Repressive and authoritarian countries are all featured at an event about peace in Montreal. But Taiwan, one of the rare vibrant democracies in Asia, is snubbed.
A few weeks ago, following a workshop and a series of meetings in Washington, D.C., I flew home to Montreal for a few days of much-needed rest with family and friends. As luck would have it, work tends to hound me wherever I go, and as I sat in the lounge at Reagan National Airport waiting for my Air Canada flight to Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, immediately across me was Fang Liu, the Chinese secretary general of the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the global body that, under her watch, has chosen to put politics above aviation safety.
But R&R was my aim, so I did not engage Fang. I landed in Montreal, took a bus downtown, and rushed to my hotel. The next day around noon, my mother, who lives in Quebec City, arrived in Montreal. After lunch at Place des Arts we went for a walk on Sherbrooke Street near McGill University. My mother had read somewhere about “La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-air Museum,” a public art exhibition about peace held between June 5 and Oct. 29.
Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) with the support of McGill University, the exhibition “expresses fundamental values of humanism and peace that are so important to me. Expo 67 contributed to opening Montreal and all of Quebec up to the world, and, fifty years later, people from around the world live here, where they share their culture and their hope for peace.”
Those were the words of the Honourable Louise Arbour, ambassador of La Balade pour la Paix, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and recipient of Taiwan’s 2016 Tang Prize.
Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Iraq, Russia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Zimbabwe — the flags flew proudly, if fraudulently. But Taiwan, the Republic of China, Chinese Taipei? No.
On an unusually hot late September day we walked that stretch of Sherbrooke Street and scanned — apprehensively, as anyone who cares about Taiwan would do — all the country flags displayed “for peace.” Close to 200 member countries, along with those of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, according to the Montreal Gazette newspaper. All in alphabetical order. We walked past T. Past R. Past C. Look as we might, past T, R or C, one flag was conspicuous by its absence. Peace indeed: Egypt, busy killing all hopes of reform, Turkey turning back the clock, war-torn Syria and Iraq, North Korea threatening the world with nuclear-tipped missiles, Russia computer-hacking and murdering, China embracing neo-Maoism with Xi characteristics, and flags that nobody can recognize. But no T, R, or C. No Taiwan, Republic of China or, dare I say, not even Chinese Taipei.
Hopes for peace indeed. And yet, arguably one of the few true democracies in Asia, a peace-loving nation of 23.5 million people that, after decades of authoritarian rule, chose democracy and, against all odds, turned Taiwan into a role model for the region, was nowhere to be seen. Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Iraq, Russia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Zimbabwe — the flags flew proudly, if fraudulently. But Taiwan, the Republic of China, Chinese Taipei? No. The freest nation in all of Asia according to Freedom House and Reporters, with the freest media environment, a country that does not threaten its own people or its neighbors, that stands to become the first state in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage — no. It does not get a seat, or a flag, on the Promenade.
So we went to the MMFA and asked our poor victim about the criteria for a spot in the Balade. “The countries must all be members of the United Nations,” the young man informed us. Upon being informed that a democratic and peace-loving country was not represented, the said poor victim gave every indication he would rather be somewhere else. Awkward silence ensued, silence that dooms us all. We left.
In this crazy world of ours, states that threaten their neighbors with weapons of mass destruction, or regimes that repress entire groups based on their religious beliefs, make the cut for the Balade of/for peace. But a model democracy that is the envy of countries around the region — hell no. So much for the U.N. And so much for peace.
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