High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a recent blogpost by Woeser written in September 2014 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on October 7, 2014.
In this post, Woeser looks at the Scottish referendum that took place on September 18, 2014 and also writes about her friend the Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti who was tried and sentenced to life in prison for “separatism” at around the same time.
It is difficult to gauge how closely the Scottish referendum was followed inside Tibet but exile Tibetans observed the proceedings with interest and articles about self-determination were published by Tibetan Political Review and International Campaign for Tibet, among others.
“A Civilised and Non-Civilised Day”
The day of the Scottish referendum for or against independence happened to be on the same day that the Urumqi court hearing of the Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti who had been under arrest for 8 months took place. An interesting coincidence.
Ilham’s court hearing was held on September 17 and 18. He was charged with “national separatism” and “organising separatist groups”. When he defended himself in court, he clearly stated: “I am innocent, I have never organised any separatist criminal groups, I have never engaged in any movements to separate the nation.” Yet, he was still subject to harsh punishment. 15 days after the hearing, local authorities sentenced him to life imprisonment. All his property was confiscated. This news shocked the world!
Scotland and England have by now been part of the United Kingdom for 307 years. Earlier in history, however, in 1314, the Scottish army inflicted a painful defeat on the English, resulting in a Scottish victory in the war of independence. Precisely 700 years later, in 2014, a year of symbolic importance, signifying profound historical meanings, it was decided to hold a referendum for independence. In line with “Braveheart”, the Hollywood movie about the Scottish independence hero William Wallace, this year’s referendum has been recognised and praised as the “700-year-long continuation of the Scottish ‘Braveheart’”.
A few days ago, the journalist Chang Ping interviewed me for German media “Deutsche Welle”. This is what I wrote:
The Scottish referendum for independence is about to go ahead, but it is hard to estimate its long-term significance. Regardless of the final outcome, Scotland and England will not be the same again, and I believe that this world will not be the same again. It is not a “retrograde step” as some people say; it is neither primarily a matter of economic concern, it first and foremost shows that the level of Scotland’s autonomy vis-a-vis England has always truly been a “high degree of autonomy”. It is a far cry from China’s so-called “autonomous” regions. This kind of election is suitable to the wish of self-expression and determination that we find in the 21st century and also proves that freedom is a natural right and referendum a universal value. The utopian idea of large-scale unification, on the other hand, is a backward and reactionary one. As a Tibetan living in the present, witnessing (albeit from very far away) this greatly significant event has touched me profoundly, because my awareness of our natural rights and the definition of our own identity have never become more distinct and pressing.
The result of the Scotland referendum has already been released, 55% said “no”, 45% said “yes”. Analysts stated: “before the referendum, the British government was so desperate in trying to keep Scotland that it already granted it a quasi-autonomous position; yet, despite this, there were still so many people that voted in favour of being entirely independent. This is quite remarkable and proves that the referendum has been a success. (…) through this referendum the Scottish public has shown that it has the power of self-determination.” The well-known Tibetologist and friend of Ilham Tohti’s, Elliot Sperling, said to me: “In fact, Scotland’s situation is my personal ideal: realising people’s self-determination in accordance with the principles of democracy. Not one person or a small group of people decides upon the future, but every single person of the nation.”
The referendum in Scotland also had a broader significance, which we can see from the following post that spread across the Chinese web: “There were no official denunciations in the British media, there were no threats by the power institutions, there was no gunpowder, no tanks, no sacrifice, no police, no powerful external influence, there were no provocative thugs picking quarrels, no arrests, no violence against women, none of this happened. The big question of a country’s unity or independence was just settled in this manner, one person one vote shook the world… this referendum has only produced winners.”
Let me add one more sentence: this referendum was not only void of the just-described “Chinese characteristics”, it also did not have people being accused of “national separatism” like Ilham Tohti and seven young students. This world is really peculiar, civilised and non-civilised happened to appear before our eyes on one and the same day.