Tag Archives: protest

Tibetans in Paris March for Freedom – Tibetan National Uprising Day

Hundreds took to the streets of Paris on Wednesday in honor of the 51st Tibetan National Uprising Day. While holding signs reading, “Stop the Torture in Tibet” and shouting messages of “Hu Jintao: Assassin!”, demonstrators marched along the Seine towards the Chinese embassy, where the group strengthened its calls for freedom.

For the Tibetan exiled community, National Uprising Day is one of the most important events of the year, alongside New Year festivities in February. The day marks the anniversary of March 10th, 1959, when Tibetans in the capital city of Lhasa rose up against their nearly 9 years of Chinese occupation. Despite the Tibetans’ peaceful protest, a bloody battle ensued and almost 90,000 Tibetans were killed. Exiled communities worldwide use the day as a platform to promote justice for Tibet.

Protesters march towards the Chinese embassy in Paris

As per tradition, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, made a statement from his home in Dharamsala, India. He reiterated his desire for Tibet’s autonomy, despite Beijing’s continually hard-line stand. The Dalai Lama called on Tibetans to respect others, educate themselves and continue working to preserve Tibetan language and culture. He also expressed the need for China’s 1.3 billion citizens to have free access to information and greater transparency within the country.

Tseyang, a board member of the Communauté Tibétaine de France, who jointly organized the Paris demonstration with La Maison du Tibet, hopes that the day’s protest will bring some sort of change within the current Sino-Tibetan dialogue.

“The Chinese government should try to better understand the situation,” she said as she marched, “Tibet and China are in their ninth round of talks and there are still no concrete results.”

A young Tibetan supporter

The Dalai Lama sent envoys to Beijing at the end of January to resume negotiations between China and Tibet, which again were fruitless. International intervention has not yet produced any significant change for the Tibet issue, which often gets pushed under the table due to Chinese pressure or in favor of more pressing political concerns. U.S. President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama last month, resulting in angry reactions from the Chinese government.

Sonam Topgyl, an exiled Tibetan living in Paris, believes that the Uprising Day protest will be useful in its ability to bring light to the situation in Tibet and to show China that Tibetans are still fighting for freedom. “When it comes to politics, it’s difficult. But what France can do is to talk about the Tibetan situation to the rest of the world,” he said. Uprising Day demonstrations were planned for today in cities across France, as well as in other parts of the globe.

Above all, Sonam hopes that talking about Tibet will one day result in real change. Holding his Tibetan flag high in the air as he marched, he said, “What I would like is for Tibet to have the same rights as in France – culture, religion, everything.”

The demonstration finished in front of the Wall for Peace overlooking the Eiffel Tower

Fight for your right to… work?

Blame it on the churros. Or the pumping early 90’s American dance beats. Or the sky high CGT blimps. Whatever the reason, I found myself unexpectedly caught up in France’s national strike on Thursday, January 29. As I stuffed my face with sugary fried dough, I realized the irony of how I had spent the entire day frantically searching for a job in Paris while the rest of France played hooky from work.

The Communists, the Socialists, the teachers, the retirees, the unemployed – even those who weren’t sure why they were there (clearly marked by their “grève générale” stickers) had conglomerated at Metro Bastille to protest teacher cuts, reduced purchasing power, fewer unemployment benefits, less medical coverage and general discontent with French life.

French students, teachers, trade unions and parents demonstrate in Paris

As an American, I couldn’t understand it. Much of France’s je ne sais quoi appeal involves not just great coffee, pastries and fashion, but tangible benefits: a 35-hour work week, paid medical and dental insurance, 25 days paid vacation, and 16 weeks maternity leave with the option of taking three years off (unpaid) from work while retaining total job security.

And what if you should lose your job in this feeble economy? Getting laid off in France means receiving up to 75% of your salary for months, even years, (often receiving more than you would gaining the minimum wage), free job training and advice, and the ability to keep your health insurance. Being a chomeur is so great, in fact, that many young people purposely quit their jobs, take up the benefits and go traveling for a few months.

So as President Sarkozy fights to the death to keep jobs for French citizens, many of those same citizens are abusing the unemployment system in order to avoid working altogether. And that laissez-faire attitude is taking its toll. While France is still one of Europe’s economic darlings (ranked fifth in the world according to its nominal GDP) it has one of the lowest percentages of hours worked compared to other developed countries. And as of October 2008, France had 4 million people on chomage and an 8% unemployment rate – one of the highest in Europe.

Mass nationwide strike in France

Yet here I sat, work permit in hand, and I could not get a job. Call it that old French mistrust of immigration where “stranger equals danger,” but it seemed to most employers that my situation was just too “complicated.”

While France has advanced in many ways over the years, its immigration policies have not: in order for Americans to work here, we need a permit from the government. But we cannot get the permit without getting the job first. And voilà, instant conundrum. Apart from marrying a French citizen, becoming a lifelong student or going through the painstaking process of starting your own business, Americans are left in a catch-22 that even MacGyver wouldn’t be able to work himself out of.

Luckily, Americans seem to be born with eternal optimism and an inner drive to work hard that is somewhat lost on the European “work to live, not live to work” mentality. Not that reducing our self-worth to a job timetable is necessarily a positive thing, but it certainly prepares us for a good fight.

So if your American dream involves a healthy serving of croissants and blue cheese, prepare for a Hercules-sized battle against those notorious French bureaucratic sticks and spears – but don’t throw down your shield just yet. If Americans can elect a black president only 50 years after employing racially separated drinking fountains and bus seats, we can surely figure out how to do a simple thing like working in France, right?

This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of Brit’mag.