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Tibet and the `Olympic tradition'

Below are two articles discussing the protests against the Olympic torch relay by supporters of Tibet's right to national self-determination. The first appeared in Green Left Weekly. The second is by Pierre Rousset, a member of the French Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and editor of the Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (ESSF) website. It was translated for Links -- International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- by Katie Cherrington.


Pro-Tibet protests grow — why Tibet deserves justice

By Tony Iltis

April 19, 2008 -- Australian Capital Territory (ACT) police have been given enhanced stop-and-search powers for dealing with protests planned for the Canberra leg of the global Olympic torch relay on April 24. This comes as protests by the Tibetan diaspora and their supporters have turned the torch’s world tour into a public relations disaster for the Beijing Olympics.

Continued below photos ...

*** Stop press, April 24 ***

Tibet protests in Canberra
By Amy McDonell

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


In London and Paris, protesters attacked the flame with fire extinguishers and attempted to wrest it from the torch-bearers. In San Francisco, last-minute route changes meant that direct confrontation was avoided, but activists scaled the Golden Gate Bridge to display banners.

Furthermore, torch-bearer Majora Carter unfurled a small Tibetan flag, causing her to be evicted from the relay (and handed over to the police) by the attendants who have been accompanying the torch around the world. “Apparently, I’m not a part of the Olympic torch-bearing entourage anymore”, she said.

‘Sacred Flame Protection Unit’

These attendants flanking the torch are officers of China’s paramilitary police. Euphemistically styled the “Sacred Flame Protection Unit”, they attracted attention in Paris and London with their snappy blue tracksuits and the zeal with which they carried out their duties. A British Olympic official privately described them as thugs.

In Canberra, they will not be running alongside the flame, but confined to a bus. ACT and federal politicians have indicated that local police, armed with their increased powers, will render thugs from overseas unnecessary.

On April 17, the New Delhi leg of the relay took place, according to the BBC, without incident. It also took place without an audience, other than a small number of dignitaries plus the 15,000 police and paramilitary forces who sealed off the city centre.

The distance covered by the relay in New Delhi was reduced from 9km to 2.3km. These precautions reflect that India is keen not to alienate China, an important trading partner, but is also home to the world’s largest Tibetan refugee community, which numbers more than 100,000 and includes the Dalai Lama and his “government in exile”. More than 180 Tibetans were detained trying to breach the security cordon.

On April 16 more than 50 Tibetans were arrested in New Delhi at protests at the Chinese embassy, at the hotel at which the torch was kept and at the airport. On April 17 Tibetans held an “alternate” torch relay elsewhere in Delhi, claiming that legitimising a dictatorial regime was contrary to the intention behind the Olympic torch relay tradition.

Olympic tradition

Ironically, the Olympic torch tradition was, in fact, invented for precisely that purpose — by Hitler’s propagandists for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The Beijing Olympics are not an aberration. Neither were the Berlin games. Since their inception at the beginning of the 20th century, the Olympics have been controlled by a committee drawn from the world’s elites and accountable to neither athletes nor the public. The antithesis of participatory sport, this mass spectator event is most of all about corporate sponsorship and marketing.

The April 16 Asian Times reported that a spokesperson for sponsor Coca-Cola condemned Majora Carter’s display of the Tibetan flag, saying: “It’s unfortunate that Ms Carter used an invitation to participate in the torch relay as a platform to make a personal political statement. We firmly believe the Olympics are a force for good that celebrate the best in sports, and we are proud to support the Beijing 2008 Olympics.”

Undeniably, the Olympics are a “force for good” when it comes to the profits of the large corporations that sponsor it — something petty concerns over events such as the recent gunning down of more than 100 Tibetans struggling for self determination by Chinese authorities should not be allowed to interfere with.

The Olympics’ purportedly non-political nature has never stopped tyrants from using them as a platform for self-aggrandisement, but it has been used to silence critics of the status quo.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had nothing to say about the massacre of student protesters that formed the backdrop to the 1968 Mexico City games. However, when two African American athletes at the same games, standing on the podium to receive their medals after the 200 metre race, raised their fists in a “black power” salute in support of the civil rights struggle back home, the IOC expelled them from the Olympics.

Massacring protesting students is one thing, but a symbolic, peaceful, public display of anti-racism was a crime the Olympic officials could not be silent in the face of.

While Western politicians and media have expressed the pious hope that hosting the Olympics would improve China’s human rights record, the opposite has happened. An Amnesty International report released on April 1 revealed that the approach of the games has led to a crackdown on dissidents in Beijing, many of the victims being housing rights activists protesting against Olympics-related evictions.

