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Rediff.com  » News » In Tibet, China dishonours Olympic spirit

In Tibet, China dishonours Olympic spirit

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March 17, 2008 15:11 IST

What had to happen happened! As in 1959, 1987 or again in 1989, riots have erupted in Lhasa and other provinces of Tibet. The repression (and it is only a beginning) is said to be ferocious. But compared to the previous uprisings, this time the background is different: China is hosting the Summer Olympics, an event dedicated to world peace.

I am not sure if there is a Chinese translation of the universally known saying 'There is no free meal', but Beijing should have thought about it before bidding to host the 2008 Games. You can't have the glory of hosting the Games without having to pay the price for not following the basic spirit of the event. The Olympics are more than a commercial venture, they are a celebration of the highest values that mankind can manifest.

In July 2001, when Beijing was awarded the Games, many human rights campaigners across the world expressed their surprise since Beijing is regularly credited with the worst human rights violations, particularly since the 1989 bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. The International Olympic Committee's Executive Director Francois Carrard was quick to defend the committee's choice, affirming that the Games would be a 'force for good.' IOC President Jacques Rogge stated: 'We are convinced that the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China.' That remains to be seen.

Indeed, today who remembers Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron who believed that sports and the Games could help create better human beings?

It is truly unfortunate that the spirit which presided over the revival of the ancient Olympics seems to belong to a bygone era. Wherever one looks, Coubertin's words have been forgotten. It is especially true for China.

Suddenly, 'faster, higher, stronger' takes on a more materialistic significance. A nation tries to prove to the world that it develops 'faster', puts the bar on material possessions 'higher' and is everyday a 'stronger' contender to military supremacy in Asia.

Paradoxically, the man credited with the restoration of the Olympic Games remains unknown to the general public.

Very few believed in Coubertin's revolutionary vision when he started the process to restore the ancient quadrennial Olympic Games. On June 23, 1894, he founded the IOC at a function at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Two years later, the first games of the modern era were held in Athens.

Nominated first president of the IOC, Coubertin remained in this post till 1925. But he was first and foremost a pedagogue. His main objective, through the games and other projects, was to 'build men'.

He considered Olympism as a religion meant 'to adhere to an ideal of superior life and aspire for perfection'. He spoke of the moral qualities of chivalry and world truce during the quadrennial 'human spring'.

In contrast, the only religion which seems to flourish today (particularly in China) is one of money. The games have become a colossal business venture. It is probably why China, the fastest growing economic power on the planet, was awarded the Games. Superior life or moral chivalry has been replaced by commercialism and utilitarianism.

Because the Olympics Charter calls for the promotion of a 'peaceful society', the IOC revived the ancient tradition in 1992 to call upon the international community to observe an Olympic Truce.

Does Beijing understand the meaning of truce? At present, the Chinese leadership seems to interpret 'peaceful Olympics' as being 'silent Olympics', with all public dissent suppressed.

Beijing should have seen the events in Tibet coming, but the Communist leadership was probably too busy preparing for the 11th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held with great pomp at the Great Hall of the People.

For decades, the 'minorities', particularly Tibetans, have been wanting to express their deep-rooted resentment against a regime which slowly but surely is annihilating them.

In end February in the Amdo region of eastern Tibet, for a minor reason, a major clash erupted between the Chinese authorities and hundreds of Tibetans gathered to celebrate their annual prayer festival.

According to the local Chinese government: 'Tibetans gathered for the Monlam festival protested when police interrogated a Tibetan. Those Tibetan youths who were involved in the protests were interrogated, and those who were slightly injured were handed over to their parents for advice and guidance. So the county is peaceful as before.'

But Radio Free Asia has another version: 'Under the pressure of a massive Tibetan demonstration, the local government had to release all those who were arrested on the first day of protest. Many of them were severely beaten and tortured.'

Most of the monks who were detained were participating in a masked dance performance which had to be cancelled. One can imagine the resentment of the monks and the lay population against the Chinese authorities.

