For Tibetans, this March will be a more solemn reminder of the human rights denied them than previous years. In addition to marking the one-year anniversary of last year’s unrest in the region, it will be 50 years since the Dalai Lama fled into exile and a Tibetan uprising was crushed.
China, well aware of the symbolism, has added to the misery of millions in exile and in Tibet with the creation of a holiday to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s flight and the defeat of the rebellion in 1959. The holiday, which will be observed annually on March 28, has been dubbed “Serf Liberation Day.”
The Tibet Autonomous Region’s puppet people’s congress — created to offer a semblance of democracy where there is none — voted over the weekend in favor of the holiday without a single dissenting voice.
The move was an added slap in the face to Tibetans who had hoped that mass demonstrations last March in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics would force China to grant them greater freedom or face international condemnation.
The aftermath of that unrest continues, with Chinese authorities still in the process of convicting and sentencing participants in the protests to years’ imprisonment, regardless of whether they committed any internationally recognized crime.
“Serf Liberation Day” is a reflection of the fact that China remains wholly opposed to dialogue or compromise on the Tibet issue. It is a reminder that Taiwan, too, should note, as concerns persist that the flow of cross-strait “goodwill” since the inauguration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is one-way.
Although China responded to international pressure over its crackdown last year in Tibet with claims that it was open to sincere dialogue, no progress has been made. A meeting between representatives of the Dalai Lama and Beijing in May led nowhere and was unlikely to have produced results — even if the earthquake that devastated Sichuan Province just a week later had not led to follow-up talks being shelved.
More disturbingly, Tibet has dropped largely out of view again for many media outlets and governments and many Tibetans feel disappointed in and frustrated with the Dalai Lama’s efforts to secure true autonomy for the region through peaceful dialogue.
“Serf Liberation Day” may only exacerbate the discontent felt by many Tibetans and fuel ethnic tensions, Tibetan activists said, with the International Campaign for Tibet calling the move “provocative and irresponsible.” The organization said that the holiday was only the latest attempt by China to rewrite Tibetan history to its own taste, a form of propaganda that China has used with great success to stoke public ardor for its claims not only on Tibet and neighboring Xinjiang, but on Taiwan as well.
Tibet’s new holiday — a day that will no doubt become a symbol of oppression and sadness for Tibetans — celebrates “the landmark democratic reform initiated 50 years ago” in Tibet, Xinhua quoted a member of the Tibetan people’s congress as saying ahead of the vote.
As usual, China’s rhetoric is laughable. Terms like “democracy” are words of convenience, exploited for Beijing’s propaganda with no relation to their actual meaning. March 28 will not mark the liberation of “millions of slaves,” as China put it, but the passing of another year with no sign of progress on cultural and religious rights for Tibetans.