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Tibet Support Groups must increase and expand their political impact

posted Oct 2, 2013, 5:54 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Kelsang Gyaltsen

Presented at the European Tibet Support Group meeting, Basel, Switzerland, September 2013

                                                                            Kelsang Gyaltsen

First of all let me welcome you all on behalf of my colleague Mr. Tseten Chhoekyapa and the Central Tibetan Administration to this meeting in Switzerland. As most of you may know Switzerland is today home to around 5000 Tibetan refugees constituting the largest number of Tibetans living in Europe.

The initiative to bring Tibetan refugees to Switzerland for education and resettlement had significant and far-reaching positive effects for individual Tibetans involved as well as for the Tibetan community in exile as a whole. However, what is less known about the resettlement of Tibetan refugee in Switzerland is that this project has been initiated by few Swiss mountaineers as private persons. In 1959 a group of Swiss climbers in Nepal witnessed the first wave of Tibetan refugees fleeing Tibet to Nepal and were so moved by the plight of the refugees that they decided to help them. On their return to Switzerland they formed an association and lobbied successfully the Swiss government and the Swiss Red Cross to resettle a contingent of 1000 refugees in Switzerland. The association had also been tremendously successful in raising funds for the resettlement project reflecting the widespread sympathy of the Swiss people for the Tibetan refugees.

This initiative is a good example of how and what difference individuals can make. These Swiss mountaineers created history in humanitarian tradition of Switzerland by making Tibetans the first refugees from outside of Europe who have been granted political asylum in Switzerland. The beneficial impact of their initiative on the lives of individual Tibetans as well as a community with collective social, cultural and political aspirations continues to be of great significance and of far-reaching consequences till today.

Obviously, individuals can make a difference. This is the lesson that we can learn from this history. And it is in this spirit and resolve that we have come together here for the next few days: To discuss how we can make a difference on how Europe reacts to the dramatic worsening situation in Tibet and how we can best persuade and move Europe to play a more proactive, constructive and helpful role in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the issue of Tibet.

In our search for political support we need to face the reality that the political environment in which the Tibet movement has been operating has changed significantly in recent time. For most governments China has become today a very important international partner. Moreover, most governments in Europe are presently wrestling with economic and financial crisis that seems to leave little space for a more robust human rights policy vis-à-vis China.

In this context the challenge for the worldwide Tibet movement is two-fold:

1. to increase public pressure on the governments to act decisively on the Tibet issue and

2. to come up with policy options that governments in Europe consider as non-confrontational, viable and practical and therefore deserving of support.

A hard look at the present state of affairs of the Tibet movement reveals the following areas where improvement is absolutely necessary if we wish to make a significant difference in the attitude of the international community towards the issue of Tibet:

  • The Tibet Support Groups must increase and expand their political impact and visibility nationally and internationally by becoming major and respected citizens movements with public standing and credibility;
  • They must aim at becoming more professional in political and public relations work by employing or hiring qualified staff and maintaining permanent offices for sustained and focussed political lobbying campaigns;
  • They must seek to achieve greater impact of their political work by overcoming fragmentation and lack of coordination and by expanding networking and improving coordination and efficiency.

Furthermore, in recent time some massive and impressive public solidarity rallies for Tibet have been organised in Europe. These rallies conveyed some important messages. Firstly, it demonstrated to the national governments the strong support for the cause of Tibet and for His Holiness the Dalai Lama among its citizens. These public show of support and strength were, thus, also a strong call on the national governments to act on Tibet. Secondly, it made clear that the issue of Tibet cannot be ignored by the governments in the relationship with China. Thirdly, the rallies sent the message to the Chinese government that it may be sometimes able to exert pressure on governments but that it cannot bully the public and media in free and democratic countries into silence.

On the policy of the Central Tibetan Administration let me assure you and reaffirm that under the political leadership of Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay we remain committed to the path of non-violence and to the process of dialogue and reconciliation. Our position on a mutually acceptable solution is straightforward. We are not seeking separation and independence. What we are seeking is genuine self-rule for the Tibetan people. Our main concern is to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people with our distinct Buddhist cultural heritage and language and the natural environment of the Tibetan plateau that has sustained the Tibetan people since time immemorial. For this, it is essential that we Tibetans are able to handle our domestic affairs and to freely determine our social, economic and cultural development.

The Middle Way Approach continues to be our genuine and enduring policy because it best serves the basic Tibetan needs and interest and comports with the international political reality.

Finally, let me thank you as a deeply grateful Tibetan and as a representative of the Central Tibetan Administration for your friendship. As friends in a common cause we have travelled a long and difficult way together and have experienced many twists and turns in the epic freedom struggle of the Tibetan people. The past has been a challenging time testing our endurance, determination and the strength of our conviction, solidarity and friendship. On this long march we shared with each other the joy and elation of battles won together and suffered together the pain and disappointment of political setbacks. There is no amount of money or power that can buy such friendship, solidarity and commitment. This is the true strength of the just cause of Tibet and of our movement. Generations of Tibetans to come will cherish the friendship, support and solidarity you have extended to us in our time of greatest need.

Thank you!

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