Tibet: Striving beyond the ‘Middle Way’?
Tibet: Striving beyond the ‘Middle Way’?Tibetans debate the future of their homeland as the exiled government swears in its first secular prime minister.
On August 15, Tsewang Norbu, a Tibetan monk, burned himself to death in Sichuan province to protest China’s policies in Tibet. It was the second instance of self-immolation by a Tibetan monk this year.
Tibetans have been protesting China’s alleged suppression of religious expression and ethnic minorities for decades. Right before Norbu’s fatal protest, he voiced his support of a free Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. After the incident, Chinese officials reportedly shut down internet access in the town and attempted to claim the burned body.
These events come at a time of significant political reconfiguration and pressing questions about the future of Tibet’s sovereignty. Earlier this year, the Dalai Lama stepped down from his role as political leader of the exiled Tibetan community, and on August 8 Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard law academic, was sworn in as the first democratically-elected prime minister of the Central Tibetan Administration, also known as the government of Tibetans in exile.
Sangay supports the Dalai Lama’s goal of an autonomous Tibet within China, though he does not reject the idea of an eventual free nation. Other Tibet supporters advocate declaring outright independence, but many say this is an unrealistic goal.
International lawmakers have shown mixed reactions towards the recent power shift. Chinese officials labelled Sangay a terrorist for his previous involvement in a Tibetan separatist organisation. While US Congressman James McGovern says, “At a time when autocrats around the world are clinging to power, the Dalai Lama's voluntary effort to give up power is remarkable. It is the culmination of a decades-long process of nurturing the development of democratic institutions in the Tibetan exile community."
The Dalai Lama told the Times of India, "My most cherished aspiration has been fulfilled. Tibetans are not allowed to even express their views and opinions freely, let alone participate in democratic elections, but I am sure that they would be proud of the steps that we have taken."
Supporters believe that under Sangay’s secular leadership more Tibetans may be encouraged to participate in political debate.
Joining us on the Stream is Dhardon Sharling, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and Tibetan Women's Association, and Tendor Dorjee Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet.
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