Rondo Wolnego Tybetu (Free Tibet Roundabout) – Warsaw, Poland - Atlas Obscura

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Rondo Wolnego Tybetu (Free Tibet Roundabout)

A heavily politicized roundabout discussing the state of a heavily politicized country. 

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The independence of Tibet is a very sensitive issue for most, made difficult by political pressure from China, which makes it difficult for officials to speak out on the topic. Despite this, a semi-official Free Tibet monument has been the center of its own controversy in Poland’s capital.

The roundabout and impromptu art gallery underneath an overpass were the brainchildren of counselor Kubiak of Warsaw in preparation for a visit of the Dalai Lama. They were painted by artists in various images related to the mountain country, and the roundabout was to be named “the free Tibet roundabout.” You’d expect the story to end there, but that is just the beginning.

At first, there was a lot of pushback from the right-wing parties, who wanted the area to become a memorial for victims of the Warsaw concentration camp. They got outvoted, but the trouble did not stop there. A month before the Dalai Lama’s visit, the city received an official protest from the second secretary of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Still, the council resisted, showing their work to the Dalai Lama, who approved of it and called it “right and logical.”

However, not long after that, the council received a letter from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Council, which stated that using the term “free Tibet” went against the position of the Polish government and that of the European Union, as both recognize China’s territorial integrity. The council debated a bit longer until they finally decided against the name in 2010, instead of going with the name of Tibet roundabout, dropping the word “free.” The people did not like this decision and many refuse to drop the old name, with some even having painted the name into a wall next to the roundabout. This has been the situation ever since, with the council seemingly tolerating the vandalism.

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