Robert Ménard is a man with a mission. The founder and secretary-general of “Reporters Sans Frontières”, or “Reporters Without Borders”, is calling for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. He was one of three protestors who disrupted the traditional lighting of the Olympic flame to protest at what they say is human rights abuse in Tibet and China. Not the best publicity for a country hoping to show the world a positive image during the Beijing games. Robert Ménard tells EuroNews that mixing politics with the Olympics has become inevitable, especially when China is the host.
Valérie Zabriskie, European Affairs Reporter, EuroNews : Is boycotting the Olympics’ opening ceremony really the best means of protesting against Human Rights violations in China and especially Tibet?
Robert Ménard: It’s not the BEST means, but it’s the least bad. The human rights problem in Tibet and China will not be solved in four months. For years the democratic countries, the Western powers, should have taken a firmer line with China. But now we find ourselves at a crucial point and it seems to us that heads of state and government should not be present for the three and a half hours that the opening ceremony will last. At the very least.
EuroNews: Why just a boycott of the ceremony and not of the whole Games?
Robert Ménard: Because we can’t. We can’t ask the competitors to do something that’s impossible for them. Saying to young people who have been training hard for this for months, for years, “Listen you can’t go now”, it’s just not realistic. They’re not to blame. The responsibility, the crux of the problem, lies with the International Olympic Committee for choosing Beijing as the host city. They have to face up to their responsibilities and to the politicians, because this is a political matter.
EuroNews: But when you say face up to their responsibilities, what exactly do you mean? For example Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee, has said the Committee was engaged in silent diplomacy with China.
Robert Ménard: Jacques Rogge is taking us all for idiots. He’s a liar. Months ago we, along with human rights groups from across the world, gave him a list of about 40 people in Chinese prisons and asked him to show it to the Chinese authorities. And Rogge never did it. He doesn’t get results, because he doesn’t ask for anything. He says: “I organise sports events, don’t ask me to talk about human rights, I don’t do politics”. But the decision to choose Beijing is a political decision.
EuroNews: If France doesn’t go to the opening ceremony, but Germany, Britain and the United States-who’ve said they’re against a boycott- all turn up, what is France going to change…?
Robert Ménard: To our mind, it’s about more than just asking Nicolas Sarkozy. Why is Sarkozy’s position important? Because in August, when the Games start, he’ll be presiding over the European Union. Therefore he’ll be representing the 27 EU countries. There’s going to be a meeting of Foreign Ministers of all the EU members. I hope they will adopt a common stance. I hope Europe will speak out loudly as one. We can’t talk about human rights, which were created by Europeans, and then forget about them when it becomes awkward. Obviously our governments don’t think that. They are obsessed with one thing and that’s the business they do with China, and that their companies do with China.
EuroNews: You want political leaders to boycott the opening ceremony. And what about journalists, what do you think they should do?
Robert Ménard: All journalists must ask permission to go to Lhasa in Tibet. All of them must ask. There’ll be 20,000 there asking to go because it’s their job to go the most difficult places. I don’t dare imagine that any journalist worthy of the name would be happy just to go to Beijing. No way. That’s the first thing. A number of other journalists, we’ll ask them to wear a sign, saying “I’m not stupid”. Certainly for some, they must report the news, the sporting results. But at the same time they must remember which country they’re in.
EuroNews: I read an article that quoted you as saying that the problem with NGOs is that most have a sort of incestuous relationship with the political left, while you consider yourself non-political in your approach.
Robert Ménard: We are watchdogs. I have no more sympathy for a right-wing dictatorship than for a left-wing dictatorship. I, and ‘Reporters without Borders’, can be just as intransigent whether it be with Castro putting 25 journalists in prison or with Bush when his army fires at journalists in Iraq. I’m not saying that Mr. Castro and Mr. Bush are the same. Obviously they’re not. I don’t have selective sensitivity. Are there good dictatorships and bad dictatorships? Of course not. I’m shocked by Saudi Arabia, an ally of the US, just as much as I am by communist China.
EuroNews: One last question Mr. Ménard. Will you go to Beijing?
Robert Ménard: I can’t go to Beijing any more. I was thrown out last August. We were demonstrating in the street outside the headquarters of the Beijing Olympic Organising Committee and they arrested us and chucked us out. I tried to get back in via Hong Kong a couple of months ago. Now I’ve got a stamp on my passport saying I can never go back to China. The communist government there won’t last forever. Neither will I. I hope to go back one day to a democratic China.