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His Holiness Receives US' Top Accolade For Promoting Democratic Values

February 22, 2010

Report filed by Mr Bhuchung K. Tsering of ICT
Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)
February 19, 2010

The National Endowment for Democracy presented
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Democracy
Service Medal in recognition of the Tibetan
temporal and spiritual leader's commitment to
advancing the principles of democracy and human
dignity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his
remarks talked about the history of the struggles
of the Tibetan people in the past 50 years.
(Click here to watch the award ceremony)

Washington, DC: His Holiness the Dalai Lama
visited the Library of Congress this morning for
his final programme in Washington, DC during this
visit.  His Holiness was received at the Library
by Librarian Dr. James Billington, Carl Gershman,
the president of National Endowment for Democracy
(NED), and NED Board Vice Chair Judy Shelton. His
Holiness then viewed some exhibits of the
Library’s vast Tibetan collection, which included
a Thangka depicting the Gaden Lhagyalma,
presented by the 13th Dalai Lama to the American
diplomat and scholar William Rockhill, who were
both in Wutaishan in China, on 21 June 1908.

His Holiness then proceeded to the auditorium
after attending a small reception.

Librarian Billington made an initial introductory
remark in which he talked about the Library and
its Tibetan collection. He said His Holiness had
visited the Library of Congress twice before. He
mentioned that the Library represents the
democratic belief that truly representative
government has to be based on knowledge and the freedom to use it.

His Holiness then talked about the Library’s
Tibetan collection, which included Rockhill’s
collection of books between 1888 and 1892.
Billington said that the presentation of the
artefacts by the 13th Dalai Lama to Rockhill has
been described by historians as probably the
first direct cultural contact between Tibet and
the United States. Saying he is specially
honoured to welcome His Holiness today,
Billington said, “Your presence highlights and
pays tribute to preserving the cultural and
historic legacy of the Tibetan experience.”

His Holiness then introduced Judy Shelton, NED
Vice Chair. She welcomed everyone to the event
and gave an overview of the NED’s work.  NED has
supported the democratic aspirations of the
Tibetan people for over 20 years. She said the
projects included building democratic awareness
and institutions among Tibetans in exile and to
increase meaningful interaction between Tibetans
and Chinese.  Before inviting NED President Carl
Gershman to make his remarks, Judy recognized
several distinguished individuals who were
present on the occasion, including former State
Department officials William Taft, Paula
Dobriansky, and ICT Chairman Richard Gere.

  His Holiness speaks to the audience after
receiving the National Endowment for Democracy's
Democracy Service Medal during a ceremony at the
Library of Congress in Washington.

NED President Carl Gershman addressed the
gathering on the reasons why his organization
chose His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the
Democracy Service Medal. He said, “We are
gathered here today to honour the contribution of
the Dalai Lama to the principles, values, and
cause of democracy.  This contribution is neither
well understood nor widely recognised.  The
leadership of His Holiness in the struggle of the
Tibetan people to preserve their culture is world
renowned, and he has been honoured as a religious
leader and as a man of peace.  But his
contribution to democracy has not received the
attention it deserves.  Our purpose today is to
shed light on this dimension of his beliefs and
purposes, one that makes the Dalai Lama
especially relevant to the future of the world in which we live.”

The NED President concluded, "For his
contribution to advancing the institutions,
values and purposes of democracy, for giving us
all a model of how to practice democracy as a way
of life, and for defending the survival of the
people and culture of Tibet in a way that has
also contributed to world peace and human
understanding, the National Endowment for
Democracy is proud to present its Democracy
Service Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama."

Thereafter, Carl Gershman and Judy Shelton
jointly presented the medal to His Holiness and invited him to speak.

In his acceptance remarks, His Holiness said he
regarded this medal as a recognition of his small
contribution towards the promotion of democratic
values.  He said that he learnt the value of
democracy through experience rather than through
formal education. His Holiness then gave some
examples of how he was able to do this.  He said,
in 1942, when he was around seven years old, he
had received a letter and a gift from President
Roosevelt. However, like any child, he said he
was more interested in the gift and had ignored
the letter, which was more important.  He said he
did not even know where the letter was. He
revealed that it was only yesterday, after 68
years that he received a copy of that 1942 letter from President Barack Obama.

Secondly, His Holiness said that during formal
occasions he had to sit on a throne on a day to
day basis he would interact closely with ordinary
individuals and recalled conversations he had
with the sweepers (in his residence in Tibet)
through which he was able to learn about
injustices in the society as well as complaints
that people had.  He said the situation in Tibet
in the past was, although not as bad as the
Chinese project it, did have drawbacks and injustices.

