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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."

Panel addresses violence in Tibet

May 4, 2008

By Paige Kestenman
Staff Writer
The Daily Princetonian
Friday, May 2nd, 2008

Internal violence persists in the Buddhist regions of Tibet and Burma
because the ruling governments continue their attempt to socially and
politically unite culturally diverse populations, Columbia professor
Robert Barnett and Rutgers professor Josef Silverstein explained in a
dinner discussion last night.

Following protests by Buddhist monks in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in
mid-March, the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet have been a focal
point of news coverage leading up to this summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

“The Chinese government is trying to push the idea that monks are
violent,” Barnett explained. “Actually, monks were very little involved
in violence in [March].”

Last night’s discussion focused on the history of discontent and protest
in Tibet as well as Burma in the hopes of shedding some light on today’s

Historically, monasteries have always been political centers in Tibet,
and protests against the Chinese were for the most part small and quiet
events conducted solely by monks and nuns, said Barnett, the director of
the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia.

The highly publicized March 10 protest was such a significant event, he
explained, because it was the first street demonstration in Tibet in 10
years and included many laypeople who joined the monks in protest.

Using the Olympic tradition of passing the torch as a metaphor, “The
battle has been passed from monks to laypeople again,” Barnett said.

The March Tibetan protest was very similar in method to those carried
out by Buddhist protesters in the country of Burma, he noted.

Though mentioned less in the news, the Burmese people also suffer under
a violent government that refuses to negotiate, leaving the population
starving and impoverished despite the country’s abundance of natural gas
and large rice crop, Silverstein said.

In September 2007, Burmese Buddhists reentered the political world.

“[Burmese] Buddhists involved in politics is not a brand new thing,”
Silverstein said. “What is new is that they haven’t been involved … in
the last 30 to 40 years.”

Monks walked out of monasteries onto the streets of towns and appealed
to the military ruling body to accept four decrees, Silverstein
explained. The monks called for the military to apologize for
unnecessary violence, release political prisoners from jail, intercede
in the shortage of fuel and begin dialogue with the people to gradually
reform the political system.

Though the military never accepted or recognized these decrees, the
recent protests in Tibet followed the Burmese example and moved in large
numbers with specific demands, Barnett said.

Radical action in Tibet is not solely caused by the publicity the
Olympics gives the issue, Barnett said, explaining that China has
recently tightened restrictions governing association with the Dalai
Lama and has imposed harsher rule on Tibet as a whole.

There is also the practical concern that the Dalai Lama is getting
older, so negotiations between the political leader and Chinese
government must happen soon, Barnett explained.

The discussion, titled “Monks and Dissent,” was co-sponsored by the
Buddhist Studies Workshop, the Office of Religious Life, the
Liechtenstein Institute on Self Determination Program on Religion,
Diplomacy and International Relations and the Princeton Buddhist
Students’ Group.

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