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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Don’t Stop the Revolution!

April 6, 2008


There is a recurring nightmare, well known in clinical psychiatry, in
which the sleeper belabours an enemy, but to absolutely no effect. The
more furiously the enemy is beaten, or punched or kicked, the more
infuriatingly untouched he remains. All these years living and working
in Dharamshala I have felt myself struggling under a burden of
unrelieved frustration and ineffectiveness, often even uselessness. I
have no doubt other Tibetans in exile as well as inside Tibet have
experienced much the same. But now it seems we are finally waking up
from this long nightmare and beginning to realize that what we do has
effect, does makes a difference; that we can land a blow ¬– a hard blow
– against the Communist Chinese regime. And that although our common
goal of Tibetan independence may not happen as soon as we would like it
to, we can actually take concrete steps, make sacrifices if need be, to
advance the time-table of it’s realization.

How can we adequately describe all that has happened (and is happening)
in Tibet? The media has been calling them protests, outbursts,
demonstrations, riots, even uprisings, which is perhaps adequate when
describing one isolated event, but completely fails to encompass the
significance of this year’s 10th March mega-explosion. It is a
revolution. Nothing less.

Consider how widespread the events were. In 1987- 89, the protests
occurred in Lhasa and some surrounding monasteries and villages. But
this year they took place as far away east in Amdo and Kham, within the
Chinese provinces of Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai. The names of these
flashpoints: Ngaba, Bora, Labrang, Mangra, Ditsa, Yulgan, Tsekhog, Tsoe,
Palung, Chentsa, Rebgong, Kyegudo, Dariang, Sershul, Machu, Chigdril,
Chone, Luchu, Ngaba, Serthar, Palyul, Tehor, Drango, Barkham, Tridu,
Kanze, Lithang, Nyakrong and many others, ring out in defiance. I will
take the vision of the charging horsemen (and bikers) of Bora to my
grave. In Central Tibet, we have had protests and clashes in Sakya,
Shigatse, Samye, Toelung Dechen, Ratoe, Phenpo, Gaden, Medrogongkar, and
unnamed areas in Western Tibet. Even in Beijing and Lanzhou, in a sea of
hostile Chinese, Tibetan university students courageously organized
protests and sit-ins. Tibetans everywhere came out and flew the old
national flag, shouted their commitment to Rangzen (independence) and
their devotion to their leader the Dalai Lama. Even after the Chinese
crackdown and mass arrests, thirty Tibetan monks protested in the
Jokhang before visiting foreign journalists on a showcase tour of the
city. Some days later when foreign government officials were taken on a
publicity tour of the city, another major demonstration broke out in the
Ramoche area of Lhasa.

Then there were the demonstrations, protests, marches and vigils by
exile Tibetans and supporters in nearly every major city in the world.
These have been unusually vigorous, even aggressive. A fairly common
feature of these events has been the tearing down of the Chinese flag
from the embassy or consulate flagpole and its replacement by the
national Tibetan flag. I still cannot get over the video of the amazing
Tibetan spider man who climbed up the walls of the Chinese embassy in
Vienna with such speed and skill and pulled down the hated Red flag. And
it’s all still going on inside Tibet and elsewhere. A number of exile
Tibetans in New York City have given up their day jobs and are living on
their savings in order to keep the demonstrations and protests going.
Last Sunday I was at a rally organized by the only Tibetan in Nashville,
the capital of Tennessee. I drove down from the mountain with my family
and friends. Other Tibetans had come – students, monks and lay people ¬–
driving many hours from neighbouring Georgia and Kentucky.

The spontaneity of it all was remarkable. Yes, we had the common focus
of the Beijing Olympics, but Tibetans everywhere, thousands of miles
apart, seemed to be operating on a single wavelength. Some of our more
admiring dharma friends would say that our native telepathic abilities
were being brought into play. But Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer Prize
winning journalist and scholar (Gulag, A History) in her March 18
article in the Washington Post provides a more prosaic explanation ¬¬–
cell phones.

For Applebaum the events in Tibet represent one manifestation of a wider
reaction of “captive nations”, Uighurs, Mongols, Tibetans, rising up
against the tyrannical rule of an old imperial and foreign power that
has long oppressed smaller countries and societies surrounding it.
Applebaum includes even such independent nations as North Korea and
Burma in this category, hence, quite accurately, relegating Kim Jong Il
and the Burmese military junta to the role of Beijing’s surrogate
dictators. As if in confirmation of Applebaum’s broad theory, Reuters
reported, just a few days ago, that that major demonstrations had broken
out in East Turkestan (Xinjiang).

On the events in Tibet Applebaum concludes that if Chinese leaders “…
aren't worried, they should be. After all, the past two centuries were
filled with tales of strong, stable empires brought down by their
subjects, undermined by their client states, overwhelmed by the national
aspirations of small, subordinate countries. Why should the 21st century
be any different? Watching a blurry cell phone video of tear gas rolling
over the streets of Lhasa yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder when –
maybe not in this decade, this generation or even this century – Tibet
and its monks will have their revenge.”

The Tibetans, clergy and lay, are not a vengeful people, but they are
not going to settle for anything less than an independent Tibet, and I
have a feeling that this will probably happen sooner than Applebaum
thinks. But Applebaum is correct in one thing, that this is much much
bigger than most people are able to grasp. The Tibetan leadership does
not seem to have grasped it at all.

