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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Rangzen: The Case for Independent Tibet (2008 edition)

November 14, 2008

Jamyang Norbu
Shadow Tibet Blog
November 12, 2008

Displaying the old mountain and snowlion flag in Tibet is a
"splittist" offence for which you could be shot on sight. In this
year's historic uprising, scores, even hundreds, of national flags
were defiantly flown throughout Tibet to visually amplify, as it
were, the clarion call of the protestors for independence.

There can be no doubt that the people of Tibet are calling for
rangzen. In a real sense even their other demand for the Dalai Lama's
return is a declaration of independence since he is, above all else,
the enduring symbol of a free Tibetan nation. Right now, throughout
the land, people are holding fast to their dream of independence and
the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet — in spite of China's brutal
and all-out military crackdown.

An Australian journalist just returned from Lhasa claims that he
"witnessed a city creaking under the weight of the Chinese military."
In a detailed report (Nov.8) he writes: "In the ancient back alleys
of Tibet's capital, Lhasa, a grim military operation has played out
this week, hidden from the eyes of the world. As night falls,
hundreds of Chinese troops fan out across this rebellious city, armed
with riot shields and assault rifles. They set up sentry posts on
street corners and dispatch patrols that spend the night walking down
the lanes of Lhasa's Tibetan quarter, looking for any sign of
dissent. When the sun rises, the soldiers do not melt away, but are
replaced by a new rotation of troops. The military stranglehold on
Lhasa by day is maintained with one chilling addition — snipers are
installed on rooftops around the city's most holy site, the Jokhang
Temple, ready to train their guns on the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims
praying in Barkhor Square below."

This essay is being reissued in the hope that Tibetans-in-exile will
re-examine the historical, political and moral legitimacy of the
Rangzen ideal for which our brothers and sisters inside Tibet are
braving beating, torture, imprisonment and execution, and unite with
them to realize our common dream.


There is a rare and defining moment in human history when a crushing
and seemingly permanent tyranny reveals on the surface of its
implacable structure the first tiny cracks of impending collapse —
allowing the faint stirrings of hope in the hearts of long oppressed
peoples and subjugated nations. Such a transition was heralded in
Eastern and Central Europe and parts of Central Asia by the fall of
the Berlin Wall.

For the people of Tibet such a moment may be at hand. China's
economic boom has created enormous and irresolvable problems and
conflicts that threaten to tear Chinese society apart. Endemic
official corruption, desperate peasant uprisings, large-scale labour
unrest, harsh religious repression, ever-widening economic disparity,
ecological devastation (of apocalyptic magnitude), absence of
independent courts and the almost non-existence of civil society,
have been the cause of over 83,000 demonstrations and riots
(according to official Chinese government reports), many violent, all
over China in the last year. This year (2006) with four months to go,
the reported number of incidents of such public unrest has already
exceeded 100,000.

In recent years, certain senior members in the Communist leadership
have reportedly expressed their misgivings about what might happen in
2008, when hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors and the world
media descends on Beijing for the Olympic Games. According to a well
placed observer of the Chinese scene, this situation could provide an
unprecedented opportunity to the voiceless, the dispossessed and the
oppressed of China (peasant groups, clandestine labour organizations,
underground churches, secret religious societies and dissident
groups) to openly express their grievances before the eyes of the world.

At such an important turning point in Asian history, it is vital that
Tibetans not hesitate or weaken in their commitment to the struggle
for independence. It is also crucial that Tibetan friends and
supporters, and also the world at large, realize the absolute
necessity of Rangzen for the survival of the Tibetan people and their
civilization, and appreciate how this claim for an independent
homeland is eminently reasonable, moderate and just.

Origins of Tibetan National Identity
Few people in the world are so distinctly defined by the kind of land
they live in as the Tibetans. Tibetan national identity has not just
been created by history, nor only by religion, but has its roots deep
in the Tibetan land. Tibetans are people who live, and have always
lived, on the great Tibetan plateau, high above and apart from the
rest of the world. The passage to Tibetan-inhabited areas from the
surrounding lowlands of Nepal, India and China is not only
unmistakable and dramatic but clearly a transition to a unique world.

