NEWS- Flag flap: City Council gesture provokes superpower
How does a world class city provoke a world class incident? It's starts with a town that doesn't let city limits keep it from weighing in on international issues: the war in Iraq, hate crimes against gays, and nuclear proliferation.
So, when the all-Democrat City Council voted February 19 to hoist the Tibetan flag over City Hall, it was merely business as usual in what conservative critics sometimes deride as the "People's Republic of Charlottesville."
The People's Republic of China, however, was less amused.
"The City government sent a very wrong signal," said Xin Shen, the first secretary of that giant nation's embassy in Washington, on Rob Schilling's WINA radio show. In a February 29 email to the City Council. Xin went on to express "grave concerns" that such an action meddles in China's internal affairs, and he claimed that those Tibetans who aren't thrilled with China's presence in their country are a "small handful of splittists."
But Council carried through with the effort, and on March 10, the 49th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, the colorful Tibetan flag was hoisted on City Hall and waved among the more than 60 supporters of Tibetan independence, including Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, one of the event's speakers.
Among the onlookers was former Councilor Schilling.
"I don't think the City has any business getting into this," says Schilling, a Republican. "I support Tibet, and I'm totally against oppressive China. But I think this should be done on private property. What flag are they going to fly next?"
Others, like last year's City Council candidate Peter Kleeman, saw it as an opportunity to learn about the Tibetan community. City Councilor Satyendra Huja was pleased to see the event take place in front of the Free Speech Monument.
Speakers like Khenpo Ngawang Dorjee from the Tashi Choeling Buddhist Center in Albemarle want to use the 2008 Olympics as an opportunity to pressure China and draw the world's attention to Tibet's plight of being invaded and occupied by its powerful neighbor. Dorjee was the fieriest speaker, even with his remarks translated from Tibetan.
He pointed to a flag with the Olympic symbol above a red field and compared it to the blood shed in Tiananmen Square when Chinese citizens sought greater freedom.
"Free Tibet," he shouted.
Organizer Tseyang, president of the Tibetan Association in Charlottesville, fled from Tibet with her family in 1963, and asked that her last name not be used because of fear of retribution against relatives still living there.
The United States flag fluttered on a table with small Tibetan flags. Much as Americans feel about their flag, "We Tibetans have the same feeling when we see [the Tibetan] flag," said Tseyang in a choked voice.
The gathering began with the singing of the Tibet national anthem, and ended with a Tibetan prayer that clearly moved some of those present. A woman carrying a Tibetan flag wiped a tear from her eye.