London March 10-Right Protest-Wrong Message

Speaking with a Regional Secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) on a recent trip to India, he was amazed to hear that there was no branch of the TYC in England, nor any Tibetan organization openly dedicated to campaigning on Tibetan independence. He was genuinely saddened to hear that during the procession of the Olympic Torch through London in 2008 , out of the hundreds of Tibetans, and thousands of Tibet supporters, there was only one prominent banner calling for independence for Tibet.

There have been a number of reports from Tibetans (and others) in England about the sheep-like conformity amongst Tibet support groups, to follow the party-line, as dictated by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile TGIE). Thus, Tibet is selectively presented to the public as an issue of human and religious rights , while the Dalai Lama appears to have become something of a personality cult, whose adoring suporters fail to connect with the political aspirations of Tibetans inside Tibet. Aware of the actual nature of the struggle being waged by the people of Tibet, yet like the Lotus Eaters of Greek mythology for the most part they slumber in peaceful indifference.

When protests do take place the message of such events consistently fail to declare Tibetan independence, even these are decided (we have heard) by non-Tibetan supporters, which may explain the absence of any clear political conviction and direction. According to a circular promoting a Tibetan rally through London for March 6 2010, the ‘key messages’ to be displayed and voiced by protestors was to be;

“Tibetans have no voice in Tibet”, “China: stop silencing Tibetans”, “Britain: stand up for Tibetans in Tibet”, “Stop the torture in Tibet”, “China stole my land, and “My voice, my freedom”.

Now of course such declarations are not without merit, and are important points to convey, but surely the central message of any event which claims to be championing Tibet’s freedom should be ‘Independence For Tibet’. An assertion in solidarity with the political demands of Tibetans inside Tibet. Unfortunately it would appear we can have little confidence that any effort to represent the heartfelt aspirations of Tibetans for Rangzen will not be dis-suaded or sabotaged.  

“My friend made a huge (and costly) banner with graphic pictures of women tortured and klilled by the Gyamis saying ‘China lies – Tibetans die: EXECUTION!’ Some of the people you mention borrowed it and then said they accidentally lost it! I was also personally pushed away from the Chinese embassy door by Tibetan ‘volunteers’, including one from the Office, but when I talked to HH’s rep in the office, he said that they admired what I was doing and that it did not go against HH’s belief in freedom of expression. I’m in many of the pictures on-line of London demos but the ‘Coalition’ produce the banners and I usually just opt for a flag when I’m in the country and attending a demo now. I don’t know about the e-mail, of course it sounds way off, but sometimes they say things for human rights in China as well as in Tibet in order not to create the anti-Chinese people sentiment that the Chinese government accuse all Rangzen protestors of. You’re right though, it’s been going on for years. Some of us are talking about more radical protesting and standing to counter the usual crap. Hopefully it will surface sooner than later…” (Source: comment posted by Ngakhyen on September 25, 2009)

Of course such blatant censorship would not be possible if  Tibetans in England were united and determined in their support for Tibetan independnence, sadly it seems there exists  a long tradition of blind loyalty to the dictates of Dharamsala. This has resulted in the decline of rigorous and singular political activity for Tibet’s national freedom. At one diplomatic event some time ago, in conversation with an official from Laos (another country with an antipathy towards communist China), the Tibetans in England were once described strangely as “The Dead People”.

When asked what this meant, it was explained that,  ‘They only protest once a year and the rest of the time they disappear’. To be fair, there are some very active individual Tibetans, particularly amongst the Tibetan youth, however there remains a general lack of determined political activity, and virtually no action on Tibetan independence. This is rather unfortunate, given the sacrifices and suffering inside Tibet, as Tibetans continue their resistance and campaign for nothing less than Rangzen (Independence) . It is also puzzling too, in that in other countries there are affiliated branches of the TYC ,or Tibetan organisations dedicated to national freedom.