Tibetan identity is so rooted in the land that Tibetans of the past
regarded the major mountains of their own specific regions, Yarla
Shampo of Yarlung, Amnye (grandfather) Machen of Amdo,
Nyenchenthangla of the Northern Plains, Khawa Loring and Minyak
Ghangkar of Kham, and many others, as their ancestors or ancestral
deities. This belief far predates the legend of the compassionate
monkey ancestor of the Tibetans, which is probably a later Buddhist
innovation. The worship of these mountains, which Tibetans still
faithfully, but somewhat unconsciously, perform in their routine
sangsol and lungta ceremonies, is the original expression of Tibetan
nationalist identity, according to the distinguished Tibetan scholar,
Samten Karmay.

Few other people are so specifically identified by geography or
climate except perhaps for Eskimos, Bedouins, Polynesian Islanders
and the Bushmen of the Kalahari. But very early in their history
Tibetans managed to transcend this merely environmentally-defined
existance to create a powerful national identity through the
unification of the various kingdoms and tribes throughout the
plateau. The sense of wonder and pride that these first inhabitants
of a united Tibet felt for their new nation and empire is evident in
this ancient song on the manifestation of Tibet's first emperor:

This centre of heaven,
This core of the earth,
This heart of the world,
Fenced round by snow-mountains,
The headland of all rivers,
Where the peaks are high and the land is pure,
A country so good,
Where men are born as sages and heroes,
And act according to good laws
A land of horses ever more speedy"

Though the imperial period of Tibetan history ended around the tenth
century, its legacy of nationhood was permanent. Later monarchs
consciously drew inspiration from the imperial age in their efforts
to create a united and free Tibet. Jangchub Gyaltsen (1302-1364) of
the Phamodruba dynasty overthrew Mongol rule in Tibet (a decade
before the Mongol Yuan dyasty ended in China) and ushered in a golden
age that Tibetans call "Gamu Ser Khor", since the land was so safe
and peaceful it was said that an old woman carrying a sack of gold
could pass without fear from one end of Tibet to the other.

The Great 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682) reunited Tibet, from the regions
of Ngari in the west, to Dhartsedo in the southeast and Kokonor to
the northeast, for the first time since the collapse of the Tibetan
Empire in the 9th century. More recently, the Great 13th Dalai Lama's
(1876-1933) untiring and monumental struggle to regain and later
defend Tibetan independence was no less an expression of this
heritage of national freedom that Tibetans have maintained throughout
their history.

Legitimacy of Tibetan Independence

It is absolutely essential that we Tibetans understand how
longstanding and legitimate our claims to nationhood are. Many
nations in this world are, in a sense, largely products of history.
The United States, Canada, and Australia do not, in a true sense,
derive their national origins from the land, as Tibet does. Other
countries such as Kuwait, Jordan, Singapore, and some African states
are creations of Western colonial policy, or the debris of colonial
rule. More recently, out of the collapse of the former Soviet Union,
countries like Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. —
which never existed as nations before, have come into being.

In light of international attention to that part of the world, one
might add that there had never been a Palestinian nation. What you
had, historically, was a sub-province (vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire
that later became a British protectorate. Iraq too is a nation
cobbled together by Britain after World War I out of three vilayets
of the defeated Ottoman Empire: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. The
intractable and violent divisions in that country today: sectarian
(Shia v Sunni), ethnic (Kurd v Arab) and tribal, reveal the tenuous
nature of the union.

This is not to argue that Tibet has any more right to exist as a
nation than these states and territories just mentioned -- after all,
it is the natural and fundamental right of all peoples to determine
their own way of life — but to underline the fact that Tibet's status
as a nation is as legitimate, if not more, than that of any other
country in the world. That we did not join the League of Nations or
the United Nations, or that some big powers did not recognize Tibet
as a nation, because they did not want to jeopardize their trade
links with China, does not detract from this legitimacy.

