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Tibet keeps alive true Spirit of the Games

March 20, 2008

Sify News
Wednesday, 19 March , 2008

Claude Arpi is an expert on the history of Tibet, China and the
subcontinent. He was born in Angoulême, France. After graduating from
Bordeaux University in 1974, he decided to live in India and settled in
the South where he is still staying with his Indian wife and young
daughter. He is the author of numerous English and French books
including ‘The Fate of Tibet,’ ‘La Politique Française de Nehru:
1947-1954,’ ‘Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement’ and ‘India and Her
Neighbourhood.’ He writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and
Indo-French relations. In this exclusive column, he wonders if the
latest killings in Lhasa are a repeat of the 1989 Tiananmen Square episode.

‘The most important in life is not the triumph but the struggle’.
                                                              - Pierre
de Coubertin, Founder of the modern Olympic Games.

You may be under the impression that money can buy everything, but it is
not entirely correct.

Yes, the US State Department agreed to remove China from the list of
human rights violators because the US is doing good business with China.

Yes, in July 2001 when Beijing was awarded the hosting of the Games, the
highest human ideals enunciated by the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the
founder of the Modern Games at the end of the 19th century, had long
been forgotten.

Tibet Special: Blood on the Roof of the world | Images: Trouble in Tibet

Now, money reigns supreme over the organisation of this world event. You
may regret that the Games which were meant to manifest mankind’s highest
values has turned into a purely commercial venture only, but what can
you do about it?

But over the past few days, thousands of Tibetans have shown the world
that the ‘human spirit’ still has meaning and strength in this world of
money and power. The peace-loving David has taken on the most powerful
economic Goliath of the planet; and this just with the power of their
aspiration for freedom.

With the world helplessly watching and heads of state weakly condemning
it (when they are not supporting their Chinese business partner in
Beijing), the repression has started on the Roof of the World. It is
bound to be ferocious and ruthless and once the Breaking News period is
over, once reader and viewer fatigue sets in, the courageous Tibetans
will be left to their tormentors.

In many ways, the events in Lhasa during the last few days remind me of
similar incidents on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square nineteen years ago.

Read all columns by the same author

It is not well-known but there was a rehearsal for the June 1989
massacre of students on the Square. It took place three months earlier
on Lhasa’s Central Square.

Hundreds of peaceful Tibetan demonstrators were cornered by the People’s
Armed Police (in China everything has to carry the name of the ‘people’,
today even the brutal repression is called a ‘people’s war’); On March
6, 1989, some 380 defenseless demonstrators were mercilessly massacred.
The person who ordered the killings was a certain Hu Jintao, then
Communist Party Chief in Tibet and today President of the People’s
Republic of China, whom the Tibetans remember as the “Butcher of Lhasa”.

On that day, Hu earned the esteem of the Elders in the Party who soon
propelled him to the top.

Another similarity with the Tiananmen episode is that we will never know
the exact number of casualties of the unrest in Tibet. Western Human
Rights groups (and some courageous Chinese NGOs) have speculated that
probably 3000 students were smashed by the PLA’s tanks in front of Mao’s
mausoleum. The Chinese official figure was just a couple of hundreds.
Similarly today, the Chinese tally is 10 or 12 dead while reliable
sources speak of a least 100 and this before the real repression started.

A difference with the Tiananmen incident is that the Tibetan unrest is
not limited to one place, it has spread across entire Tibet. Ironically,
the negotiations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama have been stuck on
one main bottleneck: Dharamsala wanted the discussion to include the
entire traditional Tibet, while Beijing wanted to restrict the
discussions to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) corresponding to
about one third of the former Tibet. Demonstrations have occurred (and
are continuing as I write these lines) in all three provinces of Tibet.

As Dalai Lama gains, Tibetans lose

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD),
a Tibetan NGO dedicated to highlighting the human rights situation in
Tibet: “Hundreds of Tibetans are arbitrarily arrested in the ongoing
house-by-house raid by Chinese security forces in Lhasa beginning from
15 March 2008. All former political prisoners have already been rounded
off and thrown into prisons by the security forces according to
confirmed information.”

