By Thondup Tsering
It has now been more than 21 years since His Holiness the Dalai Lama first proposed in Washington DC the Five-Point Peace Plan for Tibet; 20 years since the Strasbourg Proposal to the Members of European Parliament; and almost 30 years since the “direct contact” between Dharamsala and Beijing was first established. Like most Tibetans, I have been waiting all these years and hoping that something good will come out of all this. So, the other day when His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his lack of confidence in the Chinese leadership because of the absence of any positive response from them, I said to myself, this is what I feared.
One of the fundamental requisites for any successful dialogue is a genuine desire on the part of both parties engaged to find a solution. I, for one, believe that China, from the very onset, never intended to find a resolution. Why would they? China is already in full control of Tibet -the land and its people. This was and continues to be a sinister ploy on the part of China tobuy more time hoping that the issue of Tibet will disintegrate and disappear once His Holiness passes away.
I have always believed in leadership through the power of truth - the truth about Tibet. The truth that Tibet was an independent nation until China invaded in 1949. I have time and again heard His Holiness state that truth was on Tibet’s side and that ultimately truth will prevail. So, around 1979 when His Holiness announced that He was giving up Tibet’s independence in favor of a “Middle-Way” approach, like many other fellow Tibetans, I was overwhelmed with confusion, not knowing what to make of it. As time passed, I realized that this was a compromise to save Tibet and Tibetan culture by a sincere and a well meaning leader who had the best of intentions for the welfare and wellbeing of both the Chinese and Tibetan people.
In 2000, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, emphasized the importance of truth to a gathering of students and faculty members of Hampshire College. I asked him why he was preaching ‘truth’ when one truth is that the organization that he represents passed three resolutions on Tibet, and that even after 40 years, has failed to act on any one of them. His response to me was, “I wish I could say that this world is perfect……that truth always prevails.” This was a very instructive moment for me because what he was really telling me was that in this imperfect world of ours, where policies and decisions are dictated by self and national interests, TRUTH DOES NOT PREVAIL but truth needs to be lived, nurtured and secured. If Tibetans truly believe that Tibet was an independent country and wants to be independent, we have to dream RANGZEN and then live that dream. Or else, as the Chinese say “a thousand lies make it true” and then there is a real danger that Tibet will cease to exist one day.
Whenever one makes an argument for Rangzen, the inevitable counter argument is that Rangzen is not “realistic.” In His Holiness’s Strasbourg Proposal, referring to his idea of Tibet becoming a self-governing political entity in association with the People’s Republic of China, He states, “I believe these thoughts represent the most realistic means by which to re-establish Tibet’s separate identity…..” I believe that the introduction of the word “realistic” in any discussion about a nations’ future, and especially in our ongoing struggle for self determination, is very disenfranchising and disempowering. What is unspoken but clearly communicated is that we should give up the idea of Rangzen because Rangzen is not realistic. The only way to make any crucial and complicated mission “realistic” is to believe and live the dream. Only then will the dream have a chance of becoming a reality.
Imagine if some 47 years ago, President John F. Kennedy believed that it was not “realistic” to dream of going to the moon. The first space walk on the moon never would have happened. Imagine if 61 years ago, the Indian leadership and its people believed that seeking independence from the British Empire was unrealistic because ‘the sun never sets on the British empire.’ India perhaps would not be an independent country today.
Thinking about Rangzen, my memory goes back to my early years as a child at TCV and later as a staff member, when we were all unified in our mission and belief in Rangzen. The students, parents, cooks, teachers, nurses, and office staff – we all knew that whatever each one of us was doing at that time, it was in preparation for that beautiful dream of Rangzen. We were unified and strong in our belief in RANGZEN. We did not know then how and when Tibet would regain its Rangzen. Yet, I know for sure that it gave us all a tremendous sense of pride and purpose. It was this sense of unified belief and purpose that propelled us to be recognized as one of the most successful refugee communities in the world. Today, when I visit the settlements and schools in our community, the loss of that sense of unity and direction is apparent.
November 4, 2008 was one of the most beautiful days in my life. Even though I could not vote, I celebrated the victory of President Elect Obama. His victory was historic and showed once again that it is important to dream big (without letting reality limit your dreams) and to live that dream. Nothing is impossible. Remember, this was a country where about 44 years ago people of African heritage did not even have the right to vote. Back then it was considered unrealistic and inconceivable that one day a black man would become the President. Today Barak Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. That dream has become a reality. One of the main reasons that this dream became a reality today is because the people of African heritage believed that all human beings are created equal and they lived that dream. Of course all this did not come soon or easy, but there is a lesson that Tibetans can learn from this. Today’s dream can become a reality tomorrow. If we dream Rangzen and live that dream, no matter how hard or how long the road ahead may be, one day, one day Rangzen will become reality! RANGZEN – Yes We Can!
A special meeting will be held later this month to confirm our mission and renew our dreams. As His Holiness said, “When all is said and done it is for the Tibetan people themselves to decide about their collective future.” I thank His Holiness for this opportunity. I call upon all Tibetans to speak out and participate in this historic meeting. Let not your hopes and dreams be limited by reality, but guided by truth. I recognize that it is possible that I may not see Rangzen in my life time or, for that matter, in my children’s lifetime. But I would be proud to have left the Rangzen legacy for future generations of Tibet and will take comfort that one day, Rangzen will become reality. This past spring, Tibetans from inside Tibet have spoken. Now is our time to say loud and clear in a unified and strong voice –RANGZEN! YES WE CAN!
The author is a residence director at the University of Massachusetts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org