I protagonisti di Tiananmen raccontano la loro storia

Venti anni fa, i carri armati in Piazza Tiananmen a Pechino hanno schiacciato la più grande protesta della storia in favore della democrazia. Centinaia furono uccisi, migliaia imprigionati e molti fuggirono per evitare di essere perseguitati. In questo articolo, i leader esiliati che parteciparono alla rivolta studentesca, raccontano le loro storie straordinarie e rivelano come, dopo essere stati costretti a costruirsi una nuova vita, siano ancora sotto l’incubo di quella sanguinosa eredità.

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Twenty years ago tanks rolled into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to crush the biggest pro-democracy movement in history. Hundreds were killed, thousands jailed and many fled to escape persecution. Here exiled leaders of the student revolution tell their remarkable stories and reveal how, after being forced to build new lives, they remain haunted by its bloody legacy
Over seven tumultuous weeks of nationwide demonstrations and protests, beginning with the death of the sacked reformer, Hu Yaobang, on 15 April 1989 and ending with the movement’s violent suppression on 4 June, an estimated 100 million people across China demonstrated in support of political reform. The movement was inchoate, contradictory and politically confused but it remains the biggest peaceful pro-democracy movement in human history. For the millions who took part, life would never be the same again.
Last week I listened to a man in his 40s unburden himself of a secret he had carried for two decades. He was a student leader in a major provincial city, and although he was arrested in mid-June 1989, he was released after a month of enforced confessions. He moved to another city and eventually made a successful career. But for 20 years the burden of the hopes that were shattered on 4 June, and the apprehension that he could be targeted at any time by a regime that never forgets and rarely forgives, has weighed on his spirit. It is part fear, part depression, part rage.
Some are still in prison. Others, in mourning, are still harassed. A few campaign openly for a reversal of the Communist Party’s verdict that the movement was the work of “a small clique of counter-revolutionaries” who wanted to overthrow the party and the socialist system. Behind the few high-profile campaigners and dissidents is the much larger throng of those who still nurse memories too painful to discuss.
It’s been two decades since that lone protester defied a column of tanks on Beijing’s Avenue of Eternal Peace, before vanishing, never to be identified. Since that time, China has prospered economically. The party has embraced the market and traded the socialist system it claimed to defend for the pleasures of getting rich. Younger generations are vague about a movement that still cannot be publicly discussed or documented. But the suppression at Tiananmen continues to exact a high price: the constant falsification of history, a political system frozen by the fear of the people’s judgment, and a leadership that sees the ghosts of Tiananmen wherever voices call for political reform.
Four years ago a cautious official commemoration of Hu Yaobang raised hopes that Tiananmen might finally be reassessed. Since then the party has stalled, perhaps waiting for the deaths of the chief perpetrators and beneficiaries, Li Peng and Jiang Zemin, before it begins to re-examine the single most traumatic episode of recent times.
Tiananmen marked the moment when the Chinese Communist Party relinquished its ideological claim on the loyalty of the people. After that, its message was material: as long as its citizens were content to leave politics to the party, the party would deliver prosperity. Superficially, it has worked – and the ideas so vigorously discussed in 1989 have given way to the truculent nationalism of new generations.
But China has a culture that honours its dead, and Tiananmen’s dead are privately remembered by millions. Until the democracy movement of 1989 is acknowledged for what it was, a massive expression of popular demand for a government accountable to its people, the ghosts of the dead and nightmares of the living will not be laid to rest.

• Isabel Hilton is the editor of online magazine Chinadialogue, poste don DossierTibet 4 may 2009

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