Lawmakers in Chinese-ruled Tibet have unanimously passed a bill introducing a new holiday: From this year on, every March 28 will be celebrated as „Serf Liberation Day“ in Tibet. Beijing says the day marks the end of an armed rebellion staged by the Dalai Lama and his supporters in March 1959. The announcement has been condemned by Tibetan exiles and domestic as well as international critics of Beijing’s Tibet policy.
Security is tight in Lhasa ahead of the anniversaries in March
China’s Communists have traditionally highlighted overthrowing the Dalai Lama’s so-called "feudal" rule and liberating serfs in Tibet as their major achievements. And they have used them also to justify China’s continuing rule over Tibet, arguing that Tibet would have remained backward and feudal, had the Dalai Lama remained in power. But Tsering Woeser, a well-known Tibetan writer and blogger who lives in Beijing, says that introducing a holiday now for this reason is not without a touch of sarcasm:
"The Communist government has always tried to define 1959 as the watershed separating the ‘new’ from the ‘old’ Tibet. It might have made more sense, had such a holiday for the liberation of Tibetan serfs been introduced in that time. But now it is happening after fifty years. This is totally uncalled for", she argues. "Of course we all understand that in reality this project is designed to counter last year’s protests."
No more feudalism
The German politician and President of the "Tibet Intergroup" of the European Parliament, Thomas Mann, says linking the Dalai Lama with feudal rule is no longer justified, because the Tibetan exile movement has undergone thorough political reforms in the last fifty years:
"I witnessed this a few years ago when the Tibetans in exile held their first direct polls to elect their own government", Mann remembers. "I happened to be in Dharamsala at the time and could watch how Professor Samdong Rimpoche was elected Prime Minister. So these are totally democratic processes which have been established there for a long time. They have a government in exile whose members are not appointed, but elected!"
Wary ahead of anniversaries
Many observers believe the new holiday is also intended as a signal to Tibetans that the quelling of the uprising against Chinese rule and the subsequent escape of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 must not be commemorated in any other way. Even last year’s protests in Tibet began in March, so Chinese officials seem to be wary ahead of the anniversary. But author Tsering Woeser does not think there will be another rebellion this March:
"The army’s presence in Tibet is still strong this year, and there is also a large number of police, including plainclothes officers. So -- although I find it difficult to predict these things -- in this kind of tightly controlled situation, I don’t think it’s likely that there will be sizeable protests. But people’s dissatisfaction remains."
The critics believe that introducing a new holiday that celebrates Chinese rule will hardly be an appropriate way to overcome the feeling of alienation in Tibet.