It has been remarked that the reason for such stagnancy is the degree of political influence which is exerted across the Tibetan scene in the UK by Britain’s Foreign Office, which is implacably opposed to Tibetan independence. Certainly the organization and direction of major political activity, particularly public events, has been largely transferred by Tibetans to the Executive members of the Tibet Society and Free Tibet Campaign (FTC), both of which refuse to campaign for Tibetan independence. Much has been written in the Tibetan Review http://www.tibetanreview.net/ and elsewhere about the relationship between the FCO and the Tibet Society. (See also Tibet: The Facts, A Report Prepared by the Scientific Buddhist Association for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by Paul Ingram TYBA. 1990).  An organization, which though reportedly committed by its constitution to campaign for an independent Tibet, is unsleeping in its efforts to promote Tibetan ‘autonomy’ and ‘unconditional negotiations’ between the TGIE and communist China. A position echoed by FTC.

Freedom Flies

Freedom Flies

When will younger Tibetans in England regain the political initiative, take full responsibility for their own cause and restore the objective of their compatriots for an independent nation? There are some encouraging signs that such process is underway with the emergence of Tibetan Youth UK , however (as with the Students for Free Tibet-England) that organisation must ensure its own freedom-of-movements, exercise an intelligent discrimination and ensure that it has the confidence to assert what Tibetans inside Tibet are dying for. Bho-Rangzen!

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5 thoughts on “London March 10-Right Protest-Wrong Message

  1. HG says:

    There’s some truth in this, and it’s always sad when exiled Tibetans don’t attend political events or make their opinons heard- there’s only so much us non-Tibetan supporters can do while people say ‘well the Tibetans aren’t speaking up so they can’t be so concerned about it’.

    I think the Tibetans are concerned about it, but that they aren’t confident to push the envelope. They have to be more assertive about what they want for Tibet- the role of non-Tibetan supporters is to help them get what they want, but they’re the ones who have to decide. It’s all very well to say that Tibet Support Groups don’t argue forcefully for independence, but the reality is that it’s very hard for them to do that without Tibetans coming out and shouting for independence. The reason is simple- by and large, TSGs are run by non-Tibetans. You can’t claim independence for somebody else’s country! But you can demand human rights as they’re universal.

    The younger generation of Tibetans in exile are much more forthright, and hopefully they’ll be running the movement in the next decade rather than following. Until then, it’s just damaging to criticise Tibet groups, and even to criticise Tibetans for not standing up for independence. It’s a transitional period and change doesn’t happen overnight. Change should be guided, strategic and encouraged rather than moaned about.

    The more young Tibetans who stand up and make their demands heard, the quicker change is going to happen.

    • Thank you for your comments. There’s agreement on the right and freedom to determine the nature and direction of the Tibetan cause. The post was advocating a similar responsibility for younger Tibetans. There is distance with your point about non-Tibetans though. Point being is that it’s not about foreigners claiming independence on behalf of someone else’s nation. It’s about a simple equation of solidarity and doing the right thing. For example any Tibet supporter, who attends a protest such as the one in England, is supporting what exactly? The Tibetan people, their struggle, their aspirations hopefully, as a point of principle and empathy. making a stand against the illegal occupation of a nation, and without forcing any opinion, but being there supportive and in harmony with the actions and courage of Tibetans inside Tibet.

      For example how many Europeans, actively protesting against Apartheid in South Africa, stood back and told themselves ‘oh dear I’d better not be overtly opposing racism and oppression in Soweto, because I would not wish to be seen as pushing my political view upon black South African protestors’. Such a position would be nonsense. Clearly if there is a plain injustice and oppression any person of integrity and compassion has the right to to oppose such tyranny and to stand with and echo the demands and hopes of the oppressed. Now in the case of Tibet, supporters need to ask themselves clear questions and understand the nature and objectives of the struggle being waged inside occupied Tibet. It is not about having no voice or any other dilute complaint it is a basic and heartfelt desire for national independence. As you may know Tibetans face torture, prison and death , yet still take to the towns and villages of Tibet to demand Rangzen. Beyond Tibet too, during the next few days, across India, Nepal, the USA, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, New Zealand and Australia there will protests, far more singular and determined than occurred in London. There will be no need for lame excuses about transitions or ethical dilemmas, people will come together of differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds to stand with the Tibetan people, raise the Tibetan flag high and support, without any equivocation or evasion, Tibet’s rightful independence. The absence of any forceful support for Rangzen in England goes back some time, efforts to set up a Regional TYC there fall upon deaf ears, and those few that do care about Rangzen consistently fail to be heard, by a minority who we know run things there. No one will expecting change in England until a Tibetan held broom sweeps away the forces which continue to exert such a dominating and censorial influence.

