Geopolitics

Hounded By Chinese Regime, Tibetans Make Perilous Himalayan Crossing To Nepal

Tibetan refugees continue to brave harrowing journeys across the Himalayas to Nepal and beyond. Back home Chinese repression has triggered a new wave of self-immolations. But in Nepal too, “pressure from China is visible,” says one Tibetan refugee.

Tibetan students protesting in Chabcha against the use of Chinese in school in 2010 (SFTHQ)
On the road to Kathmandu (ilkerender)
Vanessa Dougnac

KATHMANDU The man, Tashi, wears earrings and his hair in a braid with a horn comb. The woman, Nima, has cheeks browned by the sun and gnawed by the cold. They are among seven Tibetans who have just spent two months trekking across the Himalayas to reach Nepal. "We were so frightened," says Nima.

Still, they were among the lucky ones. They didn't lose fingers to frostbite. Nor were they shot at by Chinese patrols as they crossed the arid, mineral-rich landscape from their starting point in Kham, in the province of Sichuan.

Once they made it across the Chinese border, the seven undocumented refugees were arrested in Humla by Nepalese police and escorted to the immigration office in Kathmandu. Their clothes filthy, they collapsed on the floor, exhausted but relieved to have made it across. "In Tibet, the Chinese police impose restrictions on movement," Tashi says. "We had no freedom."

On this particular evening, Tashi and his group are handed over to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR). They will join up with those 20,000 Tibetans who have sought refuge in Nepal to move on to Dharamsala, in India, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. "To meet the Dalai Lama," Nima says, making a gesture imitating prayer. Their ultimate goal is to start a new life.

Burning from despair

Tashi and Nima are among the most recent examples of what has been a historic migratory flux. They denounce the repressive climate in Tibet, and assert that people there are shocked by the resurgence – since last March – of public self- immolations. There are 12 known cases of nuns or monks setting themselves on fire to date. The most recent case took place just last Thursday, when an old Buddhist monk attempted to burn himself alive in the autonomous region of Tibet.

In Kathmandu two people tried to self-immolate last month, out of solidarity. Tenzing Dorjee, a souvenir seller, witnessed the terrible scene that took place on Nov. 10 near the giant Bodnath stupa. "It was very early," he recalls, working his mala prayer beads. "After morning prayers, a monk set himself on fire. He was screaming ‘long live the Dalai Lama!" and "long live Free Tibet!" He began to run, as if he were trying to escape the pain. He fell. People rushed towards him to put out the flames, and they saved him."

Behind the stupa, at the Terigumba monastery, several vigils have been organized in homage to Tibet's suicides. "In Buddhism, it is forbidden to hurt anyone," says Kunga Norbu, a monk. "We don't set off bombs. So the only possible action is to turn one's despair on oneself."

And even if the Dalai Lama has forbidden turning to suicide, those who have died by self-immolation are perceived as martyrs and heroes. According to Kurba Nordu, "these monks sacrifice themselves because the Chinese confiscate portraits of the Dalai Lama and send agents into monasteries to indoctrinate them."

Unanimously, the refugees denounce the hardened stance of Nepalese authorities since 2008, which is when Chinese repression began in the wake of Tibetan demonstrations in Lhasa. The immolations, which irritate Beijing, don't help.

"Things were better under the king"

At the Kidong Sam Tenling monastery in Nepal, Dhundup doesn't mince words. "We can no longer organize demonstrations. I have been arrested several times," he says. "For its cooperation, Nepal receives financial aid from China. China even circulates a list of wanted Tibetans." This information was corroborated by diplomatic cables unveiled last year on the WikiLeaks site.

"The situation is tense," says Kayang, a refugee. "The pressure from China is visible." Nepal, a former Hindu kingdom, is run by former Maoist rebels who won the 2008 elections. Since then, a "new" Nepal has been having trouble rising from the ashes. Fragile, the country is caught in a vise between its two gigantic neighbors, India and China. And its Maoist bent definitely opens doors to Beijing, as symbolized by the imminent, first-time visit of China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. "It doesn't bode well," says Kayang, who fears that Tibetans will start being sent back to China.

Activist Sambu Lama is just as lucid. "Tibetan refugees who enjoy the benefit of western interest are the most enviable refugees in the world," he says. Old Sitan Dolma, who has been living in Kathmandu since 1959, says: "Things were better under the King." Gyanendra Shah, the last king of Nepal, was deposed in 2008 because he was autocratic.

"Times are sad," says Kunda Shushen, originally from Amdo in Tibet. "Our only arm is prayer."

Read the original article in French

Photo – ilkerender

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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