Poles support the Tibetan cause - but will their protests be heard?

Activists from French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders unfurl on the Eiffel tower a black flag with the five Olympic rings depicted as handcuffs during the Olympic torch relay, photo: CTK

The Olympic torch is having a troubled world tour with protests growing louder over China's human rights record in Tibet. There's no serious talk of an Olympic games boycott but a number of European leaders are staying away from the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony - including the Czech and Polish presidents. And as Slawek Szefs reports from Warsaw, there's support among many Poles for the Tibetan cause.

Activists from French media watchdog Reporters Without Borders unfurl on the Eiffel tower a black flag with the five Olympic rings depicted as handcuffs during the Olympic torch relay, photo: CTK
Poland's PM Donald Tusk has been the first head of government to announce his absence at the opening ceremony and during the Olympic Games in the Chinese capital. President Lech Kaczynski, too, said he will not be travelling to Beijing for the occassion. Other Polish ministers, though yet unofficially, declared they intend to do likewise. A host of Polish organizations have also called for strong actions to oppose the policy of human rights violations and repression by the authorities in Beijing with regard to Tibet and its people.

But many media representatives in Poland have been pointing to the complexity of the problem with its gravity far surpassing that region of Chinese influence.

Lukasz Warzecha from the daily FAKT says that if we focus too much or exclussively on Tibet, we will forget about other equally important issues.

'First, there are some other ethnic groups in China that also fight for autonomy. For example Uygurs, in northern China. And the other important thing is the ordinary Chinese who fight every day for their own country's law to be respected by the authorities. Few know there are some very courageous Chinese lawyers who help people fight in courts, for example, for their ownership rights. This is something we should bring into focus.'

There is a growing awareness in Poland that protests by sportsmen and women alone cannot change political reality in China. Stanislaw Janecki, editor of Wprost magzine:

'I remember the protest of American athletes in Mexico in 1968... the hands in black gloves raised above their heads. Then, it was a problem of racial relations in America, it was after Vietnam. It was noticed, but didn't make progress because it depends on politicians, not the sportsmen.'

Photo: CTK
Halina Bortnowska from the Polish branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation is of the opinion that citizens of all EU countries should pressure their respective governments to establish a special Union coordinator for the problems of Tibet, preferrably a strong personality with broad mandate for action. Also, the discrepancy between verbal declarations and concrete deeds by political and business circles should be more consistently eliminated. She has plenty of harsh words for the cynical.

'There is such a lobby and these people who want to make business notwithstanding what happens with human lives, they are hopeless cases. I don't think by now that they don't know what is happening. They don't mind it! I'm not calling for the boycott of the Olympics. I would prefer the Olympics to be postponed to the moment when China gets over this hurdle and when they become really trustworthy friends.'

During the latest session of the International Olympic Committee in Beijing president of the Polish Olympic Committee Piotr Nurowski said:

'Politics should be kept far away from sports and vice versa. But when it comes to human rights abuse, or signals such as the ones from Tibet, we cannot remain indifferent.'