Trade with China is in fact the overarching reason why Britain and
the United States have in the last two centuries refused to support,
even acknowledge, the fact of an independent Tibet. No less an
authority than Sir Charles Bell "the architect of British policy in
Tibet" affirmed this in the 1930s:

Britain and the United States, and probably most of the European
nations, regard Tibet as being under Chinese rule -- besides, we are
always being told about the vast potentialities of trade with China.
To my recollection we were told this fifty years ago, but during
those fifty years no such vast potentialities has materialized; the
potentialities are still no more than potentialities. However, the
foreign nations wish to gain a good share of this trade, and to that
end try to please China. But it is an outrage that they should sell
Tibet in order to increase their own commercial profits in China.

The fact that Tibet has, for periods of its history, been conquered
by foreign powers or that some Tibetan ruler used foreign military
backing to gain political control of the country makes no difference
to its rightful status as a free nation. Even when Tibet's political
and military power had declined considerably in the 18th and 19th
centuries and a degree of Manchu rule was exercised over the country,
the uniqueness of Tibet's civilization and its racial and national
identity was recognized by people all over Asia, not least by the
Manchus themselves, who only appointed Manchus and Mongols of high
birth as their commissioners in Tibet, never a Chinese. In fact,
Manchu relations with Tibet were handled by the Li Fan Yuan (one of
the two "departments" of the Manchu "Foreign Office"), which also
handled relations between the Manchu court and Mongol princes, Tibet,
East Turkistan (Xinjiang) and Russia.

Tibet and especially its capital, Lhasa, were regarded by Buriats and
Kalmucks in Russia, and millions of Mongols as the centre of their
culture and faith. The Russian explorer Prejevalsky in 1878 sent a
memorandum to the Geographic Society and the War Ministry in which "…
he drew a picture of Lhasa as the Rome of Asia with spiritual power
stretching from Ceylon to Japan over 250 million people: the most
important target for Russian diplomacy."

There is probably no country in the world that has not at one time or
another been under the rule of another. Few, if any, of the UN member
states could claim independent statehood if they had to demonstrate a
history of continuous and uncompromised independence. As the Irish
delegate pointed out in the 1960 UN debate on Tibet, most of the
countries in the General Assembly would not be there if they had to
prove that they had never in the past been dominated by another country.

Britain was for nearly four hundred years a part of the Roman Empire.
Russia was under the Mongols for well over two centuries, and of
course the United States started off as a British colony. China
itself was ruled both by the Mongols and Manchus, and repeatedly
defeated in war by the Tibetans, who even captured and briefly held
the Chinese capital of Chang An in 763 A.D. And lest we forget, a
large part of China was under Japanese occupation earlier last century.

Inside Tibet Now

There is probably no place in the world (except possibly for North
Korea) controlled in the Stalinist police-state method like Tibet --
most noticeably Lhasa city. To a great extent this grim reality is
overlooked by Western tourists and even naive exile-Tibetan visitors,
too ignorant of the chameleon qualities of the Chinese totalitarian
system, and impressed, in spite of themselves, by the scale of
China's brave new capitalist society -- and possibly sometimes
tempted by the opportunities.

Visitors to present day Tibet, including Tibet "experts,"
encountering a population going about its daily business and not
expressing open defiance of Chinese occupation, and then concluding
that Tibetans are satisfied with the status quo, invariably fail to
take into account the realities of life under Communist Chinese rule.
Vaclav Havel has tellingly described the double personae that people
living under coercive and repressive regimes adopt with regard to
their intellectual, social and political behaviour. Put bluntly, in a
state that penalizes people for holding "wrong" opinions, not only
are visitors unlikely to become aware of the true feelings of the
people, but even the state itself would probably be ill equipped to
take an accurate reading of those opinions.

In 1979, the Chinese authorities were stunned by the overwhelming
emotional reception accorded the Dalai Lama's emissaries when they
arrived in Lhasa. The authorities appear to have actually believed,
at some level, that only a "handful" of Tibetans supported Rangzen,
until the depth of the problem forced the authorities to take
repressive measures well beyond a basic restoration of order.

