18 March 2008

Closed Tibet => Boycott Beijing 2008

It's hard to know how to respond to the events unfolding in Tibet. And it's hard on two levels. First, as an outsider anything I do or say is pretty much irrelevant anyway, but that doesn't justify walking on the other side of the street with eyes averted.

But more directly it's hard because of the attempt by the Chinese authorities to lock down every possible information source. It will come as no surprise that I don't think closing Tibet off from the rest of the world is a good idea - or indeed a good sign.

If the Chinese authorities were telling the truth about the violence allegedly carried out by Tibetans, then having external and independent observers is precisely what they would want. The fact that they don't means that their own stories must be viewed with suspicion, especially since they flatly contradict videos and images that have been smuggled out. Moreover, the fact that it won't even trust its own people - who seem inclined to condemn the Tibetans as "ungrateful" anyway - to judge events, and has blocked practically all external news sources, is yet more evidence that there is a massive coverup underway.

The question then is: What can be done? On a personal level, I think the least those of us with bits at our disposal can do is keep spreading the message that all is not as the Chinese authorities would have us believe and that there is likely to be violent repression going on behind that news blackout. The more outlets that point to independent news stories on the subject, and the more blog posts that restate these issues, the greater the likelhood that the Great Firewall of China will just buckle under the strain (or that China will just cut itself off from the rest of the world).

In terms of the bigger picture, I find pleas that the Olympics must go ahead regardless because politics and sport must be kept separate, or that otherwise the poor athletes will be penalised, rather naive. Sport is all about politics - about which nation is "better" than the others. If athletes really cared about sport for sport's sake, for the sake of achieving their best, they wouldn't go to such politicised occasions in the first place, but would be content with the million other sporting opportunities where they could excel.

So the question then becomes what good a boycott would do for Tibet. In direct terms, I think it would do very little, but indirectly it would show one thing above all: that somebody out there cares enough to say "enough is enough, let us at least do something, however symbolic." Maybe the threat of that will help concentrate the minds of the Chinese leadership; maybe it won't. But the more times the phrase "Boycott Beijing 2008" turns up on Google, and the higher in ranking that term occurs in searches for "Beijing 2008", the more they will at least think about it.

Update 1: Shortly after posting this, I've just come across this brilliant analysis of what the Tibetans are fighting for - and why they are fighting, even though it's hopeless.

Update 2: Typically sharp analysis on the same topic from Salon's Andrew Leonard here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Save Tibet. Boycott Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Sign Now:

EveryOne Group is promoting a petition and an international campaign to ask for an immediate halt to the harsh sociocultural repression underway in Tibet, a repression perpetrated by the Chinese authorities towards thousands of innocent people.
The leaders of EveryOne, the authorities, and people of goodwill who sign the petition below, are promoting the Boycott Campaign of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and sporting and cultural events in the People’s Republic of China. They will also be supporting the “Beijing 2008 Gold Medals for Human Rights” campaign, with gold medals coined by EveryOne Group being awarded to all the athletes who decide not to take part in the Olympic Games out of solidarity with the people of Tibet.

Petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/fortibet/

One of the most serious human rights emergencies is taking place in Tibet, a country situated north of the Himalayas, covering an area of 2,5 million square kilometres: more than eight times the size of Italy. The Tibetan population numbers about 6.5 million inhabitants, compared to the 7.5 million colonists gradually introduced into the country by the Chinese Government over the years. Tibet had been free and independent for centuries; its right to independence is documented by three resolutions approved by the United Nations in 1959, 1961 and 1965. Following the invasion by the Chinese Army – between 1949 and 1950 – and its ruthless repressive politics, over two thousand years of Tibetan history and culture are in serious danger of being destroyed.
Let us remember that during the occupation, (and after the annexation), numerous barbarous acts have been carried out by over 40,000 invasion troops who already in the period of 1950-1980 murdered over two million Tibetans and destroyed an incomparable patrimony of humanity: over six thousand temples and incalculable number of works of art. Thousands of dissidents, intellectuals, religious men (guilty of not accepting this persecution) have been imprisoned; language, religion and cultural traditions are being denied; the environment, of breathtaking beauty before the invasion, has been subjected to deforestation and sacking of resources, actions that have led to an ecological catastrophe and the progressive impoverishment of the country. Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has lived in exile. In the meantime his country has been reduced to conditions of extreme hardship: the Tibetans’ standard of living is one of the lowest in the world, while the introduction of Chinese colonists is turning the Tibetans into an even smaller minority year by year. Today the drama foreseen in 1931 by the 13th Dalai Lama (the predecessor of the present one) has finally taken place:

