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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Palden Gyatso - an icon of resilience

March 20, 2009

Ugyen Choephell
March 19, 2009

When I heard that Palden Gyatso’s film ‘Fire
Under the Snow’ was going to be shown in Bristol
this March 15th, I began to make plans to build
upon the event. What started out as a simple
welcome for Palden from Bristol’s Tibetan
community ended up as an impassioned debate
between political prisoner, local politician and concerned constituents.

The week Palden came to Bristol coincided with
the week of the mass lobby of UK parliament, and
there the idea arose.. join the two and invite
our MPs to meet Palden Gyatso. So, along with
last minute preparations over questions and
points to raise at Westminster came the design of an invitation to deliver too.

Tues 10th March 2009, exactly 50 years on,
another small tibetan uprising began. We
travelled from Bristol to meet our MPs, Kerry
McCarthy (East Bristol) and Stephen Williams
(West Bristol) and raise the stakes for the
Tibetan cause. I especially wanted to ask my MP
about the Foreign Secretary’s October statement
that “tibet is part of china” as I was really
unhappy with this statement and especially the
timing of it – coming before the outcome of the
meeting of Tibetan exiles in dharamsala
discussing whether to continue with the middle
way approach or not. So I wanted answers and
after some debate she accepted to write to the Foreign Secretary to clarify.

Next day when we received confirmation from
Stephen Williams that he would be attending our
event the excitement was tangible. I immediately
rang around the rest of Tibetans and supporters
in Bristol to let them know about preparations
and to share out the tasks of momo making.

The day of the showing arrived, and anyone who
did not pre book their tickets were turned away
disappointed as the film had sold out two days
before the showing. I knew about Palden, having
read his book, but nothing could prepare me for
the man I met and his powerful film.

His film was incredibly moving yet inspiring,
portraying his life of extraordinary courage and
dignity, tracking his individual battle against
communist oppression and thought reform. A battle
Palden has won, albeit at great personal
suffering, emerging from 33 years of brutal
incarceration to remain steadfast to his
spiritual and political beliefs and who continues
to speak out on behalf of those inside Tibet who
have no voice. Afterwards the Q&A session proved
what a remarkable man Palden was, his insight so
remarkably sharp, his knowledge of the workings
of the world so acute and his charisma made
people really believe in him and the points he
raised. You could feel the support welling up inside the theatre.

  Palden continues. "The Tibetan government in
exile are ready to compromise, they have offered
the Chinese a solution - genuine Tibetan autonomy
whilst remaining under Chinese nationhood, but
still the Chinese brush it aside. Why asks
Palden, Why? Why doesn't the Chinese government
accept this compromise, why would they not be
interested in living at peace? The only answer he
has is backed up by his own experiences - that
china wants to completely destroy all evidence of
a Tibetan people & culture - but isn't this
genocide? And if the Chinese do not want to work
and live alongside Tibetans as equals, then
Tibetans have no alternative but to go back to
calls for rangzen -- independence.

Heading off for the function afterwards were
Bristol Tibetans, their supporters, members of
tibet society UK who organised the film showing
and of course MP Stephen Williams. Palden was
delighted to be able to talk to Stephen and gave
a brief outline of his life story before
requesting Stephen to raise certain points to UK
Parliament. It was a wonderfully moving
experience, Palden democratically exercising the
right to free speech which contrasted so sharply
with the images we’d just witnessed in his film
earlier about the relentless attempts by the Chinese to silence his views.

It was the first time I had met Palden, and I
have to say that I have seldom met such a
character whose incredible resilience reaches out
and whose sentences ignite such passion that I
felt like this is someone who really can change
the face of the Tibetan issue and I believe that
we must really cherish people like this because
Palden can and will have a profound effect on the
people he meets and in the words of one man at
the film premiere “this film should be shown on
every channel every night til everyone takes notice”

The views expressed in this piece are that of the
author and the publication of the piece on this
website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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