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Tibetan Alternative: THE CHALLENGE OF RANGZEN

December 5, 2007

By Mathieu Vernerey


The second issue of Alternative Tibetaine (Tibetan Alternative), 2007,
has just been published. This French-language annual is devoted to
introduce and promote the Tibetan political thinking in its plurality
and to restore the power of speech to the Tibetan people, especially to
the supporters of independence. In this second issue, we focus on the
evolution of an emerging Rangzen movement, its progressions, its limits,
its challenge.

Step by step

In "Rangzen Charter" (1999), Jamyang Norbu spoke about the "first step"
of a pro-independence movement: "Before any effective discussion on
strategy or organisation for the Freedom Struggle can take place it is
absolutely necessary that those individuals and organisations that
cherish liberty and Rangzen openly and unequivocally declare their
dedication to freedom and Tibetan independence". Today, and not without
difficulty, this "first step" is now accomplished.

Several events have been held in 2006 and 2007: Declaration of
Independence of the Nations of High Asia (Washington, September 2006),
International Conference of the Dhokham Chushi Gangdruk (New York,
December 2006), International Forum for a Free Tibet (Turin, May 2007),
International Union of Socialist Youth Asia-Pacific Committee Meeting
(Ulaan Baatar, June 2007) and the Conference for an Independent Tibet
(New Delhi, June 2007). All these events are many "first steps" in the
dynamic, emerging movement in favour of Rangzen.

But after the "first step", the most important is the one that follows,
and perhaps the one to be decisive: the unification and the structuring
of Rangzen movement. There are several great Rangzen figures - like
Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering, Tenzin Tsundue, etc. - and several
Tibetan NGOs supporting Rangzen - like Tibetan Youth Congress, Dhokham
Chushi Gangdruk, Students for a Free Tibet etc. - but there is no
unified and a structured movement: which is probably the most important
and the only absolute precondition to any alternative strategy or campaign.

Rangzen activists can't be satisfied any more with just criticising the
Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE), without making alternative
propositions and applying them. Yes, the policy and the action of the
TGiE are not perfect and seem to be condemned to fail, but they are for
the moment the "only solution", in default of "another concrete
solution". TGiE's initiatives are like a life raft, drifting but
floating. And there is no use in sinking it, as it is also the
legitimate continuation in exile of the Tibetan sovereignty and the
symbol of the Tibetan struggle.

In fact, the TGiE is first and foremost the hostage of a situation
presently unfavourable to it -  precarious condition of refugee, fragile
tolerance of the Indian host, pressure of foreign governments, threats
of China against Tibetans inside Tibet, etc. Secondly, considering the
pronounced legitimism of the present Tibetan leadership, changes will
not come if the Dalai Lama doesn't take the initiative. And what lacks
to each other to step forward is the horizon of a concrete alternative.
This should be the job of Rangzen activists. But the construction of
this alternative programme - which doesn't exist at the moment - will
take a necessary time of maturation, during which Rangzen activists will
have to stand and to act when the TGiE will not be able to do it. They
could also take advantage of this situation.

But above all, to bring political alternance and achieve a real
political change in exile, Rangzen activists will have to ensure their
proper political - and not only moral or historic - legitimacy, which
can be started with their parliamentary representation. And so for
several reasons:

Political party representation

In spite of successive reforms since its creation in 1960, the Tibetan
Parliament in Exile (TPiE) persists on a strictly regional and religious
system of representation. Identification is not based on political
ideals, objectives or programmes, but only on traditional provinces or
religious sects. Politically, the Tibetan deputy is either an
individual, or the representative of his region or his religious sect,
but he is never the member of a group sharing and supporting common
objectives. This doesn't mean that divergence of views or conflict of
interest don't exist - especially about the question of independence or
autonomy - but they don't find any opportune way of expression, meaning
here political way.

This is why when some Tibetan MPs resolved in September 2004 to contest
a previous resolution adopted with the majority support - about the
possibility to review the Middle Way policy - they did it under the
cover of their regional groups. Two regional associations (Domed and
Utsang) resolved to resign from the assembly if the resolution was not
withdrawn. This in political terms has no signification and incorrectly
presumes the individual stand of the other deputies of these regions.