Unfortunately, this too is in line with Olympic traditions. For example, the 1996 Atlanta games were accompanied by laws criminalising homelessness that allowed authorities to remove poor people from run-down inner-city districts, facilitating highly profitable redevelopment.

The 2000 Sydney games were accompanied by the introduction of laws increasing police and security powers, including allowing the army to be deployed against demonstrators. These laws anticipated the erosion of civil liberties under the “war on terror” that began a year later — culminating in the lock-down and “police state”-style siege of the city during the APEC summit last year.

Western hypocrisy

The pro-Tibetan protests against the torch relay have provoked counter-protests by Chinese migrants and overseas students in a number of Western cities, with protests occurring in Sydney and Melbourne on April 13.

These were largely ignored by the Australian media, despite both rallies drawing crowds of 5000. Chinese students are planning to converge on Canberra on April 24 to stage a counter-demonstration against the anti-torch relay protests of Tibetans and their supporters.

The size and passion of these mobilisations by Chinese communities in the West reflects anger at Western media bias and hypocrisy.

In an April 7 article posted on, Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery contrasts the sympathetic Western media coverage of Tibet’s struggle (which he supports) to that of other nations struggling for self-determination — citing Kurdistan, Western Sahara, the Basque Country, Corsica, Chechnya, Tamil Eelam and Palestine as examples.

He attributes this partly to the fact that China is an economic rival of the West, its regime “hated … by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist”, and also that Tibet’s history as a mysterious Himalayan kingdom has given it a romantic aura.

Indeed, the prominence of Tibet in Western consciousness owes much to the Dalai Lama’s success in convincing entertainment industry celebrities such as Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys that Tibet was historically a spiritual paradise. (It was, in fact, a country of impoverished serfs exploited by a theocratic nobility.)

Avnery contrasts this with Muslim nations struggling for self-determination who must contend with the fact that “in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism”.

Interestingly, the cause of the Uighurs, whose struggle for self-determination against Beijing — in the face of brutal repression — broadly parallels that of the Tibetans, is largely unreported in the West. The Uighurs are Muslim.

Self-determination struggle

However, it would be wrong to conclude that this Western media bias indicates that the West supports Tibetan independence. During the Cold War this was the case — the CIA gave support, including military support, to Tibetan independence groups as part of its attempt to undermine the Chinese Revolution.

However, with China reintegrating into the global capitalist economy, it is the destination for a huge amount of Western investment. China’s economy is subordinate to Western capital. Imperialism may play the Tibet card to remind China of its place in the global capitalist hierarchy, but it would be against its interests to dismember China — which has become the industrial estate of global capitalism. Western economic interests have increasingly penetrated into Tibet itself, which is facilitated by Chinese control of the region — maintained by repression.

Tibetans deserve the right to self-determination because it is a democratic right. The desire of many Tibetans for independence reflects the fact that after 50 years of Chinese rule, Tibetans are marginalised second-class citizens in their own country.

That the Western media paints Tibetans more favourably than, for instance, Palestinians, does not make either people undeserving of democratic rights. In fact, the simple, spiritual Tibetan Buddhist and the deranged Arab terrorist are equally racist stereotypes. Everyone who supports the principles of social justice should support the growing global movement in solidarity with Tibet’s struggle for self determination.

[From International News, Green Left Weekly issue #747, April 23, 2008. Tony Ilties is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in the Australian Socialist Alliance.]



Tibet: The Olympic flame is extinguished in Paris!

By Pierre Rousset

April 8, 2008 -- Under the pressure of demonstrators coming to defend the rights of the Tibetan people, the passage of the Olympic torch in Paris on April 7 became particularly chaotic. The Olympic symbol was placed under high protection from 3000 police officers. But Reporters without Borders could still display enormous black banners in full view, and the protesters' incursions multiplied, piercing the police lines, to the point that the route of the torch had to be altered, then completely cut short. The officials finally had to put it out and take it on a bus. A beautiful spectacle!

In Paris, the Chinese government lost a battle in the communications war around Tibet and human rights. The French government also lost face somewhat, unable to assure Olympic order in Paris. Thus, the state secretary in charge of sport ``saw it as a bad blow for France'' according to the April 9 Le Monde. In Beijing, the spokesperson of the Olympic Games organisation committee thundered against ``the blasphemy of Paris''. Amusing.

We should not sulk over our pleasure at so many official failures and to measure the impact of the Tibetan solidarity initiatives.