Behind the tawdry facade of concrete buildings, discos, karaoke bars,
whorehouses, nightclubs and hotels, the Chinese Government's
chillingly unambiguous "Merciless Repression" (1988), "Strike Hard"
(1996, 2001 and 2004) and "Fight to the Death" (2006) campaigns are
being rigorously implemented. The People's Liberation Army, forced
labour camps (laogaidui), State psychiatric units (ankang), the
Public Security Bureau (gongan), the People's Armed Police and the
"mutual watch" system (danwei), implemented through work units,
re-education teams, neighborhood security watches and ever present
informers, all operate freely and openly. They are unfettered by
anything remotely resembling independent courts, a free press, civic
bodies, independent watch dog organizations, moral or religious
voices, the presence of a single representative of the world media.
Even in the worst governed countries of the world one usually finds
some such institution or the other, frustrating, if not preventing an
absolutism of tyranny that Chinese leaders practice with impunity in Tibet.

In May 2006, Zhang Qingli, Communist Party Secretary of TAR,
announced his "Fight to the Death" campaign against the Dalai Lama.
Tibetans, from the lowliest of government employees to senior
officials, have been banned from attending any religious ceremony or
from entering a temple or monastery. Previously only party members
were required to be atheist. Patriotic education campaigns in the
monasteries have been expanded. Tibetan officials in Lhasa as well as
in surrounding rural counties have been required to write criticisms
of the Dalai Lama. Senior civil servants must produce 10,000-word
essays while those in junior posts need only write 5,000-character
condemnations. Even retired officials are not exempt.

Inside Tibet, after decades of soul-destroying Communist
indoctrination and one of the most cruel and unrelenting systems of
repression in the world, the Tibetan hope for independence, Rangzen,
still stubbornly refuses to be crushed. Though large-scale
demonstrations are not possible right now, a steady stream of
courageous individuals, nuns, monks and lay people, have through the
months and years, raised the forbidden Tibetan national flag, put up
anti-Chinese posters and cried out in public for Rangzen. On October
2, 2003, Nyima Dragpa, a 20-year-old Tibetan monk from Nyitso
monastery, died in prison from being repeatedly tortured. He was
serving a nine-year sentence for "splittist" activities — for putting
up posters calling for Tibetan independence. On 3 September 2006, at
the busy Barkhor street in Lhasa, a lone 23-year-old Tibetan monk
staged a short demonstration calling for independence in Tibet.
Within minutes, he was dragged away by Chinese security personnel. In
these and hundreds of other similar cases it might be noted that the
watchword, the rallying cry was always, without exception, "Rangzen".

Why Rangzen is Absolutely Essential
It can be argued that some countries have been part of other nations
and empires and have not only managed to survive but in some cases
have even benefited from foreign rule -- the most obvious example
being, of course, Hong Kong under Britain. But even China's most
ardent supporters will concede that Chinese rule in Tibet has been
nowhere as visibly successful or even comparatively humane and
liberal as Britain's in Hong Kong.

Yet even relatively benign foreign rule appears on the face of
evidence to be detrimental to the culture and morale of the native
people. Australia and Canada are developed countries with rich
economies and various democratic institutions to protect the rights
of their people, including (at least these days) their indigenous
populations. But many of the native people in these countries are
demoralized, stricken with poverty and disease and victim to
alcoholism and despair; a situation disturbingly similar to what is
beginning to happen inside Tibet.

It seems that the only way to survive under foreign rule with any
self-respect is by constantly defying the oppressing power and
maintaining the hope of eventual freedom. Even the respect of your
conqueror is granted, it seems, only if you resist his tyranny. Of
all the millions of Native Americans who suffered and died under the
injustice and violence of the white man, only the names of great
war-chiefs as Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull are still
remembered with respect by Americans. Those native leaders who tried
to live peacefully under the white man and went to Washington DC to
submit to the "Great White Father" are forgotten.

George Orwell, in one of his newspaper columns, reflected on the fact
that though the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece
and Rome had rested entirely on slavery, in the same way as modern
society depended on electricity or fossil fuels, we cannot recall the
name of a single slave, except perhaps for Spartacus. And we remember
him "because he did not obey the injunction to 'resist not evil', but
raised violent rebellion."

The hope for any kind of autonomous status under China is not
realistic because it assumes that the Chinese system is flexible
enough or tolerant enough to accommodate different political or
social systems within it. One can envisage autonomous areas within,
let us say, a nation like India, because of its genuine functioning
multi-cultural and multi-racial makeup, and its democratic
institutions as the constitution, the free press, free elections and
an independent judiciary to prevent the government or a dominant
group from suppressing the rights of another group. But this is
something that by its very nature the Chinese leadership is unable to do.

