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Europe Tibetan Congress - a bridge to nowhere?

October 20, 2008

By Tenam
Phayul
October 17, 2008

For the first time, over a hundred Tibetans representing 15 European
nations gathered this weekend in Basel, Switzerland, with a stated
purpose of reinvigorating the Tibetan movement at European level.
Also on agenda was the question whether to start a non-governmental
organisation to represent Tibetan communities across Europe or not.
If so, do discuss its guidelines, direction and a set of plan of action.

This initiative, which is the result of many discussions and
meetings, I believe was partly inspired by the World Jewish Congress
formed in 1936 in Switzerland. Today it is one of the most
influential international public association that representing Jews
throughout the world.

The conference faced its first uphill task when it became apparent
that much discussions prior to the meeting in some Tibetan
communities in Europe had taken place without a detailed information
about the goal of the Congress. Thus, the first Europe Tibetan
Congress (ETC) took place amongst doubt, suspicion, hope and optimism.

Disagreement raised its head in the form of a clear status of the
said Congress and whether this body is in opposition to a section in
the 'Rules and Regulations' of a regional body. Majority of the
delegation from Switzerland raised objection as they did not see a
need of a non-governmental body. On the other hand they claimed that
a gathering of Tibetans living in Europe is essential and necessary
to provide a platform for exchanging ideas and thereby strengthening
the movement. Yet I didn't hear a proposal on how to go on providing
that platform.

By the afternoon session, knee-jerk reactions to the ETC's original
proposals, draft guidelines and charter, veered the gathering in a
direction from whence, it never really came around. The goal of
taking the Tibetan movement a notch higher did not have much airtime
as the talking points became the status of the Congress and the
difficulty of creating a NGO with regard to one provision in the
charter of the Local Assembly of Tibetans in Switzerland.

As I look back at this weekend, I ask myself these simple question.
Do I ultimately feel inspired and have a sense of satisfaction? Were
we able to make the best possible use of this gathering? Were we able
to leave our petty differences and come together as a movement? I
have no easy answers.

The inability to clearly demarcate initiatives and campaigns at a
local, national, European and international level by many became the
biggest stumbling block in the deliberations. When there is a lack of
creative ideas, the recourse is to hide behind the cover of /drik-shi
/(rules & regulations).

The Conference press release came out with three key declaration of
reiterating His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the legitimate leader of
the Tibetan people, a memorandum to the Chinese President, and to put
in efforts to appoint a Special Envoy on Tibetan Affairs at EU level.
No concrete plan of action except a set of recommendations of regular
initiatives to Tibetan communities in Europe came out at the end of
the conference.

The next Congress in planned in October, 2010 either in Norway,
Belgium or France. And surprisingly or unsurprisingly, none of the
member in the organising team is from Switzerland and England – two
communities that spearheaded the opposition to Europe Tibetan
Congress. Ultimately this might be the sole consolation for me and
many like us. Or else this Congress might become like the
abbreviation it resembles 'etc', basically meaning 'odds and ends'.

I was gently chided by some for not being realistic, unable to see
the positives that came out of this meeting. It is true that due to
this Congress, I met many young Tibetans who inspired me with their
intelligence, a clear grasp of the issue and their commitment towards
the movement. This is a solace for me. Yet their voices were drowned
and discarded by a vocal majority except for a nominal nod and a
round of applause.

A bucketful of cold, conservative water was poured over this historic
meeting at a critical period in our history due to pettiness and
unwillingness to move beyond our comfort zones. None of the
recommendations moved beyond the regular campaigns and initiatives
already being implemented by various Tibetans communities. An
opportunity to send a clear message support to our brethren inside was missed.

Contributor's note: I attended the first ETC as a delegate from
France and regularly write for Phayul. The ideas or lack thereof are
my own and does not necessarily represent the views of Tibetan
Community of France. Please send your comments or response to
tenamATtibetwrites.org
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