For Europeans who know what it is like to be Tibetan, an unwillingness to meet the Dalai Lama is more than cowardice.
The Dalai Lama is visiting Europe this August. The continent's senior politicians are not exactly jostling to see him. His website shows only a few public talks (in Toulouse and Copenhagen, if you're interested). That's not new. The website also shows a depressingly sparse series of official engagements in 2010: one meeting with the Slovenian government minister dealing with the diaspora; another with the speaker of the Swiss parliament.
The reason is simple. China is important, and goes into ritual hysterics at any foreign behaviour that seems to promote ‘splittism'. Even American politicians prefer to meet the personally saintly, politically moderate Tibetan leader away from the cameras and with plenty of provisos.
For most European countries, the cowardice over Tibet is just regular pusillanimity: the same attitude that leaves Georgia in the lurch, Ukraine in the cold, Belarus in the dark and Russia ruled by murderous bandits.
In the case of the leaders of the Baltic states, a failure to meet the Dalai Lama when he travels there in August is especially shameful and outrageous. It is also self-destructive.
More than anyone else in Europe, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians know what it is like to be Tibetan: to be occupied by a big foreign power; to become an ‘uncountry' and your heroes ‘unpersons'; to have your cultural, social and political elites jailed, tortured and deported; to have your language pushed to the margins of public life; to be subject to huge forced migration that aims to dilute and eventually eradicate your national identity.
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The writer is central and eastern Europe correspondent of The Economist.
A moral compass is not just for history