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Tibetans forgo celebration
Burlington Free Press[Monday, February 23, 2009 17:38]
By Tim Johnson • Staff Writer

For Tibetans in the homeland and elsewhere, the new year -- known as Losar -- is the biggest holiday of all.

Not this year.

Losar begins Wednesday, but many Tibetans around the world, and in Vermont, will forgo the celebration in memory of those who died during protests that erupted in Tibet in March.

Customarily, the Tibetan community in Burlington -- 28 families, 125 people total -- would have prepared for Losar the week before by making kapsae, deep-fried cookies, and a kind of homemade beer.

Wednesday, at the start of a three-day observance, they would expect to rise early, don traditional Tibetan clothes (called chupa, new for each new year), pray and make special offerings, and begin their annual rounds of interfamily visits.

Instead, as Dakpa Gyatso, president of the Tibetan Association of Vermont, put it the other day: "We don't do nothing."

That was the decision the association reached at a meeting in Burlington in January -- a decision also made by associations in other U.S. states, and the following week, by the 10th North American Tibetan Association Conference in Toronto: No Losar festivities this year.

The boycott has a political edge, as Chinese authorities -- apparently wary of another round of unrest -- have reportedly added to security forces in Tibet. For years, China has rejected demands by Tibetans variously for independence or for substantial political and cultural autonomy.

Dakpa and Vermont association member Tenzin Choedon said the initiative to forgo Losar originated not in politics, but in Tibetan custom, under which the mourning period lasts one year. Families of people killed in Tibet during March 2008 protests were to eschew the Losar celebration as a matter of course, but then other Tibetans, in widening circles, pledged to join them in solidarity.

Meanwhile, Dakpa said, Chinese authorities are reportedly trying to counter the movement by promoting a Tibetan celebration of Losar as usual and by arresting pro-boycott demonstrators in adjoining Szechuan Province.

Tibetans in Burlington normally keep in touch with their families by phone, Dakpa said, but are mindful that calls can be monitored, especially during tense times.

This month, the Tibetan government in exile, from its headquarters in India, called for Losar observances this year to be limited to the "customary religious" ceremonies, according to news reports.

The Tibetan community in Burlington at its Jan. 11 meeting discussed the possibility of a limited religious observance but decided against that, Dakpa said, because they and other Tibetans feared China might seek to exploit Losar observances overseas against people in Tibet who decline to take part.

The next big event for the Burlington Tibetan community will be a rally March 10 commemorating the Tibetan national uprising of 1959.

Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or tjohnson@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com.
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