Body of the Tibetan nun, left in a snow path on Nangpa La. Courtesy of Pavle Kozjek (click to enlarge).
On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot to death. The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute caused Tommie Smith and John Carlos to be suspended from the U.S. team and expelled from the Games. Fast forward 40 years: in 2008 US has elected its first black president. "We did it ourselves because we are a democracy," writes David Reynolds.
The following year on January 19, 1969, Czech student Jan Palach (insert) committed suicide by self-immolation before the Soviet-communist tanks "liberating" his country.
In 1989 the Chinese communist army stormed a mass demonstration in Tiananmen Square, killing several hundred people. In this image, a Chinese student blocking the tanks with his own body.
Last year, Chinese authorities detained four activists, including Tenzin Dorjee, a Tibetan-American, who was wearing a T-shirt that read "No Torch through Tibet. Image of Tenzing Dorjee protesting right before being arrested in Everest's BC.
ExWeb editorial: Closing Everest - what China fears most
Posted: Mar 11, 2008 12:48 am EDT
(MountEverest.net) Political statements during Olympic Games have happened before. What's unusual this time, is for the host country to actually take the first step.
This morning, China announced it is restricting world mountaineers from climbing Everest and Cho Oyu. Only Chinese climbers will be allowed, carrying the Olympic torch to the summit in a supposed celebration of sportsmanship and Olympic ideals.
The official version
The Chinese have closed Everest for the Olympic torch relay, although they repeatedly guaranteed they wouldn't. Xinhua news agency is probably busy putting together a press release to be reprinted all over the world, claiming the measure was taken for crowding and safety reasons.
This is nonsense of course, self evident in the fact that both Everest and Cho Oyu are restricted. Cho Oyu, a peak several days away from Everest, is rarely climbed in spring and only a handful of expeditions were headed there this season.
On Everest, mountaineers obeyed to the rules put up by China last fall: they would climb in mostly national teams and apply for permit at least 2-3 months ahead to allow political screening. This has led to far fewer teams this spring season compared to other years.
...and the real one
China's worst nightmare for the Olympic torch event is not crowding or safety - the mountain will after all re-open after the torch. China's worst nightmare is a picture of the flame on Everest summit, alongside a climber holding up a "Free Tibet" sign.
This explains why the officials have tried to convince Nepal to close the peak also from the south side during the Chinese Everest climb. But why would such a sign be dangerous? Why fear the two words "free Tibet" so much?
China cares little about what the Tibetans think. It doesn't even care what we think - they already know what we think but also that we won't do anything about it - except for giving Dalai Lama the occasional medal.
What the dictators care about is that Tibetan Buddhism is a fast growing religion in China today, especially among the affluent, now aspiring for what the rest of the world has; freedom and democracy.
What China fears most is their own; the Chinese. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are not that far away.
When politeness is not enough
Climbers have bent over to comply with China, even looking the other way when murders were committed. Obviously, the politeness has not worked - just as it didn't work in South Africa; or in the poems exchanged between Mao and Dalai Lama.
In Tibet a quarter of the population was slaughtered and Dalai Lama was forced to flee. In SA, only boycotts and embargos finally put an end to the apartheid.
Also on Everest, last fall there were debates whether or not the peak's north side should be boycotted during the Olympic event. Climbers decided against it; reasoning that such a measure would affect the Tibetan population even worse. Well it is no longer an issue; this morning Chinese officials took care of that.
The skinny on Olympic politics
Due to the heavy and international media coverage, the Olympics have often been a scene for political protests and promotions.
In 1936 the Summer Olympics in Berlin were used shamelessly by Hitler for his political agenda. In the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City several African-American athletes raised their arms in a black-power gesture protesting domestic racism. In the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were boycotted due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The question now is what the 2008 Chinese Summer Olympics will bring to the political arena. Denying a thousand of climbers and staff to climb the world's highest mountain is only a teaser of the arrogance and unreliability of the current Chinese rulers.
Editorial rules are already in place
The question is also how media will handle the event. In 1936, American groups protested violently but to little avail. The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute caused Tommie Smith and John Carlos to be suspended from the U.S. team and expelled from the Games. The two were criticized and subject to abuse, their families received death threats and fellow athletes sympathetic to their protest were reprimanded and ostracized by the media.
While the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is small change compared to China's genocide in Tibet, China seems too hot of a potato for most western mainstream journalists today. Editorial rules are already in place in many cases for how the event will be handled. Of course China knows this, allowing them the impudence to simply close Everest if they want to.
To write what matters
The world should take note though. History teaches us what happened after the 1936 Olympics in Berlin; and it also gave Tommie Smith and John Carlos right. We should take warning while China still is more dependant on us than we are on them.
To gain stability, the country and its people need Democracy. The change could well come from within, but not if the Chinese and Tibetan population are led to believe that the world agrees with their dictators.
Reporters need to write what matters and the world should remember that the country is not holding a few short range dirty bombs. The world's largest population; China is held hostage by a band of volatile autocrats who have their hands on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Signs are often early, but they are always there. What happens on Everest can happen anywhere.