Hatred and Holiness The Dalai Lama's Moment of Truth

By Erich Follath and

Part 3: Mia Farrow and the 'Genocide Olympics'


After it was awarded the games, Beijing proved receptive to criticism, but only of its foreign policy. It endured scathing condemnation by Hollywood stars like Mia Farrow of Beijing's backing of the Sudanese government and its role in the genocide in Darfur (in a 2007 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Farrow characterized the 2008 games as a "Genocide Olympics"). This outcry prompted the Communist Party rulers to consent to a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur and even consider participating in it.

But all hopes for an improvement of human rights within China have been in vain. Despite protests by organizations like Human Rights Watch, dissidents like Yang Chulin ("We want human rights, not the Olympics") and AIDS activist Hu Jia have been put on trial for "subversion." Although Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Li Baodong is permitted to exercise self-criticism ("China still has a long way to go to promote and protect human rights"), the regime in Beijing already paints itself as a role model when it comes to human rights. Foreign Minister Yang Jieche insists: "The Chinese people enjoy the full extent of human rights and religious freedom."

The Chinese Communist Party's deep hatred of the Dalai Lama is rooted in his gentle but firm insistence, when speaking with politicians from around the world, that precisely the opposite is true. He accuses the Chinese government of waging "cultural genocide," in the form of the deliberate mass settlement of his native Tibet with Han Chinese, a process that destroys Tibetan traditions. One reason Beijing has responded so vehemently to the attacks is that they are so difficult to deny.

A Spiritial Disneyland

Lhasa is a predominantly Chinese city today. As a result of Han Chinese settlement, promoted by tax subsidies, Tibetans are now a minority in their own capital. They make up only about one-third of its 400,000 residents. Bars and brothels have dramatically altered the character of this holy place, as have the soldiers patrolling its streets. The city's tallest building, surrounded by colored plastic palm trees, houses the headquarters of the secret police. The most successful businesspeople are Chinese, who make no secret of their disdain for the "backward locals."

Tibetans benefit the least from a rising standard of living, even though, from a material standpoint, they are better off than ever before. But they are spiritually starved, and the majority of Tibetans still cling to their spiritual and political father figure, perhaps even more so today. They know the 14th Dalai Lama has long been a democratically oriented reformer, and most Tibetans have at least enough contact with the government-in-exile in Dharamsala to know it has a freely elected parliament. The Chinese Communist Party and its "People's Liberation Army," which in 1950 invaded Tibet -- until then a de facto independent country -- have yet to acquire a comparable level of respect among Tibetans.

The Tibetan people don't enjoy true religious freedom. They are permitted to perform their Buddhist ceremonies in the private sphere, and a few monasteries have been restored to be inhabited by monks again. But the party has carefully severed Tibetans' spiritual bond with their god-king. Anyone caught with a picture of the Dalai Lama is arrested and often tortured.

The Potala Palace, the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama, is being preserved, but merely as a tourist attraction, part of Beijing's effort to reduce Tibet to a spiritual Disneyland. Late last week, when unarmed monks were intimidated during a peaceful demonstration and then arrested, the Tibetans finally vented their anger. It was this rage that probably contributed to violence against Chinese police officers and business owners -- violence that Beijing's governors met with even sharper repression. The official reaction, in turn, led to several monks attempting to commit suicide, setting off a spiral of unrest interrupted only by periods of calm which can be attributed, at best, to exhaustion.

The Dalai Lama opposes any form of violence. He reacted with extreme outrage, even bitterness, to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's charge that he "and his clique" had instigated the bloody riots in Lhasa. Wen even claimed that he had "a lot of evidence" to support his accusations. "Hey, Mr. Prime Minister, come here and show them to me and the world," the Nobel laureate called out a press conference on Tuesday.

In truth, the world's most famous exile has always sought to accommodate the Chinese, beginning with Mao (he was long blinded by Mao's ideological powers of persuasion), followed by Deng Xiaoping and his successors at the head of the Communist Party.

