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Some Thoughts on Independence & Middle Way

posted Oct 17, 2013, 5:16 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Oct 17, 2013, 5:21 PM ]

By Gabriel Hartnell

here are many perspectives in the Rangzen-Middle Way debate raging at present, from the most inspiring Tibetan activists to the most learned Tibet scholars. These people live and breathe the movement 24-7 and deserve the utmost respect.  But the movement is also constantly appealing for support beyond that of the experts- to foreign governments, to the media and to the general public across the world.  So as someone who does not live and breathe the movement 24-7, and as a non-Tibetan, I thought I'd express the points which i think outsiders like me, governments and media may be thinking regarding the TGIE/CTA's current push for unity behind the MWA.  As the movement seeks support from outsiders, hopefully it is useful to consider the following points encapsulating what outsiders' understanding of the movement is likely to be.

1. The TGIE is a democratically elected government which therefore represents the will of the majority of those able to vote.  We are all aware that Tibetans inside are generally not able to express their vote, so the TGIE is accepted as representative of Tibetan exiles' views, not of the views of Tibetans inside.

2. In any democracy, there will be differences of opinion, different political parties etc; it is the fact that current governments can be voted out which makes them accountable to the voters, and which ultimately allows democracy to happen.  In the future, there may well be a 'middle way party' and a 'rangzen party'; each wishing the best for their country but each having different core policies.  If the TGIE wishes to be respected as a democratic entity and thus have meaningful high level meetings etc, it must accept a multi-party, multi-strategy reality both publicly and in practice behind the scenes.  (We are talking politics here, and moreover politics without the direct influence of His Holiness, so nothing said privately is now likely to stay private for long)

3. Those who show some level of support for Tibet (such as the US) do not do so for selfless reasons; America would benefit from an unstable and/or democratic China.  If the TGIE moves away from democratic ideals (publicly or privately) it must be ready to expect a decline in support from the US, and TSGs must accept a withdrawal of funding from organisations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  I know some TSGs depend on such funds; when asking TSGs to support the TGIE's apparent switch to accepting a non-democratic autonomy as the goal, it must consider how this funding would be replaced.

4. Outside the movement, people (and politicians) regard Chinese leaders as lacking in credibility for two main reasons; dictatorship and corruption.  If they see the TGIE attempting to 'unify' the movement by demanding all accept it's strategy, this will appear to outsiders as little different to the CCP's approach to 'democracy', causing the Tibet movement to lose the moral high ground in the eyes of many.

5. The use of His Holiness to push Tibetans away from the rangzen strategy may make sense to those deeply involved in the movement, but those outside see this as incredibly underhanded; when Tibetans are told that if they don't support the TGIE they are disrespecting the Dalai Lama it looks like emotional blackmail.  I realise that isn't what it is, but the TGIE must understand that how it looks is incredibly important if they want support from outside the movement.  To outsiders it looks like corruption; and as such, the TGIE may start to suffer from the same criticisms that are made against the CCP.

6. His Holiness understands the movement better than any of us, and he did propose the Middle Way approach, so it is logical that to support His Holiness' vision is to support the Middle Way.  However, His Holiness has also stepped away from his political role, wishing Tibetans to decide for themselves.  It is apparent to observers that His Holiness' policy was the Middle Way, but his policy is now for Tibetans to decide for themselves in a democratic system.  His Holiness is a great leader not because he dictates but because he empowers; this is one of many reasons why the outside world has had faith in him but never true faith in any of the Chinese leaders who have opposed him.  Will the Kalon Tripa do what the Dalai Lama says or act how the Dalai Lama acts, because if the latter, he will accept alternative strategies in the movement, just as His Holiness has.

7. The Dalai Lama will always be the Dalai Lama, but Lobsang Sangay will not always be the Kalon Tripa.  Many would argue that this is why His Holiness has stepped back; to divide the political and the spiritual.  As such, His Holiness has a personal view on political strategy but he cannot have a policy.  I know this sounds an odd statement because we are so used to His Holiness having a policy, but only politicians and political parties can have policies, so nowadays His Holiness only has an opinion.  So to say the MWA is His Holiness' policy is incorrect.  As His Holiness' view is an opinion, it does not have to represent the opinions if other Tibetans, wheras the Kalon Tripa, whoever that may be at any time, must represent, or allow there to be representation of, views from across the community.  The Kalon Tripa will make mistakes as any of us would, and if his mistakes are too great he will be voted out; this is how it should be.  Observers expect the Kalon Tripa to allow and even encourage debate.  Can you imagine how much of a laughing stock David Cameron would be if he demanded that the Labour party axed the trade unions or they could not say they were politicians, or how ridiculous Barack Obama would look if he told the Republicans that if they did not support universal health care they were anti-American?  His Holiness, a spiritual leader, can guide people but the Kalon Tripa is there to represent the people; he must follow their opinion, not vice versa.   And as opinion over strategy is split in the exile community, he must accept that others may hold a different opinion.

8. Observers still see His Holiness as the leader of the Tibetan people, and this view is correct.  However, people generally see His Holiness as a leader forced out of his country, and who represents Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet whereas the TGIE can only truly represent Tibetans in exile.  This is another reason why the TGIE must be open to other opinions; remember the Middle Way/ rangzen debate occurs primarily in exile; it may well be that most Tibetans inside support rangzen, or that they do not see a difference and just want freedom.  I would imagine that the TGIE sees itself as somewhat representative of Tibetans inside as well; as such it must acknowledge the fact that the MW approach may not fulfill this duty of representation (whereas with His Holiness in charge, this made more sense as His Holiness himself represents all Tibetans, regardless of the strategy he adopts at any point in time).  Have any of the self-immolators used the slogan 'genuine autonomy for Tibet'?  If the world is seeing one thing and the TGIE is saying another while demanding people follow them, it looks like the two are not aligned.

