Olympic Peace Dreams, From Ancient Greece To The Korean Peninsula

South Korean runner carrying the Olympic torch in Tongyeong
South Korean runner carrying the Olympic torch in Tongyeong
Bertrand Hauger


PARIS — Compete, don't kill.

The idea that peace might be achieved through sporting is an old paradox. Pitting athletes and countries against each other in a non-lethal — and cathartic — demonstration of skills, is at the very core of the Olympic ideal, going all the way back to ancient Greece.

The timing and location of the upcoming Winter Games, in PyeongChang, South Korea, "could not be better — or worse," as the South China Morning Post puts it, with rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula as Pyongyang's young leader Kim Jong-un pursues nuclear weapons and regularly trades threats with U.S. President Donald Trump. This morning's announcement that North Korea will send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Games, resuming official talks after more than two years is at the very least a "cautious breakthrough," as CNN described the news.

Speaking to the U.S. network, Duyeon Kim, a senior research fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum hinted that there had "always been a price tag" for the North's participation, in the form of concessions "under the table or upfront." That now appears to include a reinstating of a military hotline between the nations, reunions of families divided between North and South, and the possibility of more lasting peace talks.

The international event has often been used as a metaphorical podium to prove a political point or sow dissension.

Still, before jumping the gun, it would be wise to put this apparent Olympic ceasefire into historical context. Indeed, we can look back to the very roots of the Games: In the 9th century BC, the "Olympic Truce" meant that, in a war-torn Peloponnese, athletes and spectators could travel safely to participate in or attend the Olympic Games, before returning to their homes. Which makes it, as the United Nations puts it, the world's longest lasting peace accord.

At the opening ceremony of the Winter Games Lillehammer in 1994, then-IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch voiced his desire to rekindle the Olympic Truce in modern times: "Please stop the fighting. Please stop the killing. Please drop your guns," he said, as the deadly siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo raged.

In theory, the Olympic charter states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." But in practice, with the world's attention riveted on the friendly show of force, the Games are all but neutral ground. Beyond the somewhat naive idea that sporting events can serve as a surrogate for warfare, the international event has often been used as a metaphorical podium to prove a political point or sow dissension. Think of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics; think of Black Power fists raised in Mexico City in 1968; of the 1972 Munich Games, when Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes; of the 1980 Games in Moscow, which more than 60 countries chose to boycott to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But in equal measure, competition can effectively foster reconciliation. In 2000, Cathy Freeman, after winning the Gold medal in the 400 meters in Sydney, draped herself in both the Australian and Aboriginal flags — arguably achieving more for national peace in 49.11 seconds and a victory lap than authorities managed in months of negotiation.

The Games are all but neutral ground.

But it was also at the Sydney Games that the world saw signs of an earlier Korean rapprochement, as both delegations entered the stadium side by side, under the same flag, for the first time.

It is also worth remembering that one of the strongest images from the Summer Olympics in Rio, just two years ago, was a selfie taken by two North and South Korea gymnasts. We know what has happened since. So while the world applauds this latest moment of Winter Olympic harmony, we should not forget that sports will never take the place of politics — and that Cold Wars die hard.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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