Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tibetan Protests

I've seen my fair share of protests in my day. The first I remember were in Kosovo. In a country and a time where you had over 80% unemployment, protests rapidly became simply something to do. My platoon saw a couple and usually it was about 10 central figures, reading scripts, chanting slogans, and about a hundred kids and stray dogs. Usually these were controlled, except with the insertion of media. Then all bets were off as the camera became the focal point. I've heard a political maxim that if the media weren't there, it didn't happen. Later, I would read reports of protests of hundreds of people; while technically true, the counting of kids and dogs just didn't seem fair.

The next big protest I witnessed was during the Bolivian revolution of October 2003. Trying to get into Bolivia, to meet up with a friend from Rolla, from Peru proved very difficult; a group of Aussies and I were the last bus into the capital La Paz, after a fairly stupid midnight attempt to run through the protest blockades. The 12 hours it took to make the typical three hour trip included watching a bus driver get beaten with a cane pole, getting chased by Alto Planos, and moving about a thousand rocks off the highway so we could get our bus through. After making it into the capital, and getting one day to buy up a ton of pashminas and scarves, tens of thousand of the indigenous population completed their cordon of the city and marched through the center. They weren't happy about the government, their American educated president, or the U.S. As I watched one from the edge, tear gas canisters landed a few feet away. I decided to get out on the next flight. Bolivia's government fell a few days later.

In London in February 2003, I saw what became the largest protest in UK history, against the Iraq War. Hundreds of thousands filled the streets, with signs protesting Palestine, Iraq, etc. From Kosovo, to Bolivia, to London, all had the common thread of an anti-American tinge.

About 15 minutes ago, I saw my first protest in the streets of Dharamsala, and my first where the U.S. and our policy was actually liked instead of loathed. By my rough estimate, about two thousand Tibetans or Tibetan sympathizers marched through the streets of Dharamsala. Ethnic Indians folded arms and tried to force their scooters and minivans through a sea, the first third were the maroon cloaked Buddhist monks, with two thirds of mostly Tibetan youth following. As opposed to the quiet, candlelight processions, filled with many Western tourists, that occur nightly in McLeod Gang, this one exhibited a different tenor...more anger, more Tibetan more organization. Several individuals with bull horns read scripts of chants, most in English...the classic "what do we want..." stood out. A robed monk used a high quality camera to video tape the procession. With the Olympics only a day away, it appears that it is not just the Chinese who are organized and concerned about their media image.


hannah said...

This is fascinating. Please keep up the posts! How long are you all there?

Lyns said...

WOW, this is so interesting. Thanks for writing about it. What an amazing experience.