The Chinese leaders are as much victims as their people of a long and
oppressive cultural and political legacy -- what a leading Australian
sinologist, W.J.F. Jenner, has termed "the tyranny of history" --
which has paralyzed the realization of positive fundamental changes
in Chinese society and politics. Jenner raises "the dreary
possibility that China is caught in a prison from which there is no
obvious escape, a prison continually improved over thousands of
years, a prison of history — a prison of history both as a literary
creation and as the accumulated consequences of the past".

The "one nation, two systems" granted to Hong Kong was an exception,
agreed upon because the deal was advantageous to Beijing. If China
had not made that concession it would have, at the time, probably
damaged international confidence in Hong Kong's economy and caused a
major financial problem in China. In the years following the
Communist takeover, journalists, radio talk-show hosts,
political-satirists, lawyers and other voices of democracy in Hong
Kong have been systematically harassed and intimidated with threats
of violence and death-threats in an increasingly "suffocating"
political atmosphere. Many have left Hongkong. The Basic Law that was
supposed to guarantee the ex-colony's freedom China has been
effectively neutered and the islands parliament and executive bought
under Beijing's control.

Unlike the citizens of Hong Kong, Tibetans passionately feel, and
know, they are different in every way, culturally, racially,
linguistically and even temperamentally, from the Chinese. Economic
improvement in the lives of Tibetans in Tibet, even if it did happen
(which it hasn't in a meaningful sense) would not significantly alter
their feelings in this regard. It must be remembered that the Lhasa
demonstrations occurred at a time when the economic situation in
Tibet had markedly improved in comparison to the preceding period.
The Tibetan attitude in this matter is best expressed in this excerpt
from a dissident document which was circulating in Tibet in the late eighties:

If (under China) Tibet were built up, the livelihood of the Tibetan
people improved, and their lives so surpassed in happiness that it
would embarrass the deities of the Divine Realm of the Thirty-Three;
if we were really and truly given this, even then we Tibetans
wouldn't want it. We absolutely would not want it.

Why Give Up Now?

There is certainly no denying that the situation inside Tibet is
grim, especially when we take into account the fact of Chinese
population transfer to Tibet, and its acceleration since the
completion of the new railway. But the standard argument by
proponents of the Dalai Lama's Middle Way policy, that to prevent
Chinese immigration we must give up the Freedom Struggle and live
under Chinese rule, is demonstrably false. Has anyone in the Chinese
leadership or bureaucracy remotely suggested that they might
reconsider their population transfer policy if Tibetans gave up their
claim to independence? If the Freedom Struggle was abandoned and the
situation inside Tibet were to become peaceful and settled, then
Chinese immigration to Tibet would definitely increase — far more
than has happened in the last five years. And it does not require any
profound understanding of international law to appreciate that if the
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile accepted Chinese
sovereignty over Tibet, then China's population transfer to Tibet
would, in a definite and complete sense, become legitimized in the
eyes of the world.

The only way to resist Chinese immigration is by intensifying the
Freedom Struggle and destabilizing the situation inside Tibet to a
degree where foreign investors, Chinese entrepreneurs and job seekers
would not regard Tibet as a tolerable location much less a profitable
one. Even if Tibet's independence cannot be realised in the immediate
or near future, what must be established in the eyes of the world is
that the Tibetan plateau is an actively "contested" area, and that
the issue of Tibetan independence is far from closed.