Another experience that His Holiness recalled was
his trips to China in 1954 and to India in 1956
during which he had the opportunity to watch the
proceedings of parliament in the two
countries.  His Holiness said during a session in
parliament China it looked like one member was
making a critical remark. As soon as this was
made he recalled an official asking this member
to shut up.  On the other hand, during the
parliament proceeding in India that he had
watched he found it noisy but lively and members
seem to be able to have their rights of
expression.  His Holiness recalled mentioning
this experience when he met with Chinese Premier
Zhou En Lai who was also visiting India. His
Holiness felt that the difference between the two
countries showed the difference between an
authoritarian society and an open society.

Yet, another experience His Holiness recalled was
with Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru in 1959.
His Holiness said he had mentioned to Prime
Minister Nehru about taking up the Tibetan issue
before the UN. Despite Nehru’s advise against it,
the Tibetans went ahead in having the issue
raised in the UN. During a subsequent meeting
with Prime Minister Nehru, His Holiness said he
was a little perturbed at first as to the
reaction of the Prime Minister as he had not
listened to his advice. However, Prime Minister
Nehru did not show any signs of being displeased.
His Holiness said he then realized the value of a
democracy whereby people could disagree with each other without any fear.

His Holiness said that it was through such
experiences that he had the occasion to learn
about democracy and to appreciate its value.

His Holiness said that it was around 1952 that he
had started a reform process in Tibet by setting
up a Reform Committee.  This committee undertook
some action. Subsequently the Chinese authorities
were not pleased with this as they also had plans
to set up their own reform system. His Holiness
said after 1959 he was able to implement his
process of  reforming the political system in
exile.  His Holiness said in 1969, he had
formally made it clear that the future of the
institution of the Dalai Lama lay in the hands of
the Tibetan people who would determine whether it
had any benefits to them or not. Referring to his
role, His Holiness said that he had often
remarked that while the 14th Dalai Lama is
certainly not the best, but he is also not the
worst.  His Holiness said that in 2001 the
democratic transformation occurred when political
authority was transferred to the elected leadership.

Since delegates to a 'Human Rights Defenders'
conference were also in the audience, His
Holiness took the opportunity to express his deep
appreciation to them for their work. His Holiness
said that he regarded human rights as not just an
individual’s concern but that of the society as a
whole.  His Holiness said the protection of
individual rights is the protection of
development and progress in a society. He said
education is a key factor in the promotion of
democratic values and recalled that when Tibetans
became refugees, the first task of the Central
Tibetan Administration was to establish schools.

His Holiness talked about the Tibetans in Tibet
being "our real Boss" and emphasised the
importance of preservation of the Tibetan
Buddhist culture.  His Holiness talked about
three categories of Buddhism, namely Buddhist
science, Buddhist concept, and Buddhist religion.
He said the first two categories were relevant to
everyone while Buddhist religion concerned only the Buddhists.

Following his remarks His Holiness answered some
questions posed by members of the audience. They
included which country, between democratic India
and Communist China, would be more relevant for
the future (His Holiness responded to this by
referring to the remarks Indian Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh, “a saintly Prime Minister”, about
the nature of Indian society to show why the
Indian system was more relevant).  In response to
another question, His Holiness talked about the
need for the Chinese Communist leaders to
appreciate his remarks for the retirement of the
Communist system “with grace.”  His Holiness said
that no political party can remain in power
forever. The Chinese Communist Party has done
many wrong things but at the same time it has
made lot of contribution for stronger China. He
therefore thought the Party could retire gracefully.

His Holiness concluded by expanding on his belief
about the commonality of human beings and that we
have the same potential to develop inner strength on the basis of compassion.

July Shelton thanked His Holiness and quoted from
his book, The Art of Happiness, saying you have
given us a great deal of happiness.

The Library of Congress had made a special
display from its Tibet collection for the people
to look at to coincide with this event.

There were major media presence at the event. The
Kunleng program of Voice of America’s Tibetan
service broadcast its today’s session live from
Capitol Hill. The American cable network, C-Span,
which covers political and other important
events, gave live coverage of the event.

After the NED event, His Holiness left for Dulles
Airport outside of Washington, D.C. to depart to
Los Angeles for his second leg of the tour of the
United States. His Holiness was seen off at the
airport by Special Envoy Lodi Gyari, a Protocol
Officer of the United States Government, and a
representative of the Embassy of India.
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