Olympics and Nationalism: Is North Korea another example? Op-ed

Recent headlines for the Olympic games have North Korea as their subject. What will happen to the Athletes that have failed to win medals is in question. It seems that in the past, North Korea has sent athletes who represented their country and failed to win medals to what has been termed “gulag” like places. There the athletes are to be to be punished for their poor performance and thus a poor representation of North Korea at the Games. Along with a large number of cheerleaders that accompanied the athletes to the Games, there is something to be said for how important it is for authoritarian regimes to project a certain appearance of unity and nationalism which is what will be seen here.

 

It appears that participating in the Olympic Games is certainly a way to create nationalism as many countries experience the excitement behind cheering for one’s own country while their representatives compete. Social media battles ensue and everyone is talking about their country and how well they are doing or how well they should have done. However, The Olympics have had a historical connection to being propaganda for countries with authoritarian regimes as was seen in 1930’s Germany as well as in the 2008 games held in China (although technically a communist regime has many similarities to a fascist regime) and now with North Korea as examples.

 

For many countries, this is a fun and exciting time but when a fascist regime looks at something like the Olympics there is a much more serious tone put over the event. Nationalism can be seen through fascist history has an important component to keeping the support of the people and creating a feeling of unity. Many efforts can be seen in Nazi Germany, for example, to keep the people unified and promote nationalism.The 1936 Olympics is just one of the many ways this was done. Nationalism was promoted in Nazi Germany sports as they were seen to create unity among the youth. Another way the Olympics were used at that time was, as these games were the first ever to be televised, to show German ideals to the world and certainly how great Germany was including a stadium that was built with 100 000 seats to top the last Olympic games that were held in another country. North Korea, on the other hand, may not have been successful at winning metals but it did certainly show signs of its attempt to display unity and nationalism with its large number of cheerleaders.

 

The Olympics in China, (although not exactly a fascist regime it shares many similaterites to one) had some very negative headlines as well when it hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. There have been many controversies over whether it had open media as it had pledged and not to mention the many human rights violations that have been reported as a result of the games. The cost of the games is high, along with controversies that usually ensue but for a resume like China, it can be understood there is an importance of the nation wanting to portray itself as powerful and unified for its own citizens and the world to maintain control of the country. As a result, bringing home no metals to North Korea in this years Olympics can be devastating to the image of power North Korea has been trying to build certainly in the last few months with the missile controversy between it and the US.

 

In short, the Olympics have proven throughout history up until today to be a platform for countries to not only strengthen nationalism within their borders but to display strength to other countries. This does not manifest itself more strongly than in those countries that have authoritarian regimes such as in 1930’s Germany, China or currently in the competing North Korea. For most people, the Olympics are a fun way to have national pride and competition with neighboring countries, albeit at times with some issues over things like doping and corruption, but the thought of the use of the Olympics as propaganda is usually far from the minds of people just having fun.

Resist Tactics to Turn Us Against Each Other

“Identity politics” are now being misused by the alt-right.

Let’s begin with a somewhat controversial statement: identity politics are not the problem here. Several terms have been taken by alt-right internet trolls and used to attack the very people they were invented to serve. See: ‘triggered’ and ‘safe-space’.

In fascism, individual identities and wishes are absorbed into the wishes of the whole. Allegiance and obedience to the state overrule any other desires. Societal problems, such as economic issues, are blamed on specific groups who do not fit into their idea of ‘proper citizens’. These people then become ‘un-pure’ and will corrupt the rest of society. The most obvious example of this was how the Nazis blamed the status of Germany (a struggling economy, lack of military) after the First World War on Jewish corruption. They then used this made-up narrative as an excuse to systematically murder six million Jewish people. Another example of antisemitism in European fascist states (not that there aren’t multiple books worth of examples) is anti-Jewish laws in fascist Italy. These laws were either supported or ignored by the larger population because Jewish people already were labouring under being viewed as inherently unable (read: unwilling) to conform. When identity becomes a detriment to loyalty to the state, identities that are already viewed as the ‘Other’ in society have been painted as inherently disloyal and open to being targeted.

Some people that would be also targeted for bigotry have tried to distance themselves from more marginalized groups. They may think that they can avoid oppression by allying themselves with the alt-right early. This is absolutely wrong. The alt-right, primarily online, have been trying to invoke this deliberately. Specific arguments are used as an attempt to divide up people who would otherwise be allied. One of the more widespread tactics is used specifically against Muslim people, something that Jasib Puar described as ‘homonationalism’ in the essay Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Neo-nazis with ulterior motives now are using homophobia in what they classify as ‘Muslim countries’ as an excuse to feel morally superior and in turn deny rights to Muslim people. Personally, this was used in full force at a rally I protested this summer. The rally was ostensibly against unfettered immigration but was full of Islamophobic slogans and speeches. In some of these speeches, men would talk about how Muslim people were homophobic and women-hating, complaining about the hypocrisy of the Canadian government for welcoming in refugees yet claiming to be for gay and women’s rights. Many, many more examples of neo-nazis suddenly finding a deep passion for queer liberation when the plight of the LGBTQ+ population in Saudi Arabia is discussed can be found online.

This strategy isn’t anything new. And unlike some voices, this is not at all a call to ignore intersectional analysis in activism. Quite the opposite: listening and elevating other experiences is crucial to presenting a united front in any sort of anti-fascist resistance. Authoritarianism often works by manipulating already-existing social prejudices as a strategy for gaining power. Struggling against each other to be accepted as an ‘in-group’ with the people in power hurts all of us in the long run. Despite the ability of some to find a place in the group oppression of others, this should not be seen as an actual option by any. Unlike in other historical contexts, supporters of fascism and white supremacy are still outnumbered. Letting them divide activists and set us against each other can happen when larger movements ignore the specific needs and realities of more marginalized members.

Identity politics is a dismissive term for acknowledging the specific experiences of different people and working to guarantee a decent life for all of them. Don’t let them turn us against each other: criticisms need to be there, but we need to keep in mind what can happen if we ignore the real danger. If we let them hurt one group of people because they aren’t us we open the door for whatever oppression they see fit to be turned on us.

Sweeper: Importance of Historical Context

After the last class’ discussions there were some really great points to take away. The concept most interesting for me was the idea of how things are remembered. It appears more clearly from the lecture and discussion that history has a very large part in supporting ideas whether or not they be good or correct. Using history as some sort of propaganda will, as was seen, lead to some kind of distortion whether it be generalizations or misinterpreted facts. One example that Dr. Evans brought up was how some German people think about a “German Culture” when, in fact, there were times in German history were this culture was very different and diverse -not how they see it as being today. There are many other examples of this that can come up as well including the concept of “Making America Great Again.” There is more to the discussion than just whether one even thinks America is already great but if it ever was (“again”) or what made it great to begin with? Are the “great” factors of the “old” America exaggerated in the memory of American people?

 

Another topic that was discussed in our group is the use of words such as “fascism.” Often what is labeled “fascism” is not actually something that can be classified as that but rather populism. Labeling things or putting them “in a box” are not ways of fulling understanding what is happening. If everyone goes around calling people fascist, what do the real fascists become? Again a good critical analysis of history can help with this problem because people can then see the different types of fascist regimes that existed like the classic examples of Germany and Italy and then apply that knowledge.