This year more than 700 municipalities across the Czech Republic are partaking in the “Flag for Tibet” event. Examples include a Tibetan flag prominently displayed in the main square in the Czech town of Jihlava, one displayed on the central building of the Liberec Regional Authority, and one displayed on the town hall buildings of both the Prague 10 and Prague 4 districts. Flags will also be displayed from the windows of private individuals, by various public officials, celebrities, schools, cinemas and so on.
2016 represents the largest number of municipalities taking part in this annual event, begun in 1996. Many Czechs view the Tibetan cause – with the country having fallen under Chinese communist dominance during the 1950s – as something of a parallel to the plights of eastern European countries, who once fell victim to Soviet domination. Former president Václav Havel was a vocal supporter of Tibet and counted the Dalai Lama as a personal friend.
Some local leaders, for example in the Chomutov region, failed to agree on partaking in the gesture. And for the second year, Prague City Hall, which recently passed a sister city agreement with Beijing recognizing a “unified China”, is also not taking part in any “Flag for Tibet” events. Christian Democrat councilor Jan Wolf explained why: “We have rules in place at City Hall, which only permit the displaying of three flags – that of the Czech Republic, European Union, and understandably the yellow-red Prague flag…No flags of other nations will be permitted here.”
The regulation means that not only will Tibetan flags not be displayed at City Hall, but nor will Chinese ones during an upcoming visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping on March 28.
The activism underlying the “Flag for Tibet” campaign has also run into a counter-narrative. Many Czech business leaders are seeking to cultivate closer ties to China, and fear causing any offence over a matter which the Chinese have long declared settled. President Miloš Zeman has been perhaps the most vocal advocate in terms of wooing Chinese investment. China Energy Company Limited (CEFC) recently invested in a number of Czech businesses, including buying stakes in Travel Service Airlines – co-owner of Czech Airlines – and Slavia football club. More deals are set to accompany Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit. The Dalai Lama last visited Prague in December 2011.