Hubert von Goisern: Commentary - Tibet

24th March 2008 | Text: Hubert von Goisern

While 2008 is the Year of the Rat for the Chinese, in Tibet one speaks of the Year of the Earth Mouse.

When I was travelling in Tibet some years ago in the lobby of my hotel in Lhasa I read a Chinese propaganda magazine written in English. Inside it I found, in an article about Lenin, this unbelievable statement: "a nation that is not ready to fight for its freedom by force of arms deserves enslavement." This sentence made me decidedly unsympathetic towards Lenin. The same goes for the Chinese high-ranking officials, who evidently derive the right from the peaceableness of the Tibetans to oppress them and exploit their country, just as Lenin would have it. Despite all statements no historical Chinese claims to Tibet can be made.
According to which era you look at the borders were moved here and there from time to time. In the 7th century for example, as good as all of today's China was a part of Tibet and there is an agreement carved in stone in 1794, which clarifies the sovereignty of both countries in both languages. When Mao Tsetung came to power in 1949, one of his first crimes was to march into Tibet and annexe the country; or, as he called it - liberate. (From the Tibetans?) According to conservative estimates Mao took the lives of 20 million people during the time of his rule. Some believe the number to be twice as many. Like Lenin Mao has not been buried, neither in the metaphorical nor the literal sense. Both are embalmed pilgrimage sites. It is high time for both of them to be below ground.

And it is high time that the tragedy in Tibet be acknowledged. I am appalled but not surprised by the recent developments, because it was foreseeable and no secret that the Olympic Games would be an occasion for the Tibetans to bring attention to the human rights violations in their country. After more than 50 years oppression by China the despair on the Roof of the World is as omnipresent as the bondage of and discrimination against the native population. It is thus hardly surprising that one person or another balls his fist or starts throwing stones. Measured against the Tibetan victims of the past (more than 150,000 alone died through execution; around 200,000 in jails and labour camps) a few broken windows and burned cars are chicken feed. And even this probably would not have happened if the one person who, more than any one else among us, stands for dialogue and the renunciation of the use of force was not so obtrusively disavowed.
The demonisation of the Dalai Lama, officially called "a wolf in sheep's clothing" by China, is an unparalleled insufferableness. The attitude of most Austrian politicians towards this subject is also unbearable. Right up as far as the Federal President there is only a degrading bow down to the economic power of China in order to not damage trade relations. And at every state visit from the "Middle Kingdom" preemptive obedience is demonstrated in that the Home Office nips any criticism in the bud with police power.

The Olympic Committee was reproached for having only thought in economic terms when awarding the Games to Peking. That may be so, but let's be honest, if one acts according to the august ideals of the Olympic thoughts, where could the Games be awarded to in good conscience? Certainly no country that could also afford to hold them too.
Peking "deserves" the Games no less than Berlin, Moscow, Los Angeles or London. For this reason I believe a boycott is wrong.
However what I do wish for are functionaries and athletes with an awareness that the Olympic Games have a political dimension. Since the Classical world they have served as a political forum too. Perhaps someone will find the courage to hold up the Tibetan flag.
The annexation of Tibet cannot be denied or silenced away and is unfortunately also not to be meditated away. Tibet is not China and the Tibetans are not Chinese. They have their own language, their own script and their own way of life. So may it not just be the Year of the Rat, but also of the Earth Mouse.

Can we as individuals contribute to the resolution of the conflict? Yes. Write to your government representatives, to the European Commission, to the Olympic Committee ..., tell them that one should address the problem and not creep away with the argument that it is not the concern of a sporting event.

Hubert von Goisern, Salzburg - Easter 2008