      • HG says:

        You’re right, but I think you’ve misunderstood my point about the role of non-Tibetans. Non-Tibetans should not decide what Tibetans want, so if there are no pro-independence banners at protests, it is likely because the banners have not been created by Tibetans. As a non-Tibetan, I can’t claim that Tibetans want independence, but as a human, I can claim that Tibetans should have human and political rights. There is a blurring line of course, as political rights includes the right to take part in the governance of your own nation.

        The solution is of course that the younger generation of Tibetans especially develop a stronger independence movement. There’s no reason why this movement should not work alongside the current (generally westerner-led) Tibet support groups, since the more angles you have, the more chance the overall attack’s going to bare fruit.

        I agree with you that Tibetans in Tibet >probably< want independence, but the frustration is that too few of them living outside Tibet voice this opinion. At the end of the day, human rights ('having a voice' or whatever soundbite may be used) are standard for all people, but if people want independence they have to SAY SO- it's not an inalienable right like human rights are, nor is it gaurenteed (I used that term loosely) by international law like human rights are. In the end, we're probably singing from the same hymn book here- the independence movement has to be stronger.

        But I do stick to my point that complaining about support groups which do not openly advocate independence is counter productive. Worse, it's playing into China's hands. If people want independence, they can MAKE non-independence groups adopt that position by making it absolutely clear that's what is wanted.

        The other way is to get involved with Tibet support groups, Sadlly, very few Tibetans apply to work for them- that's why they fail to influence them. These groups need that passion, but it doesn't materialise. It's very hard to set up support groups- I don't know how hard the TYC tried in the UK, but I do know there are very strong young Tibetans in the UK who want independence AND human rights. There's nothing wrong with arguing for both, and it's pointless to refuse to work together because aspirations may be more conservative elsewhere. Inspire them to be less conservative then- this takes time.

        If there's not drive to do this, the independence movement just seems like a minority, and support groups cannot stand for the minority. I know the independence movement is not and you know it's not, but does the world know it's not? Not yet.

      • The malaise you refer to exists it seems most markedly within England, where a number of groups, supposedly supporting Tibet, actually are callously indifferent to the demand of Tibetans for national independence, and have been for years. Two prominent organizations are under the influence of the English Foreign Office, a Government office that we know to be implacable enemies of Tibetan independence. Is it any wonder year-after-year England has such timid protests, minus any reference to Rangzen. We have been informed that some Tibetans in England (and one or two supporters) have tried to raise the subject of Tibetan independence, but received nothing but evasion, silence non-cooperation and worse. As noted by the report of the conveniently disappearing banner that some in England decided was too forceful! Then only in England do we see Tibetans and their supportive friends man-handling Tibetans, to stop them reaching the Chinese Embassy! Clearly there is a political resistance to Tibet’s independence, within groups that assert to be supporting Tibet, yet appear very uncomfortable in standing in solidarity with the Tibetan people in their aspiration for national liberation. It is England, its Tibet support groups which is the minority voice, dismissive of any ethical obligation to actively support the political aspirations of Tibetans, betraying the struggle waged by Tibetans, through misleading and timorous messages and administering dismal public events which lack both numbers and political integrity or conviction.

        There is much more which could be said on this, however enough has been detailed and you have been extended the right of a reply, which we were happy to feature. However, having explored all the various avenues of comment we shall now draw a line under this particular discussion.

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