A few months earlier, three Tibetan activists had been detained by the Chinese authorities for unfurling, at Mount Everest's main base camp in Tibet, a banner reading 'One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008' in English. They protested because some Chinese climbers were preparing to ascend the mountain with the Olympic torch. China wanted to take the torch to the top of Mount Everest, a move that blatantly symbolised their occupation of the Roof of the World.

On March 4, Icelandic singer Bjork shouted 'Tibet! Tibet!' after singing a song at a Shanghai concert. Though most of her Chinese fans did not immediately understand her words (Tibet in Chinese is 'Xizang'), the Xinhua news agency later asserted that the performance 'not only broke Chinese laws and regulations and hurt the feelings of Chinese people, but also went against the professional code of an artist.' As a result the Chinese ministry of culture began to tighten its controls over foreign singers and other performers.

Then came the news that two 'suspected terrorists' were said to be have been killed and 15 'militants' arrested on January 27 in a raid in Urumqi, in Xinjiang province.

Wang Lequan, Xinjiang's Communist Party chief stated: 'Obviously, the gang had planned an attack targeting the Olympics.' For the first time, police action was linked to the Games though last year, China's police chief had announced that 'terrorism' posed the biggest threat to the Beijing Olympics.

Whether the persons killed were real terrorists or just political opponents will probably only come to light long after the dust will have settled on the Olympic stadium. The Olympics are a great occasion to eliminate opposition in China.

The fact is that China, a totalitarian regime with considerable economic clout, is sociologically extremely fragile. Last year alone, more than 100,000 riots and demonstrations of different sizes have been reported in the Middle Kingdom. Today the republic is not the People's Republic, but the republic of a few oligarchs -- members of the all-powerful Communist Party. While the cause of most of these riots is local problems, the so-called 'minorities' are the worst sufferers. It is probably why President Hu Jintao told a Tibetan delegation last week: 'The stability in Tibet concerns the stability of the country, and the safety in Tibet concerns the safety of the country.' He added that the Chinese leadership must ensure 'the well-being of Tibetans, improve the work related to religions and ethnic groups, and maintain social harmony and stability.'

Though Beijing pretends to have spent billions of dollars to develop Tibet and improve the living standards of the local Tibetans, most of the funds go towards bringing more Han settlers and for defense purposes.

More worrisome for the Tibetans, Hu said the party 'fully trusts' Han Chinese cadres in Tibet. The party should continue to 'tremendously support their work, warmly care about their lives.' In Hu's words of praise for the hard work of Han cadres in Tibet, analysts read that Tibetans would not be given more say in their own affairs. The genuine autonomy demanded by the Dalai Lama is still far away.

In his yearly March 10 statement, the Tibetan leader said 'he looked forward to the implementation [of Hu's words]'. He, however, added: 'For the realisation of these concepts, economic progress alone will not suffice. There must be improvements in observance of the rule of law, transparency, and right to information, as well as freedom of speech. Since China is a country of many nationalities, they must all be given equality and freedom to protect their respective unique identities if the country is to remain stable.' Beijing did not appreciate these words.

For them, it is 'the evidence to prove that the sabotage in Lhasa was organised, premeditated and masterminded by the Dalai clique'.

It is in this context that riots erupted in Lhasa. On the second day, the Chinese armed police is said to have used tear gas to disperse several hundred Buddhist monks who gathered near the Central Cathedral. Radio Free Asia announced that 'more than 2,000 armed police and security personnel surrounded an estimated 500 to 600 monks from the Sera monastery as they marched near a police station, where some of them had been detained.'

Xinhua admitted that the authorities 'were forced to use a limited amount of tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the desperate crowds.'

The 'limited' force acknowledged by the Chinese government nevertheless caused the death of 10 persons ('mainly business persons'), according to Chinese sources. However, eye-witnesses who managed to call their relatives abroad speak of at least 100 dead, and it will probably be a few hundreds when (and if) the dust settles. Since then, the uprising has spread all over Tibet.

Where are the lofty ideals of Pierre de Coubertin?

Will the Olympics indeed be a 'force for good'? One doubts it.

Claude Arpi

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