Yet no matter how grave the fact of Chinese immigration into Tibet,
we must bear in mind that this is not an entirely irreversible
situation. Stalin forced large-scale immigration of Russians into
small non-Russian nations like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In
1939, the combined population of these three states numbered about
six million, about that of Tibet's. Stalin also executed thousands of
the native people and deported hundreds of thousands of others to
Siberia. It was generally thought in the world then that these
nations were finished. In the fifties, sixties and seventies the very
existence of these countries seemed to have been eradicated from
human memory, in spite of the fact that the officially recognized
representatives of those countries maintained their presence in
London and New York. Even the Nobel prize-winning Polish writer,
Czeslaw Milosz, born and educated in Lithuania, and speaking out for
the Baltic people in the concluding chapter of his book The Captive
Mind, leaves a lingering and sorrowful impression that, like the
Aztecs wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors, the history of these
ancient Baltic nations had come to an end.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union these three small nations
became independent. Though these states still have considerable
Russian populations, they are not the absolute threats to the
survival or integrity of these nations as it was once thought they
would be. The thing to bear in mind is that these small nations, once
believed to be completely eradicated by Soviet totalitarianism and
Russian immigration, are now free countries -- flying their ancient
flags, speaking their own languages and living in freedom.

Tibet never disappeared quite so completely as the Baltic States,
even during our worst period under the Chinese. And right now, in
spite of the cynicism of governments and business interests
everywhere, Tibet does, in one way or another, continue to draw
people's attention worldwide. Certainly, it is not always the kind of
attention we want. Nevertheless, there is some awareness of Tibet's
situation throughout the world and often concern for its plight. If
there was a period when we might have had a passable excuse for
giving up, it would be the sixties and seventies, when it seemed that
International Communism and Chinese control of Tibet would go on
forever, in sæcula sæculorum; and when most intellectuals and
celebrities in the free world appeared to be besotted with Communist
China and the thoughts of Chairman Mao.

Right now, Tibet enjoys an attention and sympathy in the world that,
although has diminished considerably since its heydays in the
nineties, is nonetheless quite remarkable. The fact that this
sympathy does not translate, as a matter of course, into political
support for the Tibetan cause is certainly unfortunate. We Tibetans,
especially the religious leadership, must accept significant blame
for our inability to present our political objectives clearly and
consistently to the world. In fact, these inconsistencies have spread
confusion among our own activists and supporters and bogged down
every kind of effort on behalf of the cause.

International Dimension of Rangzen

Since the nineties, the Tibetan leadership and a section of its
Western supporters have contrived to blend "global concerns" such as
the environment, world peace and spirituality with the Tibetan issue.
Following this a lofty and somewhat condescending notion has
developed among certain Tibetans and friends that struggling for
Tibetan independence is unsophisticated and limited. Of course, such
a viewpoint is not only mistaken but demonstrates how people tend to
mix their need for a cause of some kind with their other needs or
tendencies towards political correctness, social acceptance, personal
advancement and sometimes even material gain.

The real battles for freedom are fought in local and mostly desperate
struggles, by people prepared to give up not just respectability and
careers, but even their lives. Freedom Struggles are by their very
nature disruptive. Yet, however unsettling, however much a source of
economic distress and human suffering, the indomitable (yet
specifically local) struggles of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King
Jr., Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi inspire freedom-loving
people all over the world; far more than, let us say, the
well-intentioned efforts of diplomats, career activists or even the
Secretary General of the UN to ensure what is termed "world peace"
but which can perhaps be more accurately described as the
preservation of the international status quo.

Each victory of freedom over tyranny is a tremendous boost to other
causes. I am sure Tibetans remember how genuinely thrilled we were
when Bangladesh became independent, and even more encouraged and
proud when we learned that Tibetan paratroopers had made an important
contribution to the victory. After India gained her independence, a
whole succession of African and Asian nations also became free from
their European colonial masters. In the nineties, with the fall of
the Berlin wall, another series of countries gained their freedom,
this time from the Soviet yoke. Tibetan independence could well
precipitate, or at least herald, a new era of freedom not only for
neighbouring regions as East Turkistan and Inner Mongolia but even
for the people of China itself.

We must also bear in mind that at present the most repressive and
murderous regimes in the world: Kim Jong Il's North Korea, the
military junta of Burma, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Islam Karimov's
Uzbekestan and the government of Sudan which to all purposes has been
commiting in genocide in Darfur, basically survive, even thrive
because of Chinese economic, diplomatic or military support.

Democracy and Rangzen
Only in a truly democratic Tibetan society will creativity, fresh
thinking, and new leadership -- desperately needed in the Freedom
Struggle -- not only emerge but also be valued and be effective.
Furthermore, only democracy can provide for adequate transparency in
the functioning of the government and for genuine accountability on
the part of our leadership; and is therefore the only way in which
the true feelings of the Tibetan people for Rangzen can be fully represented.

