Political pressure around the Moscow Olympics in 1980 enabled my Exodus from Communism.
The protests around the Beijing Olympics could have a liberating effect not just for Tibet, but for Darfur and the Chinese people.
I am a Soviet Jew whose family left the Communist regime because of political pressure prior to the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Having just returned from a trip to China, where I was reminded of Soviet political repression, I am supportive of the demonstrators who are forcing China to see that the world is watching.
My family was lucky to be amongst the thousands of Jews who were allowed to emigrate, part of a Soviet political move to look benevolent on the international stage. Fewer families got exit visas after the Olympics were over.
As the Jewish holiday of Passover approaches, I recall that my family made its Exodus from the Soviet Union right before this holiday that marks the escape from slavery. In our case, we left a country where we were second-class citizens. We arrived in Rome via Vienna just in time for Passover — our first in freedom.
The timing could not have been better.
The current protests around the Olympic Torch relays rekindle my belief in the power of activism. I hope that the current protests will be as successful as international pressure was on the former Soviet Union. I deeply appreciate the work of the protestors who are putting China’s government in the spotlight. The more pressure the Chinese government faces, the more likely it will be to stop its repression in Tibet and to negotiate with the government in the Sudan to stop the Darfur genocide.
Last week, I returned from a trip to China. In addition to the Stalinistic fashion of huge gray buildings adorned with a red Communist flag, the wide boulevards, and the ever present smell of dust and diesel fuel, the Communist style barriers to freedom of expression were common. My blog was blocked. Sometimes I could not open my email. I could barely read or see any foreign media news reports about Tibet. While watching a report about the Olympic torch protests in Paris on CNN in my hotel, the screen became full of static and the images and sound turned off. The English-language state sponsored Chinese news didn’t report about why the Tibetans were protesting. The journalists just mentioned that there was unrest and that Chinese children in Tibet wanted to go back to school and were hoping for the demonstrations to end soon. Children love it when school is canceled. I relished snow days when I lived in Boston and school was canceled. Did the newscasters really believe that people were going to believe their reports? It all reminded me of Soviet propaganda.
All of China can’t make an Exodus like my family did, but the Chinese government needs to know that even if they silence their own population, the rest of us are neither deaf, blind nor mute. We care.
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