“We have to be ready to defend ourselves or our spiritual and cultural traditions will be destroyed, the names of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas will be cancelled out, our monasteries will be looted and reduced to rubble, the monks and nuns will be murdered or kicked out. If we do not protect our people, we will become slaves of our torturers, forced to wander around like beggars, without hope.”

Since March 13th, 2008 Tibet has been witnessing the protest of its people against the persecutory politics of the Chinese Government. The Chinese authorities have reacted with even more severity than in the past. Many monks have been arrested, while the police, firing into the crowd of demonstrators has caused a hundred or so victims so far. A situation the Tibetan government in exile has documented and the Chinese Government has tried to conceal, declaring that only thirteen people have been killed while defining them “troublemakers” and “criminals. History teaches us that the propaganda of persecutory regimes has always initiated campaigns directed at criminalizing the victims according to a precise strategy, a strategy finalized at justifying violations and forms of destruction: the European colonists towards the Native Americans, the Nazis towards the Jews and the other minorities they targeted. The persecution being carried out by several European states towards the gypsy people, (which is taking place among the indifference of the rest of the world) makes use of the same kind of propaganda: “Zero tolerance against a nation of criminals”. The exact same words used by Qin Gang, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Office in response to an appeal in support of Tibet by Pope Benedict XVI. On March 18th, 2008 Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minister, to prevent possible boycotting campaigns from the Dalai Lama laid on him the blame for the Tibetan victims killed by Chinese authorities, accusing him of “inciting a boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August of this year”.

This is why the Dalai Lama is avoiding talking of the possibility of saying NO to the Bejing Olympics: he does not want further bloodshed. At the same time though, from his exile in Dharamsala (India) he has cried out to the free world for help: “The repression is getting worse, leading to terrible and frightening violations of human rights. At the same time religious freedom is being denied and spiritual matters are being politicized.”

In the meantime the monks, intellectuals and leaders in exile have started a protest march from India to Tibet, asking for an end to the bloody Chinese occupation, and asking that all countries and human beings who believe in the necessity to safeguard human rights boycott the next Olympic Games in Beijing. The international community seems frightened by the idea of a boycott, due to the huge economic and political interests revolving around the Games.

Showing ourselves to be cowardly and indifferent to a tragedy of such huge proportions, however, would be the greatest mistake and it would make us all accomplices of the bullies who are constantly perpetrating violations of people’s fundamental rights, which contrast with civil coexistence and with the principals of liberty and dignity that all human beings are entitled to. The Olympic Games have always represented a moment of celebration of the brotherhood between peoples (historically all conflicts were suspended while the Games were underway). What is more, the Games are an occasion for reaffirming the universal value of human rights and for preventing the violation of democratic rights. The Chinese Government is failing to respect all of this.

After the shocking events in Burma (where hundreds of Buddhist monks who were demonstrating peacefully were massacred) even more serious episodes are taking place in Tibet, The oppressors take no heed of clear warnings from determined and influential voices that try to induce them to change their attitude and walk along the path of respect for human rights.
Up to now the recommendations from human rights groups and international political parties have gone unheeded, as unfortunately was the appeal from the Dalai Lama to the Chinese authorities - in which he asked them to abandon the use of force in repressing the peaceful and democratic protests of the Tibetan people. Fear and indifference, on the other hand, weakens his voice – the voice that invites them to seek the path of peace and respect for peoples.

