November 20, 2008

Rethinking freedom struggle


Nearly 600 Tibetan exiles began a week-long meeting Monday in Dharamsala—the Northern India hill town which is home of the 73-year-old Dalai Lama and Tibet’s government in exile—for a very special and unprecedented meeting to discuss Tibet’s future.

His Holiness called for this gathering two months ago, when he began to realize that his attempts to secure greater autonomy for his country through negotiation with the Chinese government were fated to fail. Which actually happened, and in fact he publicly admitted earlier this month in Japan, that his “middle path” approach of seeking dialogue with the Chinese leadership in search of a “genuine” autonomy (not “independence”) for Tibet had been exhausted and that there was now “no other alternative than to ask people” about how to proceed.

Though the meeting will have no policy-making power, since any recommendations would require the approval of the exiled Tibetan parliament, according to many exiles and observers this is definitely a moment of historic importance: time are ripe for change, they say, but, apart from the most radical Tibetan activist groups, nobody knows which alternative approach could produce better results at not-too-great a cost. And maybe that is also why the Dalai Lama himself has decided not to attend the meeting. “His Holiness wants to give Tibetan people the opportunity to express their views. He is neutral,” said Lodi Gyari, special envoy of the Dalai Lama, at a press conference on Sunday in Dharamsala.

Neutral? Who could have imagined that the Tibetan spiritual leader would have thrown in the sponge? But is this what he really wants? I am neither very convinced about that, nor am I persuaded that, as my friend Enzo writes in today’s Il Foglio newspaper and in his blog (in Italian), “the era and the epic of the Dalai Lama as a political leader have come to their terminus.”

Yet, I agree with Enzo when he recalls and stresses what Thupten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said in response to Qin Gang's—China's Foreign Ministry spokesman—warning ( “any attempt to separate Tibet from Chinese territory will be doomed”): “This meeting is not about taking Tibet away from China,” he said, “it’s about restoring the human rights of Tibetan people living in Tibet.”

No doubt that any attempt to take Tibet away from China would lead nowhere, while focusing on the issue of “human rights of Tibetan people living in Tibet” sounds much more realistic (and “noble”).

One more thing: Thubten Samphel also noted that the Dalai Lama had said last month that his “trust in the Chinese government was diminishing. But he never said he had given up on talks.” That’s quite another matter.



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