The Tibetan Parliament functions with no political party system.
Although the Tibetan Charter in Exile doesn't proscribe this kind of
representation, it simply doesn't deal with political party - what
Tibetans often basically answer as a natural fact, without questioning
this constitutional blank. At best, they refer to the Guidelines for
Future Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who advocates multiparty system. But
this perspective is immediately restricted to a future "free" Tibet - a
distant future as unfathomable as uncertain. And so it postpones the
responsibilities of today to tomorrow. Moreover, this vision could
function only in an independent and sovereign Tibet - free to decide its
proper way of governance - but it would be contradicted by the Chinese
constitutional framework to which it doesn't refer by the way. So, quite
paradoxically, this vision found in Middle Way policy is tacitly or
unintentionally an advocacy for Rangzen. But more significant is the top
down democratic initiatives and progression, only due to the goodwill of
the Dalai Lama who still confronts the many resistance: a new initiative
which the Tibetans seem to find hard to take themselves, or at least
just to anticipate and implement.

So, in exile, the successive reforms of the constitution brought the
right to vote, the separation of powers, the election of Parliament
Members and Prime Minister through direct suffrage. But having
democratic institutions, as perfect as they are, is not sufficient to
establish a democracy if there remains a lack of any party expression
relative to political ideals or objectives, to begin with the underlying
- but non formalised - opposition between Rangzen and Autonomy.
Democracy would be an empty word if it could not allow political
discussions and if it would be impossible to know who represents who or
who represents what. And there is no question here of region or
religious sect, but only of political ideals, programmes or objectives
carried by parties sharing a common stand.

More fundamentally the question is about the mode of parliamentary
representation and about the process of decision. The role and the
vocation of a political party are to participate in governance and to
the decision-making process - including the role of opposition. Thus to
invest all the areas of decision, especially in the parliament where the
policy of the exile government is voted. But till now the Tibetan
Parliament in Exile and the Tibetan Charter don't include this kind of
political representation. This is not a question of presumed democratic
model, but a question of political legibility and efficiency.

In the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine, we interview three
influential Tibetan deputies of the present Tibetan Parliament in Exile:
Karma Yeshi, Karma Choephel (co-chairman) and Penpa Tsering
(co-chairman). According to Karma Choephel, even the National Democratic
Party of Tibet (NDPT), the unique "party" in exile, is not a real
political party: "NDPT is supposed to be a preparation for the future"
in accordance to the vision of the Dalai Lama who "envisages a dual or
multiparty parliamentary system of democracy for future Tibet".

Even Karma Yeshi, who "(has his) share of contribution in the formation
of NDPT and strongly (supports) its manifesto and political stand",
acknowledges that he is not himself, literally speaking, deputy of NDPT.
He adds that "the main issue is formation of one or two more political
parties and getting them endorsed by the parliament as well as Tibetan
election commission". However, according to Penpa Tsering, "it may be
possible for political parties to function within the present
structure", before adding: "but I did not see any move from any quarters
to effect such change".

Penpa Tsering also specifies that "political parties need definite
political ideology and programs and leadership. Either we are lacking in
one or all, or we are satisfied with the way it is and focus on the
(presumed) common goals". And Penpa Tsering wonders "why people who feel
very strongly about political parties do not form one on their own or
collectively with other people?". This is the real question.

For the moment, it appears that Rangzen and political party system
creates a kind of unrest and even of taboo among Tibetan parliament and
community. Both issues stigmatize a feeling of direct conflict or
confrontation with the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach: an
incorrect prejudice harmful not only  to Rangzen but to the whole
Tibetan struggle. Fundamentally democracy is based on difference of
views, and opposition is a fundamental principle. Democracy is the only
solution to leave the present political stalemate in exile, and the
Dalai Lama himself did his best to bring democracy to the Tibetan
community in exile. As Tenzin Tsundue says in "Mangtso: Our Democratic
Vision" (2004): "Although we received our democracy as a blessing (from
the Dalai Lama), we must endeavour to make it work. And we have been
most unwilling to do just that; take up democratic responsibilities".