At such a profoundly historic moment, the actions of the exile
government in Dharamshala come across as incomprehensible and alarming.
On March 17th, the Dalai Lama summoned the leaders of the five
organizations that had united to create the Tibetan People’s Uprising
Movement and organized the various demonstrations in India and
throughout the world, and also organized the peace march to Tibet. The
Dalai Lama ordered them to halt their march to Tibet. Not only were the
organizers forced to stop their long-planned March to Tibet, but His
Holiness’s command seems to have caused the unfortunate breakup of this
dynamic alliance.

Then under the direction of the Prime Minister Samdhong Rimpoche, the
exile cabinet and parliament created a special “Solidarity Committee” to
take over the various independent campaigns and activities taking place
around the world. It appears that members of the Committee approached
the leaders and representative of these campaigns and organizations, and
instructed them to terminate their independent activities and operate
under the direction of the Committee. A kind of divide and conquer
strategy appears to have been employed by the Committee. They approached
and spoke separately to individual organizations. One representative of
an activist group informed me that a Committee spokesperson told him
that the situation in Tibet was so critical that it constituted a
“national emergency”, hence the exile government had the right and the
duty to take over all the activities of all the independent groups,
which henceforth had to just do what the “Solidarity Committee” told
them to do. It is ironic that Communist Chinese authorities are using
the similar tired and cynical arguments of “national security” to
justify their brutal crack down of Tibetan protesters in Tibet. The
Tibetan government should understand that it is violating the rights of
individual Tibetans – especially the right to peaceful assembly and the
right of peaceful protest – when it does this. It may not be enforcing
its will brutally but it is using coercion and even emotional and (dare
I say) “spiritual” blackmail by exploiting the people’s devotion to the
Dalai Lama.

Prime Minister Samdhong Rimpoche also got in the “divide and conquer”
business with a speech he gave on the 20thof March, or thereabouts. I
heard an excerpt on Radio Free Asia on the 25th,Tuesday. He offered
lavish praise on the efforts of the protesters in Tibet. But then
strangely he began to criticize those protesters and activists in India
and the West. He asked, somewhat sarcastically, whether these people
thought that they could achieve beyond what the Dalai Lama had done? He
directed his criticism particularly at the Tibetan Youth Congress.
Although he didn’t name the organization, he specified an occasion a
year ago when the Youth Congress organized a major demonstration in
Delhi against the Chinese. It coincided with the time when the Dalai
Lama was in Delhi. Rimpoche angrily demanded to know why the organizers
chose the very day when the Dalai Lama was in Delhi. Was it their
intention to sabotage what the Dalai Lama was doing?

Circulars have been sent from Dharamshala to NGO’s and support groups
instructing them to stop using the term “FREE TIBET”. Earlier, only the
term independence or Rangzen was regarded as taboo, but now even such a
broad and inoffensive term as “freedom” is seen as too provocative.
Instructions have also apparently been issued to the Tibetan public not
to tear, burn or step on the Chinese Communist Flag. A week ago, Tenzin
Choeden, a member of the Solidarity Committee spoke before Chinese UN
mission in New York where Tibetans have been keeping up a vigorous
demonstration since March 10th. The Solidarity Committee representative
gave a lengthy and roundabout speech where he called on Tibetans not to
shout slogans demanding Independence for Tibet, and a boycott of the
Beijing Olympics. Much to the annoyance of the crowd he also told
protesters not to display a large banner they were carrying which read
“China Out of Tibet”.

On 31st March Tibetans from Washington DC, New York, Boston,
Charlottesville and Philadelphia gathered at the American capital for a
rally. Staff members of the International Campaign for Tibet, ICT, (most
probably on instructions from the Solidarity Committee) tried to remove
a large banner proclaiming “Independence For Tibet” which was hanging on
the stage and other banners and placards and banners reading “Boycott
Beijing Olympics” and “Boycott Genocide Olympics.” An unfortunate
dispute broke out between the protesters and the ICT staff who
maintained that since ICT chief, Lodi Gyari, would be speaking at the
rally and it would be inconvenient for him to have such anti-Chinese
banners around him.

The Tibetan leadership is playing with fire. If it actually manages to
get all Tibetans completely dispirited and feeling hopeless, it might
achieve its goal of “stopping the crisis”, but that would be the end of
the exile government. I don’t see anyone listening to it anymore. On the
other hand Tibetan activists and protesters might become outraged and
beat up a Committee representative or even be provoked enough to
demonstrate before the Office of Tibet in New York City or ICT in
Washington DC. It would be tremendously embarrassing for the exile
government and the Dalai Lama. Either way it would be a setback not only
for the government but for the cause of Tibetan independence as well. It
is vital that we have a government that is effective and one that we can
respect. Right now it seems our leadership is incapable of being either.

I don’t think the exile government is attempting some kind of power
grab, as one observer suggested to me. It is more likely that
Dharamshala wants to take charge of the movement to water it down. Limit
it to candle-light vigils, circulating petitions, wearing black
arm-bands and so on, actions which they hope Beijing would not consider
provocative, and which would eventually tire and bore all the protesters
and activists and get them to go home. That much seems evident.
Dharamshala just wants to stop the whole thing. Check out the Solidarity
Committee website: I don’t think anyone could put
it more clearly. And that is what Beijing, in its own more brutal
fashion, is attempting to do ¬– stop the Tibet crisis.

Dharamshala’s hope, of course, is that if the crisis is stopped it could
go back trying to negotiate with Beijing. In spite of all that has
happened in Tibet our leaders completely fail to see that this will
never happen. It is far too late for anyone, even Beijing, to stop this
revolution. Samdhong Rimpoche and his Solidarity Committee can no more
stop it than they can stop a tsunami by standing before it. To my
leaders in the exile government (which will always be for me the true
government of Tibet) I say this with due respect but also with genuine
concern: Step out of the way.
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