To the oppressed people of Tibet, democracy represents not only a
goal of eventual freedom from Chinese tyranny but also the best hope
for a truly just and equitable government of their own choice. As
such, the promise of a true democratic Tibet will be an effective
repudiation of Chinese propaganda claims that Tibetan independence
would mean a reversion to theocratic feudalism. Hence democracy
becomes a potent weapon for the cause and its genuine and effective
implementation in our exile-society an absolute necessity for the
credibility of the Freedom Struggle. Though a small beginning has
been made to implement democracy in exile, much more needs to be
done. Unless a genuine party-based election system replaces the
current structure, which resembles nothing more than Nepal's old
cosmetic panchayat "democracy", the exile administration and
parliament will never truly reflect popular will, nor implement
policies based on the people's desire for an independent Tibet.

Yet, reform of the election system alone will not ensure a democratic
and dynamic society. Tibetans must embrace democratic thinking and
culture with the same zeal and commitment our ancestors displayed in
adopting Buddhism in Tibet. The enduring vitality of Tibetan Buddhism
can be credited, in no small measure, to the monumental scholastic
labour of the great Tibetan lotsawas in collecting, studying and
translating Indian texts from the seventh through to the thirteenth
century. This remarkable achievement created the bed-rock
intellectual foundation on which all Tibetan Buddhist institutions,
doctrines, and accomplishments, right to the present day, have been
created. To guide the course of our nation's political future
Tibetans should study and discuss the ideas and philosophies that
created Western democracy and civil society, through the great books
of the French and British Enlightenments, the writings of the
American Founding Fathers, and subsequent works by liberal thinkers
and democrats of our time.

It is only with such intellectual effort, political commitment and
moral passion will we be able to bring about the restoration of an
independent Tibet and the establishment of a true democratic system
of government based on the rule of law and the primacy of individual freedom.

Even the Hope of Independence is Vital
Of course, there is no guarantee that independence will happen soon,
or even in our lifetimes -- though I am somehow convinced it will.
Yet it goes without saying that maintaining the goal of Rangzen is
vital to its eventual achievement. It must be remembered that it was
the hope of independence that kept our exile society strong and
united in the difficult early years. Many of the problems our society
now faces with religious and political quarrels, decline in
educational standards, the lamentably disgraceful commercialization
of our religion, cynicism in the administration, and loss of
self-respect and integrity among the ordinary people, have definite
roots in the gradual relinquishing of the Freedom Struggle by the
Tibetan leadership during the last two decades.

The hope of independence is vital for people inside Tibet. Keeping
alive the Freedom Struggle in exile gave people inside Tibet hope,
and in spite of the terrible sufferings they underwent, gave them
some assurance that their civilization and their world had not
disappeared entirely. In order for Tibetans to preserve their
identity, culture and religion, the hope of a free Tibet must always
be preserved. If we resign ourselves to being a part of China then we
will certainly lose not only our national but our cultural identity
as well. Beijing might allow us to remain Buddhists, of a docile and
unquestioning kind, as you would expect, but we must bear in mind
that there are a lot of other Buddhists sects and cults in China. It
would be the ultimate and tragic irony if in the end all that were
left of Tibet's monumental two-thousand year old civilization and
culture was a quaint Chinese Buddhist sect in the mountain regions of
the People's Republic.

The only way for individuals to survive distinctly as Tibetans, not
just within Tibet itself or in exile in India, but even in isolation
in a foreign country, or alone inside a Chinese prison cell, is by
holding fast to the hope of an independent Tibet, and by
demonstrating to oneself and the world unremitting defiance of
Communist China and its inherent inhumanity and evil.

The greatest of modern Chinese writers, Lu Xun (1881-1936), would, I
feel, probably not have advised Tibetans to curl up and die in the
face of their present predicament. He was a congenital pessimist but
he had this to say on the matter of hope:

"Hope can be neither affirmed nor denied. Hope is like a path in the
countryside: originally there was no path - yet, as people are
walking all the time in the same spot, a way appears."

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the
publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect
their endorsement by the website.

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