Below is an English translation of Radio France Culture programme broadcast on Friday 19 October regarding self-immolations in Tibet. In case of any discrepancies, treat the French version as final and authoritative.
With the arrival of autumn, the mountainous region in northern Tibet welcomes the most beautiful season of the year. While this is especially true in places like the picturesque Kanas Lake. You can see the morning mist that lingers in the mountains and the river that meanders through the forest making a kind of natural oil painting, which attracts many foreign tourists. In recent years, Tibet has even become one of the most preferred tourist destinations in China, as can be read on the website of the People’s Daily – due to the more airlines and railways that have made this high altitude region more accessible.
But then accessible to whom? Certainly not journalists, whose access you know are now prohibited. Yet information slips through the Internet. A few days ago, the Australian television network ABC aired a reportage, as rare as it was spectacular. One of its journalists had indeed managed to visit the Tibetan part of Sichuan province in southwestern China. It shows, including recent images of police lockdown in place in this region, also a woman who expressed in a very direct against the policy of the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, the documentary about ten minutes includes images of immolation.
For 18 months now, there have been two or three to immolate themselves every month to protest against the brutality of the Chinese security forces. The last act of immolation was last Saturday and brings the number of self-immolations of Tibetans to 55 in China since February 2009. This wave of suicide by fire is unprecedented as a form of political protest, because other modes of protest have failed.
Therefore, since 2009, what remains is the image of a Tibetan figure in flames, usually a monk or a nun of twenty years, replayed over and over to infinity on the Tibetan plateau, wrote this week ASIA SENTINEL, a webzine based in Hong Kong. Even though the information and images of these suicides circulating on social networks, causing controversy and confusion and many international media they remain relatively quiet. Yet, historically, such incidents had a far greater response, notes the webzine. But today is no echo. And Tibetan exile community is in trouble. Response to this vague of self-immolation, including Beijing who accuses the Dalai Lama of being behind. Even the Dalai Lama remains silent: He neither supports nor condemn it – a position, explains his entourage aimed not to be open to criticism Chinese authorities while not wanting to sadden further the families of the victims.
The question that remains is why the information though available is not relayed by the media, asks Le Temps Geneva. Why this silence in face of a tragedy that intensifies? How is it that the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi has become a global symbol, shortly after his immolation, while Rigzen Phuntsog, the Tibetan monk who was also immolated, and that is the beginning of this civil disobedience remains unknown? How is it that the conviction of three punkettes Russian international has attracted an emotion, while the sacrifice of dozens of young Tibetans remains in the shadow of indifference?
Tibet is one quarter of China’s territory and a buffer zone between two nuclear powers India and China. In other words, foreign diplomats have good reason to feel concerned. And this is not just a question of rights, but also of regional security. Except that Tibet is of no interest to anyone today. Le Temps noted several possible reasons for this. Realpolitik and the international balance of power first. On the one hand, China, which uses its economic and political power, the other European states and the United States who need to manage an economic crisis that we do not guess the outcome. Countries traditionally critical of China on the issue of human rights are no longer able to lecture to their trading partner, and even less pressure.
One could also point to the political situation of the Dalai Lama, who has transferred his political power last year the new prime minister of the exile government, who does not benefit the same aura on the international scene. Then it is not a war and there is no killing, as in Syria. And for good reason, if a protest becomes too big, it provides an additional opportunity for the Chinese to suppress the protesters. It is a vicious circle. Punishment creates protests that generate further repression. In other words, turning violence against themselves, Tibetans have found a way to protest avoiding collateral damage.
Finally, there are the upheavals in the Arab world precisely whose struggles for freedom have looked the Democrats in other regions of the world previously thought to be more sensitive. All this can probably explain the silence of the States, however the silence of civil society, which is usually sensitive to the plight of people on the roof of the world is more surprising. And to conclude, could it be that the Tibetan cause is simply gone out of fashion?