The 14th Dalai Lama gave up his fight for a sovereign independent nation long ago, and now he calls "only" for true cultural autonomy for his Tibet. In several rounds of talks, most recently in 2006, his negotiators sought to shape compromises with Beijing's negotiating team, but failed completely.

The Dalai Lama pinned his hopes on the Communist Party's current harmonization campaign and its increasingly tolerant treatment of all religions. "I am the last Tibetan leader with whom there can be a peaceful transition," the god-king said last year. "And if I am to be an obstacle, I am prepared to withdraw from politics and continue my life as a simple monk."

He left many questions unanswered: whether he should have a successor, whether a woman could become a Dalai Lama, and whether the traditional search for a new reincarnation should be replaced with a sort of conclave in which the new Dalai Lama is elected by abbots. "Perhaps there will even be two Dalai Lamas after me," he said. "One serving at Beijing's pleasure, and one recognized by the Tibetans according to spiritual tradition.

The Communist Party, as an atheist force, has actually presumed to be responsible for reincarnations. In 1995 it appointed the Panchen Lama, the second-highest-ranking Tibetan religious leader, and abducted the boy designated by the Dalai Lama, along with his parents. The whereabouts of the family remain unknown to this day. Beijing's Panchen Lama has obediently condemned the "crimes of the Dalai clique."

The protests in Lhasa spread like wildfire to other Chinese provinces.
REUTERS

The protests in Lhasa spread like wildfire to other Chinese provinces.

The young Tibetan Buddhists of Dharamsala insist that the 14th Dalai Lama has put up with too much, far too much. Taking the nonviolent Mahatma Gandhi as his role model, as the Dalai Lama does, is all very well and good, they say, but the approach should also yield comparable results.

"Gandhi brought independence to India, and where are we today?" Kelsang Phuntsok, then-president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Dharamsala asked provocatively in 2007. "The word violence is not a taboo for me. At this point we are getting nowhere with the position taken by our revered leader. We are like the panda bears of international politics. Everyone cuddles us, but no one does anything serious on our behalf. We must take fate into our own hands."

When a member of the Youth Congress starved himself to death during a protest a few years ago, the Dalai Lama denounced his act. But young Tibetans celebrated him as a "martyr." It cannot be ruled out that some have thought of transforming their pacifist struggle into a resistance movement akin to the Palestinian struggle. But there is no concrete evidence whatsoever that last week's unrest in Lhasa was part of a deliberate military provocation.

In their campaign surrounding the Beijing Olympics, until now, young Tibetans have opted for creative rather than violent campaigns. They've unfurled "Free Tibet" banners at the Great Wall, used all legal means at their disposal and even presented the IOC with a list of athletes ready to compete as part of their own Tibetan "national team." They have launched rallies converging at the Chinese borders and staged PR-conscious demonstrations in front of embassies.

Now that the young Tibetans are trying to achieve a boycott of the Beijing games, they agree with the Dalai Lama's view that the event should be used to draw attention to the cause of their oppressed people.

Unlike the 14th Dalai Lama, however, the Tibetan Youth Congress will continue to fight for full independence. Young Tibetans think their god-king is simply not of this world when they hear him say: "In Buddhism, we are constantly concerned with how we handle our negative forces and emotions. I also pray for the Chinese. They, of all people, need our sympathy."

Dharamsala's wild young Tibetans have a sixth sense for understanding provocations by the Chinese -- when Tibet's Communist Party Chairman Zhang says, for example, that the party is the "father and mother of the Tibetan people," and claims to know exactly "what is good for the children -- the Central Committee is the true Buddha of Tibetans." The Dalai Lama, when he hears this sort of rhetoric, says that he has "great understanding for the impatience of the young people," and that he must admit that his "middle way" has registered few victories so far.

Yet the Dalai Lama sees no alternative to his approach, no matter how fiercely Beijing's politicians demonize him. "As neighbors, we must live together," he says, "side-by-side."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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