In the summer of 2001, the Tibetan diaspora elected the exiled government's Kalon Tripa or Prime Minister. Sixty-two year old Samdhong Rinpoche, a scholar and philosopher, won 85 percent of that vote. Samdhong chairs the Kashag (Council of Ministers) whose responsibility is to assist the Dalai Lama in the administration of all matters related to exiled Tibetans. He spoke with us about the renewal of the Tibetan nonviolence campaign.
The exile government was established in 1960 in Dharamsala, India shortly after the current and fourteenth Dalai Lama fled Tibet in the midst of conflict with heavy-handed China. A constitution was developed in 1961. Based on modern democratic principles, the constitution and corresponding governing institutions embody principles reflecting the essence of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy: compassion, justice, equality and environmental appreciation and preservation. Highly complex for a small population, the government comprises seven departments: home, education, religion and culture, health, security, finance, and information and international relations. There are also a number of autonomous bodies and even NGOs such as the Tibetan Women's association and the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy functioning in the exiled society.
The Dalai Lama, now 67, is a dynamic leader. He seeks to reform the government in preparation for a day without him at its head. The vision of a Tibetan government without the Dalai Lama is an effort to regulate continuity in leadership when the government is reinstated in Tibet, or indeed upon the death of the Dalai Lama. When the government's administration is reestablished in Tibet, a Council of Regents will take over the Dalai Lama's temporal responsibilities and the Dalai Lama himself will serve the people best, he feels, outside of government. The Prime Minister is key to these developments.Nonviolent Resistance: The Opposite of Fire
Without feelings of bitterness or anger toward China and its persistent program of cultural genocide, Tibetans oppose the action and not the people. This is the sum and substance of the Tibetan nonviolent movement.
"The world's problem today is that we live with hatred and violence and now people are trying to counter the violence with violence," says Samdhong. In light of the events of last September 11th, the time, he believes, is ripe to educate in the effectiveness of nonviolent methods. "We are actively making a ground strategy for nonviolent resistance. After September 11th, everybody talked about the fight against terrorism but they never tried to eliminate the root cause of terrorism. They are only treating the symptom. If you wish to extinguish the fire, you must use some element which is the opposite of fire."
Samdhong Rinpoche's plan is to restore contact with Beijing and revitalize the nonviolent movement both within and outside of Tibet. The strategy is being designed in cooperation with nonviolent guru Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts. Professor Sharp has listed over 200 methods of nonviolent protest. "We are finding what methods are suitable for the Tibetans inside Tibet and what are suitable for outside." New efforts will focus on means of protest within China and Tibet that work effectively within the Chinese law, learning to use the system to the advantage of the resistance movement.Media Savvy and Politically Wise
The Rinpoche's forecast for the future is optimistic. He anticipates an unexpected but big change in China. Favorable attitudes for Tibet's cause are growing within and without China. The movement is endorsed by peace and human rights groups globally and even by Hollywood actors, whose attention effectively mobilizes public support. As a result, pressure is put on governments, Chinese and other, not to turn a blind eye to the Tibetans. Attention is drawn to the cause each time a national leader refuses to meet with the visiting Dalai Lama (as may be the case when he visits Toronto in April 2004) or when Chinese officials visit and attempts are made to hush protesters.
In China, "the pro-democracy movement has a very close association with us and we are helping each other. Now, we have a certain window to reach inside China in the matter of information exchange and so forth." With the use of modern technology, the exiled government promotes awareness of its situation among ordinary Chinese. "Within China, the internet is quite popular and very accessible." In addition to information dissemination through the internet, the media-wise administration and others working for the cause broadcast from the United States and Europe to China via satellite. Sometimes the government tries to block the broadcasts but, according to Samdhong Rinpoche, "the Chinese operation of blocking outside news is not as powerful as it was in Russia 10 or 20 years back."Here to Stay
While the diffusion of Tibetan culture provides more strength in numbers, it does not replace the the desire to return home, the exiled Tibetan community's ultimate goal. Chinese settlement policies in Tibet and the fleeing of refugees from the homeland have heavily risked the dilution of the culture. Some ominously suggest that it will be destroyed long before the return of an independent Tibet. But the Tibetans have been marvelously successful at preserving and perpetuating their culture for themselves, while generously sharing it with the world: "The Tibetan culture has spread in the West during the last 30 years in a very big way and that is a source of strength for us. Now we believe that Tibetan culture may not completely disappear from the surface of the earth very easily even if Tibet does not get autonomy in the near future. But what we are worried about is that the sharing of culture outside is a kind of re-plantation of the culture and the culture must be deeply rooted in its own soil. Once the culture has disappeared from its birth place, Tibet's own soul, then [true] Tibetan culture may not remain for a long time." The unique combination of progressive leadership and ancient principles of nonviolence bodes well for the exiled community.
Amber McNair is Managing Editor of Peace Magazine.