EveryOne Group invites nations, sports federations, individual athletes, sports journalists, and sports fans to reflect carefully on the result of ignoring the suffering and losses of the Tibetan people and celebrating the Olympic Games as usual. What value would the athletes’ feats have? What would the national anthems sound like? What light would the medals reflect?

We are reminded of the 1936 Olympic Games: the choice fell upon Berlin, a controversial choice seeing Germany was about to enter the Hitler period. The Games became just an excuse for demonstrating Germany’s supremacy to the whole world: new monumental building projects (among which the splendid Olympic Village) and a German team which trained scrupulously for months in the Black Forest, from where it emerged in top form after strict training. There were no lack of protests against Hitler’s Games, nor lack of contradictions: the United States threatened, through Roosevelt, to boycott the games but it all came to nothing.
Roosevelt sent an envoy to Germany to check out the real situation, but it was Avery Brundage who crossed the ocean, the future president of the International Olympic Committee with ultra-conservative and racist leanings. His report was therefore a positive one and the United States decided to take part in the Games. Even Hitler cleaned up his act a little: in the German team he included a handful of Jewish athletes: all this while the anti-Jewish laws were already in force. Therefore, among a display of swastikas, on August 1st, 1926, the German middle-distance runner, Erik Schilgen lit the Olympic torch with the torch that had been carried by 3000 torch-bearers from Athens. A
few years later, to choose a significant example, all the Jewish players of Ajax, the football team of the Amsterdam ghetto founded by the brothers Han and Johan Dade, were deported to the Nazi concentration camps amidst the indifference, mixed with dismay, of the international community. We will not allow the same thing to happen with the People’s Republic of China.

China cannot represent the Olympic spirit of brotherhood and friendship, the way it cannot host art and cultural events that are messengers of solidarity. EveryOne Group is asking all athletes, Italian and international, who have planned to take part in the Beijing Olympics to boycott their participation there. But this itself is not enough, because, (for a boycott to be effective towards a government whose arrogance and abuse of power seems to be without limits), it must include all sporting, cultural and theatrical events, and all venues. EveryOne Group (but also influential figures of contemporary culture, like that of the French philosopher Bernard Henry-Levy) are asking the athletes not to show their talent on the soil of a country that does not recognise human rights; it is asking all the artists who have tours, concerts and shows planned in China to cancel them: the concerts must be stopped until the Tibetan trumpets are allowed to sound out again in liberty and peace; the performances must stop for as long as we can hear the cries of the thousands of innocent people demonstrating peacefully, people who are being forcibly repressed, arrested, humiliated and killed by the Chinese soldiers.

EveryOne Group points out that boycotting is a form of action in support of human rights that has obtained important results right from the late 19th Century. Its effectiveness is indisputable because is it based on the same principles that have made coming out on strike a fundamental tool for the workers’ cause throughout the world. Boycotting is a non-violent action, aimed at isolating the entity that violates human rights and interrupting any form of collaboration with it. One of the most significant victories obtained through boycotting was the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. To those who claim that the 2008 Olympic Games will bring benefits to all the Chinese people and visibility to Tibetan dissidents, we reply that the Games, if held according to plan, will only result in strengthening the present regime, and the penalizing of persecuted minorities even more. At the same time the news reaching the media and international observers will be carefully filtered by government propaganda. A boycott, on the other hand, is a clear response to the voice of prevarication: “There is no price for the freedom of a people; there is no price for innocent blood”.

The leaders of EveryOne Group, the authorities and people of goodwill who support the Petition and the Boycotting Campaign of the 2008 Olympic Games (as well as sporting and cultural events in China) will also be supporting “Beijing 2008. Gold Medal for Human Rights”, with gold medals (coined by the Group in gold-coloured metal) awarded to all the athletes who decide not to take part in the Olympic Games or other sporting events out of solidarity with the people of Tibet. The medals will also be awarded to journalists, intellectuals and artists who sign the petition and take part in the campaign by boycotting cultural and theatrical events with the government of the oppressors.