For the moment, the thought process within the Tibetan parliament and
community seem unprepared or not ready for political party
representation. However one step at least could be realised. As Karma
Choephel says in his interview: "At present it can be said that within
the Tibetan parliament there is a majority support for the Middle Way
policy. But I sense that the longer the present stalemate, of getting no
concrete response from the Chinese side remains, more members tend to
waver in their position. (...) So I feel that in future also if the
stalemate remains, support for Rangzen will grow in the house". This
analysis is confirmed by the fact that, during the last legislative
elections in March 2006, new deputies were elected and most of them, as
well as former ones, are very close to Rangzen. So if political party
representation may be premature for the moment, one stage exists: a
parliamentary group. Then it remains with all these deputies close to
Rangzen to gather and to form a Rangzen parliamentary group. Because
ensuring the political representation of Rangzen is primordial, and
representing Rangzen at the Tibetan Parliament - the ultimate
decision-making body and the symbol of the Tibetan democracy - is an
absolute necessity.

Rangzen parliamentary group

Except for the fact that a parliamentary group would be opportune to
ensure the political representation of Rangzen - in default of a system
of political party representation - it also presents some strategic
advantages:

In his article "Political Transcription of Rangzen" published in the
second issue of Alternative Tibetaine, Francois Corona, a French Rangzen
activist, speaks about the method of the "parliamentary group" which he
names the "method of the legislative smokescreen". In many countries
exist some Tibet parliamentary groups. This is the method of foreign
governments to not engage on the Tibetan issue and to let their
legislative representation respond to the citizens and electors
expectations. By doing so, it is also a way for the governments to
preserve the governing political parties from the electoral consequences
of their compromise with China and to not hurt China as well. So we need
to use the same arms as our political "adversaries" or presumed
"partners". This model presents many teachings and could be applied to
the Tibetan movement by reversing the situation. There are several
levels of analysis:

For the moment, Rangzen activists put pressure on their government in
exile to change their present policy. But clearly, it would be too
dangerous for the Tibetan parliament or government to become suddenly
pro-independent, and it would be also premature in absence of a clear
alternative strategy. However, without lowering the Rangzen cause and
its highly moral signification, pragmatism and strategy are useful.
Middle Way approach is not so bad for Rangzen cause. It is even the best
protection for Rangzen to grow and to unify and structure its movement.
As Middle Way approach is in the interest of China, it is also in the
immediate and present interest of foreign nations. These will not harm a
Tibetan leadership who act presently in their own interest, and the
evidence is that they desperately support "dialogue with China" and
consequently Middle Way policy - with no political results of course.
But that is not the question.
During the time of maturation of the Rangzen movement and of its
political representation, Middle Way approach should remain the
government policy until political alternance and Rangzen alternative
strategy are ready. This time would be also useful for Rangzen activists
to gain political and international support.

To be clear again, it doesn't mean that Rangzen activists should stop
requesting their government to change their policy. But TGiE is as
obstinate as frightened by the foretold failure of its proper policy and
by its duty to maintain the Tibetan unity. So of course Rangzen activist
should continue to put pressure on their government, but by keeping in
mind the objective difficulties of this and the risks of a brutal change
of policy. Even it remains extremely important, as Jamyang Norbu wrote
in "Looking Back from Nangpa-la" (2007), to "take the Dalai Lama back".
He is the keystone of the Tibetan struggle, but he is at the same time
the problem and the solution - the "Dilemma" that Rangzen activists as
often but respectfully speak of. The fact remains that, in absence of an
alternative strategy, the present position of the Dalai Lama is the
"only solution". He has no more latitude of manoeuvring. And the job of
Rangzen activists is to build the bridge over the precipice to "take him
back".

