Violence in Tibet touches on raw nerve in Prague

Nepalese police officers snatch a Tibetan flag from a Tibetan protester demonstrating in front of the UN office in Katmandu, Nepal, photo: CTK

The violent suppression of freedom protests in Lhasa by the Chinese military over the weekend sparked a show of international solidarity with Tibet, with street protests in many world cities and governments appealing for restraint. In the Czech Republic, a country which overthrew communist rule less than two decades ago, the violence in Tibet has touched on a raw nerve.

Nepalese police officers snatch a Tibetan flag from a Tibetan protester demonstrating in front of the UN office in Katmandu, Nepal, photo: CTK
The violent suppression of freedom protests in Tibet has split the Czech political scene down the middle. The three parties in the centre-right governing coalition condemned the use of force and called on China to respect human rights in Tibet. Meanwhile, the two parties on the political left – the Social Democrats and Communists – advised non-interference, stressing the need to recognize China’s sovereignty over Tibet. A debate on Czech public television between representatives of the Green party and the Communist party on the subject soon spiraled out of control, with Communist leader Vojtěch Filip slamming the leader of the Green Party Martin Bursík for having recently put up the Tibetan flag in a window of the Czech Parliament building in a show of solidarity.

The demonstration outside the Chinese Embassy in Prague, photo: CTK
While the leftist parties are insisting that the riots in Tibet are China’s internal problem, the Czech ruling coalition has joined world leaders in condemning the violence and appealing for restraint. The Czech Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement, reminding Beijing that the world was watching developments in Tibet closely.

“The ministry believes that the use of force would only worsen the situation. Therefore we are calling for maximum restraint. We are convinced that the solution to the problem should involve free access to information – therefore we are urging China to immediately free the flow of information from Tibet and to grant independent media access to the region. The government of the Czech Republic as well as the Czech public traditionally place great emphasis on the protection of human rights and cultural and religious heritage world-wide. These are universal values that cannot be violated –neither in Prague nor in Lhasa and especially not in the year of the Olympic Games in Beijing.”

Václav Havel, photo: CTK
On Sunday night 500 people gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Prague calling for freedom in Tibet and holding up banners reading “Stop the Violence” and “Don’t Make Tibet Red”. Among them were former Czech dissidents, including ex-president Václav Havel, civic associations, students, people from the arts world and members of the Green Party, which has made the strongest show of support for Tibet. The doors of the Chinese embassy remained closed and the demonstrators eventually threw a protest petition over the fence and dispersed, leaving candles burning outside on the pavement. Another rally in support of Tibet has been called for Wednesday evening, once again outside the Chinese embassy in Prague.