But this note is also the occasion to respond to some criticisms raised against my previous articles published on this subject in Rouge and ESSF [1] -– criticisms reproduced here in the appendixes.

1. The CIA in 1957-1959

For Klareco, it was only in 1958 (and not in 1957 as I have written [2]) that the CIA began arming the Tibetan insurrection against the People's Liberation Army. This is possible, but the date varies according to the authors. I myself have not been able to go back to the sources to better determine the stages of US military intervention. But this doesn't change the international context which at that time controlled the policies of Washington (wars in Korea and Indochina…).

2. The call of April 7

I criticised the call for demonstrations on April 7 in my previous article [3]. Fabien violently reproaches me for ``obscure rhetoric'' and ``improper methods'' which ``allow the LCR bureaucrats to remain with arms crossed''. Let us take up some of the points again. Contrary to what Fabien insinuates, while signaling that there apparently exist several versions, I made reference to an authenticated appeal, because it was reproduced as it was on a number of solidarity websites (and widely distributed on e-lists). [4]

This appeal was signed (in all that versions that I have seen) by diverse national ``communities'' with one of which ... the ``Chinese community''. As the events of April 7 confirmed, the aforementioned community is far from supporting the initiatives of the call! Fabien forgets to recognise this.

He asserts that the call does not make a single comparison with Nazism and is satisfied to speak of a ``pre-genocidal'' situation. However, the call refers to the ``fate of millions of European Jews during the Second World War'' (therefore under the Nazi regime), adding that ``Tibetans are living in this situation presently''. The call also assured us that ``what is happening currently under our eyes in Tibet is nothing other than genocide: (one version drives the nail in more precisely : ``a veritable genocide'', ``and not only cultural''). I don't know from where Fabien found the term ``pre-genocidal situation'', I have read it nowhere.

3. The Olympic Games and the boycott

Marc and Fabien sharply reproach my not having explained my position regarding the Olympic Games. Admittedly, in my first article, I made no mention of the question [5]. But in the previous one, I quote from (and reproduce in my account) the official statement of the LCR supporting all the solidarity initiatives towards Tibetans which occur at the time of the Games and their preparation (like those of the April 7) [6]. I fear that my opinion on the Olympic Games isn't of much interest, because it is a question which I have not especially worked on and around which I have not been active... [7].

Since today I have been questioned with insistence, here is my opinion, going from the general to the specific:

I have nothing good to say about the Olympic Games, [which is a celebration] of state nationalism, the money-king and of competitive sport which manufactures handicapped people and ages the body before its time, which corrupts souls while forcing doping. Hardly ``healthy body and healthy mind''! But I also think that a certain critique of ``sport'' (sometimes abruptly identified with fascism) is furiously elitist and completely incomprehensible to the common run of people (Marc perhaps recognises himself here). What I regret is that there is no longer a movement for a popular and alternative practice of sport, against the dominant capitalist logic... It is not for nothing there is a heading ``Sport and Politics'' on the ESSF website! (A little lacking, I admit.)

I am not in favour of an ``in general'' call to boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing. For some, it is necessary to boycott the next Games because ``China does not deserve them'', considering the violations of human rights of which this state is guilty. But which other countries deserve it? The United States at the time of Guantanamo, the war in Iraq and the justifications of the President Bush for recourse to torture? France, which is strongly suspected of having been involved in the last of the genocides of the last century (that of the Tutsi in Rwanda) and whose successive governments have buried this ``detail'' of its history? It is difficult to do worse in the scale of human rights violations -– and in all impunity.

These are the types of questions which are concealed by ``unanimous calls'' -– right and left together -– against the Beijing Olympic Games. Just as they conceal the nature of the oppressive dynamics in China today, intrinsically linked to the development of a new capitalism and the integration of the country into the global market. The present bourgeois oppression is currently on the way to taking over from the bureaucratic oppression of yesterday.

I am not convinced that the call to boycott is most effective today for the Tibetan cause. It could reduce pressure inasmuch as it would not be likely to succeed and risks being reduced to a posture of principle, while the ``hullabaloo'' around the Olympic Games have a very broad impact (I obviously speak here of the boycott of the Games, not of the better ``targeted'' opening ceremony). And it is necessary not to forget that it is essential, for the future, to support feelings of solidarity towards Tibetans among the Chinese population (also subjected to exploitation and oppression). Does the call to boycott help with this?

