By: Cimmeron Gillespie
Despite all the alternatives, all the more exciting and glamorous stories I would like to talk about one smaller story. A story attacked on two sides as impossible, one side attacks for its audacity to call for freedom and liberation, on the other for being a conman trying to uphold authoritarianism. The Story I want to tell is from a land of high plains, harsh winters and the crown of the world. Tibet.
Located in the Western area of the People’s Republic of China, high in the Himalayas, Tibet has been the arena for much recent political discourse. In 1951, the People’s Republic of China invaded the nation of Tibet, declaring Tibet as an autonomous region. The PRC marched a ideologically socialist army against a country of devout of Buddhism, the results were culturally catastrophic. It may be hard to conceptualize the effect of destroying thousands of Monasteries, to a region which contains an almost absolute theology, of Buddhism. During the Chinese takeover, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet the ‘Dali Llama’ escaped Tibet to India, where he now resides in Darmalahasala. The PRC has assumed control over Tibet and has turned Tibet into an ‘autonomous region’. Which in practice is a very rural-based area.
Chinese dominance over the area has resulted in tensions. The Dali Llama is the spiritual leader of the majority Buddhist religious population in Tibet. The Tibetan people are not allowed to have the flag of their formerly sovereign nation, or to promote Tibet as a nation. Having a picture of the Dali Llama, having a Tibetan flag or speaking of independence is a crime labeled “Separatism”, any of which can lead to imprisonment or worse. In China, separatism is like the term terrorism, the government can label any act as separatist and put a person in jail for years!
On March 10, 2008, Tibetans protested Chinese rule. On the 49th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising, monks were in the street. The protests were peaceful, but grew very large, the most notable protest in Lhasa, where police lost control. Chinese authorities responded with force, arresting many and violently beating many. In response to the treatment, as well as to previous Chinese treatment of Tibetans, the protests turned violent. Stones were used against police, shops were burned, the damages were estimated in the millions. Tibetan shops were spared, marked by traditional white cloths. The images from after the destruction are those of a single shop, covered in white garlands, amidst rows of charred buildings. China has responded with a strong military presence, armed guards, checkpoints at many roads, a crackdown. The Chinese have precedents from the era of Deng Xiaoping (PRC’s second military chairman), who responded to the Tiananmen square incident, that Chinese rule is law. The boundaries there have undoubtedly been disturbed by the Tibetan protests, so naturally the Chinese government responded with force (there are even video images of the same troop-transport style vehicles driving en mass down the China-Tibet highway). The Tibetans were called to action on a day of historic significance, calling for the release of several monks in Chinese custody. As a result, the leaders of the demonstration were arrested and further protest erupted. The Dali Llama called for peace in the region, but also asked China to allow the Tibetan people to be able to demonstrate peacefully. China responded to the Dali Llama by accusing him of being behind the protests, saying he encouraged the violent demonstrations. The Dali Llama denies these allegations.
The situation in itself would be remarkable, but has been compounded with the upcoming Olympic Games. China desires a positive public image, for its hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The crackdown in Tibet has prompted questions about China’s human rights history. The issue of Olympics was picked up by Pro-Tibet activists in an attempt to raise awareness, targeting the Olympic torch as it travels across the world. In London, England, the torch was met with large protests. In Paris, France, the torch was extinguished three times due to protests. In San Francisco, United States, the torch was stopped around half way into its course and could not be moved forward. The pro-Tibet demonstrators are calling the Olympic flame, the ‘Flame of Shame’. Many Pro-Chinese demonstrators also lined the streets calling the protests an insult to China. In the blog-o-sphere, a common sentiment is that the real loser here is the Olympic games, which should be a symbol of unity. There are various asks in the issue of Tibet, one to allow Tibet to become a sovereign nations, some for greater autonomy, some to release prisoners, to change the route of the torch to not pass through Tibet and many combinations of the above.
The Issue of Tibet pops us every now an again, but seldom with such intensity. Some attack the West for getting involved, when their human rights records have not been so clean. Some attack Tibetans for being tied to the CIA, in a violent imperialist struggle to restore a religious leader. Some call for freedom and territorial autonomy for Tibet. The Dali Llama calls for autonomy and has always advocated peace. Many ideologies cloud the air and tempers can run hot, but at the end of the day; what is unity in a world of silent genocide, extreme rendition and authoritarianism?
Authors note: It has been the position of the Insurgent, that all people should be free from oppression. This article sits in this tradition, because Chinese actions amount to violent state rule, that the Tibetans should be given autonomy in their beliefs and that they be allowed to express themselves.