Tibetan Autonomy-A Futile Odyssey


Some years ago a westerner traveled to a small  and somewhat deprived Tibetan settlement in Northern India, in her rucksack was a video, one  that she had been told would be greatly appreciated by the local Tibetan community. So after a trail of recommendations and discussions a video player and television magically appeared from the cold mountain air and was  set up in small hall. By the night of the screening word had spread and the place was packed, a sea of excited and curious eyes, with the help of a translator, she offered a brief introduction and apologized that the dialogue was not in Tibetan but hoped that the story would be understood and appreciated. The barely functioning solitary light-bulb was switched off, replaced by the flickering glow of the opening title illuminated the faces in the gloom, Jason and The Argonauts had traveled from the turquoise Mediterranean skies to the border of Tibet. This heroic tale, with its monsters, magick, gods and goddesses enchanted the audience, after all it was not entirely removed from the traditions, beliefs and mythologies of the Tibetans gathered there.

Thinking of that event brings to mind another, less celebrated Greek figure, Sisyphus, who was punished by Zeus and made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before reaching the top however, the rock would always roll back down, forcing him to restart his task. It was a punishment given to King Sisyphus for his arrogance in regarding himself cleverer than Zeus, Father of the Gods. So it was that  Sisyphus was consigned to an eternity of futility and ceaseless frustration.

It serves as a very apt metaphor for the current efforts of the exiled Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)  to secure a form of autonomy for Tibetans from the Chinese Regime, although the punishment in this case has been imposed, not by an all powerful deity, but a collective desperation and myopia that has witnessed unending failure and disappointment, as China rejects each compromise offered by the CTA, forcing them to retreat, only to make another arduous and vacuous attempt at progress. What makes this particular masochism, truly painful (as it is absent of any pleasure whatsoever) is the fact that the architect of the strategy, that abandons Tibetan nationhood in favor of an autonomous Tibet, the Dalai Lama, in 2009 publicly acknowledged his Middle Way proposals had failed

Image: chiasandro/museumofmodernart/newyork

Yet despite that acknowledgement, and the direct experience of repeated failure in realizing progress, his representatives within the Central Tibetan Administration continue to press China for negotiations. This pointless action is truly Sisyphean, although the comparison does need some adjustment, a more fitting analogy would perhaps involve Tibetans having bought a used car, the engine of which is beyond repair,  dutifully pushing it across the Himalayas, in the hope of selling it to a Mercedes showroom in Beijing!

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