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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Opinion: Don't let China steal Losar

February 9, 2010

By Tenzin Dorjee
February 8, 2010

Losar belongs to Tibet. Losar belongs to the
Tibetan people. No one can steal it from us.

I live in a foreign land where Tibetan festivals
hold no immediate meaning. Struggling onto
crowded subways each morning and each night,
avoiding the empty gaze of strangers, the ground
I walk upon is many seas and skies away from my
mountainous home. So why should I celebrate
Losar? The real New Year is already past, any
way. Well, the answer is simple: No matter where
I live, I am Tibetan, and if I don't celebrate my own tradition, who will?

It has become clear that Chinese authorities have
been encouraging Tibetans in certain parts of
Tibet to celebrate Losar, even handing out cash
for fireworks in some cases. Understandably, this
pathetic attempt by China to hijack Losar has
angered Tibetans, some of whom may have decided
to skip Losar in a knee-jerk reaction.

To celebrate Losar just because China tells us to
do so - that's a mistake. Likewise, to skip Losar
just because China tells us to celebrate it -
that's also a mistake. Our tradition should not
be relegated to a mere reaction - equal or
opposite - to China's demands. China should have
no say in how we practice our tradition. We
Tibetans must proactively decide whether, when, where and how to observe Losar.

Chinese authorities will tell us to celebrate
Losar next year too, and the year after that. Are
we going to skip every Losar just to make a
point? If we really want to hit the Chinese
government where it hurts most, we should observe
Losar in all the ways that distinguish us from
them. We should use the occasion to assert our
identity - eat Tibetan food, wear Tibetan dress,
speak in Tibetan, write Losar cards and door
signs in Tibetan, light butter lamps and perform
kora. Let khatas hang on the door and prayer
flags fly in the wind, let the smell of tsampa and incense fill the air.

Messages from Tibet, via articles and poems, have
called on Tibetans to celebrate Losar as an
occasion to assert our identity, empower our
community, and to distinguish ourselves from the
Chinese. Many are using the power of visuals,
displaying heart-shaped images with the word
"Tibet" inscribed on them on various websites, to
play on the fact that Losar falls on Valentine's
Day. I heard that in Lhasa, for example, people
have done most of the shopping and are planning
to observe Losar at home. After living under
virtual martial law for nearly two years, sharing
a hot bowl of guthuk and a sweet dish of dresil
with friends and family will nourish the soul.

Though mourning is important as a symbolic
gesture, it is politically useless beyond a
certain point. Excessive mourning, instead of
bringing the dead back to life, pulls the living
closer to death. In fact, the best way to honor
the our martyrs is to advance the Tibetan
struggle for freedom - which is what they died
for - and the best way to advance the struggle is
to engage the grassroots through activism. People
will participate in a movement that is vibrant,
inclusive, engaging and dynamic. No one is drawn
to a movement that is drowning in a pool of tears
and self-pity and endless mourning.

Let's distinguish ourselves from our oppressors,
not by our sorrow but by our spirit, not by our
mourning but by our activism. If we want to
advance our movement, and if we truly want to pay
tribute to our martyrs, we must observe Losar by
being Tibetan, by taking action, by taking a pledge.

This Losar, take a pledge to do something every
week - if possible, every day - that will
strengthen Tibetan people and weaken the Chinese empire.

Tendor is the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet.
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