I don't think that my response will satisfy Marc and Fabien, but such is, for the time being, my opinion. And a question for my contradictors: through speaking about the Olympic Games, one forgets to clarify around what we mobilise ourselves. Are we required to respect the right to self-determination of the Tibetan people? Or like [French President] Sarkozy, do we refuse them this right by affirming that Tibet is a part of China?


An article in Rouge

Sarkozy accomplice to Beijing

Above all, let's do nothing which can damage the economic and commercial interests of the French firms on the gigantic Chinese market… Thus can be summarised the French presidency's position concerning the policy on China in Tibet. In fact, the question relates less to the attitude that it has agreed upon to adopt regarding the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing, than the relationship of our government with a regime which represses the Tibetan people as brutally as its democratic opponents.

The state secretary in charge of human rights, Rama Yade, was rapped sharply on the knuckles for having dared to take her role seriously and to have allowed herself to suggest ``conditions'' for the participation of Nicolas Sarkosy in the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Her supervising minister Bernard Kouchner, who for a long time has wanted to be the incarnation of ``humanitarian intervention'' [in foriegn countries], added: ``The position of Nicolas Sarkozy is very clear and has not moved: he will take his decision based on developments of the situation''. Clearly, the presidency intends to keep its hands completely free…

On the night of his presidential victory, the Sarkozy had committed to placing himself on the side of the oppressed around the globe. Between increased military engagement in Afghanistan or Africa and kindness towards the massacres in the forbidden city, here is yet another promise which will be kicked to the kerb.

(This appeared on April 10, 2008.)



* Marc, Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne) 28/03/2008: An article which certainly points out a sad history. But also an article which refuses to take a position and discuss what the whole world is talking about and will soon move in a direction not in the historical interests of the Tibetans. Is it or is it not necessary to go to Beijing to celebrate the Olympic Games of shame? Some of us think that the boycott of the opening ceremony, of the closing ceremony and especially of what occurs between these two ceremonies is the only weapon which could force the Chinese state party to bend ... What is your position regarding the boycott? Unless you estimate that one should not mix sport and politics, or that it's not necessary to spoil the pleasure of remaining ensconced before a television vibrating with the victories of athletes stuffed with [performance-enhancing drugs].

*Klareco, Paris, 01/04/2008: To write that the accord with the ruling classes, the Buddhist clergy and the Dalai Lama was broken off, and that the CIA ``armed the anti-Chinese insurrection in 1957-1959'' is not right. This compromise, which related only to central Tibet, alone under Tibetan administration, was not broken off before the popular uprising of March 1959 in Lhasa. Thus, according to the historian Tsering Shakya, the first target of the protesters was the aristocracy, blamed for having sold the Dalai Lama to the occupying army. A relative of the latter estimated that if this uprising hadn't taken place, following events would have been a war between the Tibetan government and the Khams. In Eastern Tibet, they had been engaged in revolt since 1955 against the measures taken by the Chinese (not all progressive!), and were victims of a colonial-type war (bombings, destroyed villages). The CIA who had a minimal role in the early 1950s in Tibet, did not parachute weapons before July 1958.

*Fabien, Paris, 04/04/2008: A text which, not taking a position for or against the boycott of the Olympic Games in Beijing, swims in full confusionism (no Tibetan is not idealistic enough to not protest loudly and strongly during the demos ``Olympic Games 2008, games of shame!'' on this subject, the LCR stays as mute as a carp …). Obscure rhetoric, in addition relying on a non-existent press release because it is not official (the official press release was sent to the author of this response, it does not make any comparison with Nazism and does not speak of a genocidal situation, but pre-genocidal), here are the improper methods that allow the LCR bureaucrats to remain with arms crossed to watch the associated humanoids who will make the records fall in the month of August (with a badge, of course…). After the declaration of Mr Grond, who admitted in the Nouvel Observateur that ``the question of boycotting the games has not arisen'' to the League, one can doubt the vanguard revolutionary as soon as it's necessary to criticise sport…


[1] For space reasons, articles uploaded on the ESSF site are generally more complete than the versions published in Rouge.

[2] See Pour le droit à l'autodétermination du peuple tibétain

[3] See Tibet: les devoirs de la solidarité…

[4] See one of the versions reproduced on the ESSF website: Tibet: appel à manifester le 7 avril 2008 ou

[5] See En solidarité avec le peuple tibétain

[6] See l'intégralité du communiqué : Contre la répression au Tibet

[7] See Pierre Rousset : « A l'heure de la coupe du monde : mais de quel foot parlons-nous ? », Rouge n°1788, 9 juillet 1998.

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