9. Most people do not regard 'unity' to mean that everyone unites behind a strategy, they regard it to mean that everyone unites against a common foe.  Looking at how successful freedom movements have come about, there are often a variety of groups using different strategies; sometimes a more concilatory approach like the MW can be made more effective if an absolute approach like rangzen is also present; the former can become a preferable solution to the opponent than the chance of the latter taking place.  So to demand that people unite behind one strategy can actually be counter productive (especially in a democratic system).  If it's MW or nothing, the CCP will likely choose nothing; if it's rangzen, MW or nothing they're far more likely to choose MW if things change in China.

10. The more that the public/governments see infighting in the movement, the less they are going to support any Tibet group.  But nobody believes that having an alternative strategy is infighting; its just democracy.  Telling others they must abandon their strategies causes infighting.  The CCP are known for their infighting; it'd be a shame if the Tibetan movement also became known for that.

11. Whether it likes it or not, the Tibetan cause is seen as a nationalist movement, despite His Holiness' MWA.  Outsiders see His Holiness himself as far more compelling than any policy, and most leaders do not see beyond the awe they have for him, and they see him as representative of a nation.  The more these people see the movement pushing away from Tibet the nation, the less they will associate His Holiness with being a Tibetan (as people tend not to see Tibetans as an 'ethnic group' but as a national one).  Can you imagine people beginning to refer to His Holiness as 'the great Chinese spiritual leader the Dalai Lama'?

12. On a similar note, it us confusing that institutions which promote the MWA continue to use the Tibetan NATIONAL flag as a  symbol, when there would be no such thing under an agreement of autonomy (even if there was a regional flag, the CCP would choose it and you can bet thet would not choose the snow lion flag.  This seems to be an emotional issue- many MWA supporters raise the national flag and reject the raising of the Chinese flag in public, but this is confusing as the CCP flag WOULD be the correct flag under autonomy- the  snow lion flag only applies to an independence movement.  I recall widespread criticism a while ago of a  Tibetan who raised both the CCP  and snow lion flags in support if MWA, but if he really wanted to represent MWA he'd actually have to dump the snow lion flag.  It sometimes appears that those who drive against rangzen are naive about what it entails.

13. To  outsiders, the altering of titles to make them less 'governmental' seems like concessions- governments are less likely to hold a Tibetan administration in high regard, for example, than a Tibetan government.

14. In the recent controversial statement by the CTA, there are some recommendations on what TSGs 'must' do.  Now, as a non-Tibetan I'm not qualified to offer more than my outsider's opinion on the mechanics of Tibetan democracy, but TSGs are NGOs and/or charities, so how they are governed is not the preserve of Tibetans alone, there are legal and regulatory issues. So to consider:

-As non-government organisations, TSGs are not bound by the decisions of any government (including the TGIE) and in fact would in many countries be acting illegally if they were to follow the TGIE's directions.  The TGIE may wish to consider this if it wishes for TSGs to survive, or to support their views.

-TSGs (even more so if they're charities) are actually representative of the aims outlined in their constitutions, and are responsible to those who fund them (the general public who donate) to follow these aims.  The TGIE has no right to say things like 'TSGs must come up with policy options that governments in Europe consider as non-confrontational' for example; if confrontational tactics are present in the TSG's constitution, supporters will expect them to have those tactics at their disposal (and of course, as we see all around the world, such tactics can be viable, practical and in fact inspire support)

-TSGs will become as 'professional' as they are able given the funding/support they receive; some will never become so, unless further funding is made available.

-A lot of the recommendations offered in Kelsang Gyaltsen la's address can just as accurately be levelled at the TGIE; though it is not a TSG, I believe observers would find it more inspirational if these points were directed at the whole movement rather than just TSGs, as this would show that we are all working and developing alongside each other in the true spirit if unity.

15. Outside the movement, people do not differentiate between Tibetan exiles and Tibetans inside, and assume that when an entity is speaking for Tibetans, they are speaking mainly for those inside, as these are the Tibetans who are oppressed.  Again, as a non-Tibetan, it is these Tibetans who I am inspired by, and they are showing a level of unity which we, despite our freedom to debate, still need to aspire to.  Take away the luxuries we all have outside and what we have is a fight between oppressed and oppressor; some inside will accept occupation, some will oppose it, others will find a balance.  But observing Tibetans inside, it's plain to see that they're all on the same side, with the CCP as their opponents.  I'd suggest that the public, companies, governments outside are also observing this; if the movement, the TGIE, TSGs want support from these people, they need to appear just as inspirational; differing in views but united against a common foe, not against each other.

Then again, the other question is do we really need/want the support of governments who are unlikely to do anything meaningful for Tibet until China's money runs out?  And do Tibetans inside, pushing for change, need either them or us?  For me as an outsider, this is far more compelling than any political debate and we should note that when support comes it is always when oppression is exposed inside- there is no meaningful coverage of internal debates, nor will there ever be especially now His Holiness is not present in them- these debates are simply not compelling.

What is compelling is what is happening to Tibetans inside.  If people are to be blamed for going against the views of the Dalai Lama, picture this- His Holiness has made it clear that Tibetans inside are 'our boss' and we should focus on them.  Outsiders will observe that spending time attempting to silence rangzen activists in exile is the opposite.

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