However, in the present circumstances, "unity" may be a "trap". Of
course Tibetan people are all united in their aspiration to end the
Tibetan suffering and to live in freedom. This a common and indisputable
goal. But "freedom" does not have the same political signification. The
Tibetan opinion is not uniform and, if a consensus seems to exist on the
basis of the Middle Way policy, it is in a delicate way. As Tenzing
Sonam writes in "Until the Last Tibetan" (2007): "We (can) no longer
pretend that this contradiction between our loyalty to the Dalai Lama
and our instinctive belief in Tibet's independence (does) not exist".
Except this "morass of conflicting goals and loyalties besetting the
Tibet movement", it has also many political consequences, not only by
creating confusion, but also by giving opportunities to foreign
governments or Chinese leadership to neutralise the Tibetan struggle.
Then political unity with different and even opposite political goals is
impossible and also counterproductive. As Francois Corona writes: "We
rather need a clever political plurality than a sham unity as claimed by
some". The hope of unification of the whole Tibetan movement - including
the parliament and the government - on the basis of Rangzen would be
delicate for the moment and more certainly premature. The
differentiation of two sides acting for their respective objectives is
momentarily preferable, as well as the Middle Way approach as present
policy of the Tibetan government to prevent any kind of retaliatory
measures from foreign governments. In this framework, a Rangzen
parliamentary group would be the best way to bring political alternance
- and even convergence - and achieve a change of policy with less risks.
It is of course necessary to review the policy of TGiE, as well as to
restore the complete unity of Tibetan struggle on the basis of truth and
justice: Rangzen. But we have to do so step by step.

Rough draft of a political solution

In a new article published in the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine,
Jamyang Norbu draws some starting points for discussions on a political
solution to Tibet issue. "One of the first steps that might be
undertaken is to seek various local administrative bodies, state
legislatures, even national parliaments to proclaim Tibet an 'occupied
country'. Such initiatives have been successfully undertaken before but
always as one-off initiatives and never as a part of concerted campaign
with a specific over-all goal. (...) A logical next step might be to
seek governmental recognition of the TGiE. This may appear to be a
difficult even impossible task but have we really tried?"

The suggestion of Jamyang Norbu is very consistent because it echoes to
a previous resolution adopted by the European Parliament in July 2000.
By this resolution, EP called on governments of the Member States "to
give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan
Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan
people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the Tibetan
Government in Exile have not, through negotiations under the aegis of
the Secretary-General of the United Nations, signed an agreement on a
new statute for Tibet". Till now the so-called "renewed dialogue" with
Beijing since 2002 and the present Tibetan policy have only helped China
to wriggle out of EP ultimatum. But at the time of the deadline, in July
2003, EP should have evaluated their objectives and reformulated openly
their recommendations in the framework of a new resolution. In the
circumstances, attest the lack of any agreement between Beijing and
Dharamsala and consequently call on Members States to recognise the
Tibetan Government in Exile. Now the July 2000 EP resolution has not
resulted in any kind of new process, therefore its content has neither
been confirmed nor withdrawn. Theoretically, EP tacitly recognises the
Tibetan Government, but by their constant silence and ulterior
resolutions, they behave as if this resolution has never existed. If the
three years deadline has now passed for a long time, at the grassroots,
EP engagements remain as well as the obligation to implement this
resolution that is still and more than ever justified by the lack of any
China-Tibet agreement.

But to seek this international recognition, the first and absolute
precondition is that the TGiE itself doesn't refuse any such
recognition, and not only accept it but manage to seek and to achieve
it. By default of this precondition, another condition could be
sufficient: a Rangzen parliamentary group giving the necessary political
legitimacy to initiate and undertake a such campaign, supported by an
unified and structured international Rangzen movement. In fact, this
Rangzen parliamentary group and this international Rangzen movement are
useful and absolutely necessary to any further strategies or campaigns.

