Tibet's fight resonates in the Netherlands
Fifty years ago, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to escape the wrath of the Chinese occupiers.
After last year's high-profile protests by Tibetan monks, China has tightened its grip on Tibet and no one is being allowed in or out for the next few days. Many Dutch people sympathise strongly with Tibet's struggle for freedom.
Some 60,000 Dutch people donate money to the International Campaign for Tibet in the Netherlands. It's an impressive figure, especially when you compare it to the 75,000 donors in the United States, where the Campaign has its headquarters.
A sense of justice
Where does this widespread Dutch support for Tibet come from? Michael Walt van Praag, the former director of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), and legal advisor to the Dalai Lama, said:
"I think that in the Netherlands, people have a strong general sense of justice and injustice. Stronger than in many other countries. Just look at the Dutch support for the battle against apartheid in South Africa. It's a similar feeling of 'something needs to be done; we cannot allow this to continue'."
Christa Meindersma is deputy-director of The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. She thinks that several factors play a role in the Netherlands' sense of involvement with Tibet, and cites the personal appeal of the Dalai Lama himself as an important factor:
"I believe a number of things play a part. Of course, there's the Dalai Lama himself, but there is also the situation in Tibet. He is fighting a non-violent battle, and I think that appeals to a number of people in the Netherlands. He is also fighting for a small country in the face of large-scale domination; a difficult, drawn-out struggle. I think these are elements which resonate in the Netherlands."
An additional aspect, according to Christa Meindersma, is the popularity that Buddhism enjoys in the Netherlands. Particularly among the better-educated members of Dutch society, all kinds of Buddhist practitioners are to be found, including practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.
Michael Walt van Praag also sees the Dalai Lama himself as a major influence on how people view Tibet. Mr Van Praag knows the spiritual leader well, after years of advising him on legal issues.
He describes the Dalai Lama as a very special and highly spiritual man, someone who genuinely lives according to the principles of his faith. This also finds expression in his negotiations with the Chinese authorities. The Dalai Lama wants a large measure of autonomy for Tibet, but he is not demanding independence.
The situation in Tibet has deteriorated seriously since last year's demonstrations. Tsering Jampa, the director of the International Campaign for Tibet in the Netherlands, says the situation in her country gives cause for grave concern:
"It is a disgrace to see how the Chinese are treating the Tibetans at this moment. Tibet has been hermetically sealed off from the outside world. Thousands of members of the security forces are stationed there, especially near the monasteries which were at the forefront of last year's protests. No one is able to enter or leave Tibet at present."
1,200 people are still missing after being arrested during last year's demonstrations. Six hundred people remain behind bars and around 100 demonstrators are facing the death penalty.
Tsering Jampa is disgusted by China's decision to celebrate the supposed liberation of Tibet this month. The Chinese argue that the Dalai Lama's flight into exile represents the Tibetans' liberation from the yoke of feudal oppression. Ms Jampa said:
"Such a liberation day is the worst, the deepest outrage that we have experienced in the 2,500-year history of our people. We have known unprecedented suffering, repression and oppression. Imagine what it's like to be in our situation and have the ruling power, the occupier, celebrate so arrogantly, almost brazenly, that they came to Tibet as our liberators."
Tsering Jampa is pleased with the support that her organisation, The International Campaign for Tibet in the Netherlands, continues to receive in the Netherlands. However, she would like Dutch politicians to do more for Tibet.
She is disappointed that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende will not meet the Dalai Lama when he comes to the Netherlands in June. In Germany and France, the Tibetan leader was welcomed by heads of state and in 1994, former Prime Minsiter Wim Kok invited the Dalai Lama for a personal meeting at his offices. Tsering Jampa believes that Dutch politicians would do well to listen more closely to the people of the Netherlands.
10 March 2009
From his residence in Northern India, the Dalai Lama has delivered a strongly worded statement against China. Tibet's spiritual leader in exile described life in Tibet as "hell on Earth".
All over the world, refugees and sympathisers have been taking to the streets to call attention to the plight of Tibet. On Monday, several hundred people demonstrated outside the White House in a protest that coincided with the stroke of midnight on 10 March in Tibet.
There have been no reports of demonstrations or protests from Tibet itself. China has stationed thousands of extra troops and police in regions with a large Tibetan population. China's President Hu Jintao has called for the building of a "great wall" against Tibetan separatism.