“With streets filled with patrolling Chinese armed troops and tanks in
Lhasa city, the security agencies comb each and every house in Lhasa and
pick up all suspected Tibetans, especially youth, from their houses
accompanied by severe beatings by the armed forces,” says the
organisation which has the largest network inside Tibet.

But more than one thousand kilometers away, demonstrations were staged
by monks of Tashikyil Monastery in Gansu province (formally the
northeastern Tibetan area of Amdo). Later thousands of lay Tibetans are
said to have joined them. They assembled in front of the county
government's headquarters and marched to a place known as Choeten Karpo
(White Stupa) where lay people and monks performed the traditional
Incense Burning ritual.

Later when ‘pro-independence and ‘Long live the Dalai Lama’ slogans were
raised, the People’s Armed Police (PAP) fired tear gas and live
ammunition into the air to disperse the demonstrators. Repressions began

Similar incidents were reported from the south-eastern province of Kham.
During a peaceful demonstration by thousands of people in Ngaba County,
at least seven people are said to have been shot dead by the dreaded
PAP. Most of the casualties belong to the Ngaba Kirti Monastery.

A Tibetan friend of mine received the news from a relative in Nepal that
her father travelling from Shigatse to Tingri in Southern Tibet (not far
from the Nepalese border) was arrested at a check post on the road and
badly beaten by the Chinese police. He is said to be out of danger, but
it shows how widespread and wild is the repression, even though it is
denied by Beijing.

These events will first have serious repercussions in Tibet, where wild
repression can only increase the deep-seated resentment against the
Chinese ‘colonizers’. The scar of these events will take decades to
erase, if they can ever go. Today, in China an entire generation has the
stigma of the Cultural Revolution.

It will also have consequences on the leadership in China. The hard line
(Hu Jintao) will probably prevail in the beginning, but those who
believe in a softer approach are bound to have their say one day. In
China too, millions are longing for democracy and a more open system.

The collateral will be seismic for the Indo-China relations. At the back
of their minds, the Chinese Party bosses will always know that India
possesses a tremendous card in her hand: the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans
in Tibet. This could eventually counterbalance any strategic advantages
China may have in term of infrastructure in the border areas (as well as
the new Beijing-Lhasa railroad.).

But worse, China has already lost her bid to ensure that the Olympic
Games extravaganza went off without a hitch and to get kudos from the
rest of the world for her material achievements.

Let us not forget that Pierre de Coubertin’s first and foremost
objective in reviving the ancient tradition of the Olympic Games was to
‘build men’. He considered Olympism as a religion which would “adhere to
an ideal of superior life and aspire for perfection”. He spoke of the
moral qualities of chivalry, of a quadrennial ‘human spring’.

Beijing has so far organised an ‘inhuman spring’ only.

Courbertin was a great human being. One of his biographers described him
thus: “Small in stature, with lively eyes and a high-pitched and reedy
voice, smiling mischievously behind his large moustache, Coubertin was
an idealist who succeeded in putting a great number of his ideas into
action. His work as a whole, which contains between 12,000 and 15,000
printed pages, comprising of 1,350 to 1,400 books, brochures and
articles, is completely overshadowed by his Olympic achievement.”

The French Baron selected the beautiful creed for the Games: “The most
important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,
just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the
struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have
fought well.”

It is difficult to predict what is going to happen now. In the best
scenario for Beijing, we will have a repetition of the Burma unrest. In
a few months from now, one will not hear anymore about the uprising in
Tibet. Politicians would have given a few statements condemning the
‘excess of violence’ and asking for restrain and business will continue
as usual.

In another scenario, the Olympics will be ‘disturbed’ by a few Bjorks
(the Icelandic singer who sang Free Tibet in Shanghai) or a few
courageous athletes who will pull out a Tibetan flag after getting their
gold medals.

Whatever the future offers us, the ten of thousands Tibetans who ‘dared’
to come down in the streets of Lhasa or elsewhere in Tibet, will have
shown the world, that the Spirit of the Games is alive on this planet
and that the most important in life is not the triumph, but the struggle.

They may not conquer, but would certainly have fought well.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of
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