The talk was delivered on September 19 this year at Darmstad in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lech Welesa, former President of Poland and leader of Solidarnosch movement, Rebecca Johnson, founding president of International Campaign for abolition of nuclear weapons (ICAN), recipient of 2017 Nobel peace prize and Vice President of German Parliament Claudio Roth. The symposium on ‘Non-Violence’ was organised by Tibet Initiative Deutschland and Gandhen Phodrang Foundation.
Tibet was an independent nation and was invaded by China in 1949. Since then Tibet has remained under Chinese military occupation. In 1959 His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile, to India with 80,000 Tibetans as Chinese authorities suppressed the first Tibetan national uprising. His Holiness and thousands of Tibetans arrived in India with ..literally… nothing. They overcame insurmountable challenges to build a refugee community. Today the Central Tibetan Administration is a democratic institution based in Dharamsala, India that administers Tibetans in over 30 countries. It represents the Tibetan people’s aspirations in exile and in Tibet.
Tibet is of central importance for the Chinese Government. Their policies of control over Tibet emerge from economic and political interests of the Chinese leadership. China wants complete control over Tibet and the Tibetan people.
But Tibetans in Tibet have been resisting the ongoing brutal repression by the Chinese government with waves of uprisings – in 1959, in the late 1980s and in 2008 – all of which have been met with military violence leaving thousands dead, tortured and persecuted. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Tibetans started protesting all over Tibet and it became a historic uprising. The following violent crackdown by China was a real turning point in the history of peaceful resistance in Tibet, and even though every single family had a victim of state violence, since this Uprising, there is a new, young and bold resistance in Tibet like never before.
Today, I want to tell you about one protest which I think shows clearly how strategic non-violent organizing is used by Tibetans in Tibet to make change.
-Chinese exploitation of natural resources in Tibet has led to protests across the country. More than 32 large-scale protests related to Chinese mining happened in Tibet since 2009.
—On 31 May 2016, around 2,000 local Tibetans from Amchok, in eastern Tibet, boldly challenged mining on their sacred mountain, Gong-nyong Lari. This was not only a question of disrespect to their culture and belief but this area is a nomadic area where people’s lives depend on the land and the water. The environmental damage caused by mining threatened these people’s very existence.
-The Chinese government brutally suppressed the peaceful gathering of local communities. The protestors were calling for “protection of the environment, protection of the sacred mountain and protection of the people.”
-Three Tibetans set themselves on fire at the same mining site in Amchok. Tsultrim Gyamtso cited in his last note unbearable misery caused by the mining on their sacred mountain as a reason for his sacrifice. Self-immolations started in Tibet in 2009 as a direct result of China’s crack down after the 2008 protests. The space for freedom of expression is drastically shrinking leading to Tibetans burning themselves to protest against the Chinese government.
Whether they are protesting in numbers or alone, singing songs, boycotting Chinese businesses or keeping their languages and identity alive – Tibetan non-violent resistance continue to put China’s rule to test. Their actions remind everyone that nonviolence is not the same as passiveness.
Though much of the world might want to believe that Tibet is a lost cause and that there is no hope for Tibet given China’s rising dominance, I want to assure you all that this is not true. In this room, we have Golog Jigme with us. Earlier, I spoke about the Tibetan Uprising of 2008 that wrote history for non-violent resistance in Tibet. Golog Jigme was in Tibet in 2008, organizing side by side with our brothers and sisters.
Golog Jigme is a Tibetan filmmaker and a freedom fighter. Because of his involvement in the Tibetan freedom struggle, the Chinese government arrested him thrice. He stands here before you as someone who survived the torture by Chinese authorities and made a daring escape into the free world. Many thought he had disappeared forever. But today he’s here with us! Since Golog Jigme escaped to exile in 2014, he has travelled the world crusading for the cause of Tibet. If Golog Jigme has not given up on Tibet, how can we?
Friends, if Tibetans in Tibet are finding new ways of resistance even after 60 years of oppression, if Tibetans in Tibet who risk arrest and death to carry out their struggle are not losing hope, we cannot either. We need to support them using our freedoms and democratic rights that we have here. When Tibetans are upholding non-violence as the core principle underpinning their struggle we need to support them with action from here in Germany.
Our friends who are here with us have also shown us that change is possible: Solidarnosc in Poland, Otpor in Serbia and ICAN for nuclear disarmament. Just like the Berlin Wall came down as you all know here in Germany: Non-violent resistance has the potential to create fundamental change.
For Tibetans in Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the national symbol of hope and resistance / resilience and with the blessings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and treading the path of non-violence, together we too can make a change for Tibet and for justice around the world. Join us!