All this could and should be discussed by Tibetan Rangzen activists
during their next meeting, in December, in Dharamsala. As many of them -
Sonam Topgyal, Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering, Karma Yeshi, Tenzin
Tsundue, Sonam Wangdu etc. - met last June, they decided to organise a
next meeting or conference at the end of this year to discuss further
strategies. Technically, the formation of Rangzen parliamentary group
could be planned as soon as possible - since there are several Tibetan
deputies close to Rangzen. This initiative could then be made official
during the next session of the Tibetan parliament, in March 2008.
Furthermore, a Rangzen political party could emerge - a revitalised NDPT
or a new "real" party - and campaign in view of the next Tibetan
legislative elections, in 2010. For the first time, the formation of a
Rangzen parliamentary group could also be the best political answer to
China in view of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, Rangzen activists
should not focus too much on Beijing Olympics, as fundamentally Rangzen
cause has no link with Chinese affairs. Beijing Olympics are a great
opportunity to highlight Tibetan issue and to confront China, but it is
not a goal in itself. It should not become a pretext to postpone again
what is more important than everything: the unification and the
structuring of the Rangzen movement and the advent of its political
representation. Long term strategies have more consistence than
immediate and just reactive actions.

To finish, it remains to say that Rangzen is not the threat of division
and of conflict within the Tibetan community and their supporters.
Rangzen is the promise of reconciliation and a door to exit out of
present political crisis. Rangzen is also a very inspiring promise: to
become sooner or later a reality. Democratisation in exile, diplomatic
policy, activist strategies, international support and Rangzen are
highly connected and very close to each other. And today, the time is to
connect these. Yes, Rangzen is possible, but without getting ahead of
schedule: step by step.

M.V.
(Alternative Tibetaine Editor)


Alternative tibetaine n°2, 2007 - Contents

EDITORIAL: The Challenge of Rangzen

CONFERENCES: Declaration of Independence of the Nations of High Asia,
Washington (page 2) - International Conference of the Dhokham Chushi
Gangdruk, New York (page 3) - International Forum for a Free Tibet,
Turin (page 4) - Tribunes of Francois Bruxeille, Francois Corona,
Claudio Tecchio, Piero Verni (page 5) - International Union of Socialist
Youth Asia-Pacific Committee Meeting, Ulaan Baatar (page 6) - Conference
for an Independent Tibet, New Delhi (page 7), Rangzen Meet, Dharamsala
(page 7)

DIPLOMACY: Independence as Tibet's only option, by Ketsun Lobsang Dondup
(pages 8-9) - Rangzen first, the rest can follow, by Vijay Kranti (page
10) - Reflections on a political solution, by Jamyang Norbu (page 11) -
Timor, Montenegro, What about Tibet? by Claude Levenson (page 11) -
Tibet at a crossroads, by Tenzing Sonam (page 12) - The right to
self-determination, by Jose Elias Esteve (page 13)

DEMOCRACY: Exile: Democratic inertia or transition? by Mathieu Vernerey
(page 14) - Promoting multiparty system, interview of Karma Yeshi (page
15) - Rangzen growing, interview of Karma Choephel (page 15) - Political
transcription of Rangzen, by Francois Corona (page 16) - Tibetan
democracy, by MV (page 16) - Practicies and Constitution, interview of
Penpa Tsering (page 17)

TAIWAN: Has MTAC turned over a new leaf? by Luke Ward (page 18) -
Dilemma of the 1994 agreement, by the Chushi Gangdruk (page 19) - China
towards fascism or democracy? by Jamyang Norbu (page 20) - Tibet and
Taiwan's teachings, by Mathieu Vernerey (page 20) - Taiwan, the Chinese
divorce, by Stephane Corcuff (page 21), Taiwanese new nationalism, by SC
(page 21)

CULTURE: Lhamo, scenography of a crisis, by Antonio Attisani (pages 22-23)

CINEMA: Cinematographic anthology of Tibet, by Jamyang Norbu (page 24) -
Dilemma of the activist actress, interview of Yangzom Brauen (page 25) -
Dreaming Lhasa: Telling the exile Tibetan story like it is, by Dechen
Pemba (page 26) - We're no monks: A struggle for identity, by Topden
Tsering (page 26) - Kekexili: A Tibetan perspective, by Tenzing Sonam
(page 27)

GEOPOLITICS: Sizing up the dragon's miracle, by Lobsang Yeshi (pages 28-30)

NON-VIOLENCE: Until the last Tibetan, by Tenzing Sonam (pages 31-32) -
Looking Back from Nangpa-la, by Jamyang Norbu (excerpts, page 32)
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