The Arab Spring has changed shapes so many times in the year since it started — with the most recent development coming in the form of a Muslim Brotherhood bid for the presidency of Egypt — that it’s easy to forget the relatively small act that kicked it off: the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, who took his own life in protest of state-sponsored oppression.
There’s at least one place outside of the Middle East where that example hasn’t been forgotten, however: Tibet. From a report in the Washington Post:
More than 33 Tibetans … have set themselves on fire in a recent wave of … acts of resistance against Chinese rule. The self-immolations are a reaction to what many Tibetans see as a systematic attempt to destroy their culture, silence their voices and erase their identity — a Chinese crackdown that has dramatically intensified since protests swept across the region in 2008.
In the spring of 2008, as the Beijing Olympics approached, Tibet was once again engulfed in protests and riots in which hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested. The response has been brutal, human rights groups say.
A program to resettle Tibet’s nomads into apartments or cinder-block houses and fence off their vast grasslands has gathered pace, the replacement of Tibetan by Chinese as a medium of instruction in schools has been expanded, and government control over Tibet’s Buddhist monasteries, the center of religious and cultural life, has been tightened.
The Post’s report goes on to chronicle other horrors in detail (one Buddhist monk who set himself aflame in 2009 with a picture of the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan flag was shot to death by Chinese police). With that kind of merciless force — and the sheer scope of Chinese power — it is doubtful that Tibet will ever earn its freedom by any means other than Chinese fatigue or outside intervention, neither of which look to be anywhere on the horizon. Against such dire odds, the courage of resistant Tibetans is all the more remarkable — and the necessity of publicizing their plight all the more acute.