the capital, to hide the flame from the people? They cited security concerns.

According to Saturday's To Vima daily, the course of the flame relay was subject to the assessments of the Greek Olympic Committee and the police.

Police officers have said they were following the same protocol they did when former US President Bill Clinton visited the Greek capital in November 1999.

They would not announce the exact routes for "security reasons." For the police, information that activists were planning to hang up banners in support of the Tibetan cause was nothing more than a big headache.

So, what exactly were these "security concerns"? Did the police receive information about any impending terrorist attack? Did they receive bomb threats? No. The Greek Olympic Committee and the police wanted to ensure that banners would not be strung up along the flame's route and that there would be no protests about Tibet.

But, as far as we know, only totalitarian states live in fear of public protest and only dictators are afraid of freedom of expression. While free speech is not something governments in Western democracies necessarily invite (and a public protest is an exercise of free speech), they at least tolerate it.

This is obviously not the case in Greece, where the entire Greek state put itself at the service of the Chinese security forces, which, in turn, wanted to silence any protests against the regime in Beijing.

In effect, the Greek Olympic Committee and police turned the country that was once the cradle and exporter of democracy into an importer of China's oppressive tactics. Instead of Greece teaching China democratic practices, it imposed its totalitarian regime over us.

We saw state broadcasting company ERT editing out (censoring) the scenes of the French protesters at the flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia and then we saw the Greek Olympic Committee and police abiding by the orders of Chinese officials in order to censor all forms of protest. This is going too far.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 02/04/2008