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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

INTERVIEW: Activists express hopes for an independent Tibet

December 11, 2008

CAMPAIGN: Tenzin Dorjee said that while many in Tibet wanted to resist the Chinese, their government told them that being ‘nice’ was the right thing to do
 
 
By Loa Iok-sin
STAFF REPORTER
Taipei Times
Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008
 
Although they have never set foot on Tibetan soil, Canadian-born Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) executive director Lhadon Tethong and Indian-born deputy executive director Tenzin Dorjee shared their dream of an independent Tibet and views on some current issues in Taiwan during an interview with the Taipei Times yesterday.
 
“I consider myself a Tibetan and a Canadian both at the same time,” Lhadon said, while sitting in a meeting room at Fujen Catholic University (FJU) before delivering a speech with Tenzin about Tibetan history and the Tibetan struggle to gain independence from China to a group of FJU students yesterday afternoon.
 
In fact, the FJU was the sixth university that Lhadon and Tzenzin have spoken at since their arrival in Taiwan last Wednesday, and there are two to three more universities to come in their schedule.
 
Lhadon’s father was a Tibetan refugee in India, while her mother was a Canadian who worked at Tibetan refugee camps in India for 12 years.
 
Although Lhadon was born and raised in Canada and barely speaks Tibetan, she can understand it and still has a strong sense of Tibetan identity.
 
“My feelings for Tibet are very strong — although we’re far apart,” Lhadon said. “My inspiration came from [the story of] our parents and story of our people, and for a large part, from the Dalai Lama.”
 
AMONG TIBETANS
 
Lhadon said that she grew up among Tibetans in Canada, listening to stories of elders in the community who had lived under Chinese rule.
 
“Since I was little, I have been going to March 10 rallies, shouting ‘free Tibet,’ and when I wrote essays and papers at school, I wrote about the Tibet issue — so [supporting the Tibetan cause] became naturally just part of us,” she said.
 
Later in life, Lhadon grabbed every possible opportunity to attend speeches by the Dalai Lama whenever he visited North America.
 
“His messages are about love and peace, but they are so strong,” she said.
 
She became an activist after leaving home for college in the small city of Halifax, Nova Scotia in eastern Canada, where the majority of the people were Caucasians who didn’t know much about the Tibet issue.
 
“The people there [in Halifax] knew little to nothing about Tibet, so I felt it was my duty to start a chapter [of the SFT] there,” Lhadon said.
 
Hence, with a few classmates, Lhadon began to organize candlelit vigils or film festivals about Tibet.
 
“It’s quite challenging to put yourself out there for something as important as the Tibet issue in a foreign community,” she said. “But I told myself: ‘you have to do this’ — and gladly, people were friendly and open-minded about the issue.”
 
SIMILAR SITUATION
 
Tenzin, who was born and raised in Dharamsala, India — the seat of the Tibetan government in-exile — before moving to the US at the age of 18 to attend college, experienced a similar situation.
 
“It was difficult at first,” Tenzin said. “First, in India, everybody thinks the same way, but it’s not the case in the US. I was not able to fully express myself in English, and I was brought up in a more conservative culture in which people are less encouraged to speak out.”
 
But once Tenzin took the initial step, he found it surprisingly rewarding.
 
“Although it’s more challenging to campaign for the Tibetan cause in the US, it’s actually more inspiring — it’s good to see people from different countries getting together for the same cause,” he said.
 
“I would say I’m being a little selfish when I’m in it, because I’m a Tibetan, but when I saw people who are not Tibetans also in the movement, I know they’re showing the bright side of human beings,” Tenzin added.
 
MA COMMENT
 
When asked to comment on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) recent remark that the timing is not appropriate for the Dalai Lama to visit Taiwan at the moment, Tenzin said he felt sad.
 
“I don’t feel sad for the Dalai Lama, but I feel sad for my friends in Taiwan — it deprives them of the freedom of religion, and their right to learn from the Dalai Lama,” he said. “I’m a Buddhist, and I know how it feels.”
 
Tenzin then added that the incident shows that “the dictatorship in China not only undermines the freedom for Tibetans in Tibet, but also freedom in other countries.”
 
He also warned the Taiwanese to be cautious when developing a relationship with China.
 
He said that while many Tibetans insisted on resisting Chinese invasion in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Tibetan government at the time tried to convince the people that “if we’re nice to the Chinese, they would be nice to us as well” and some even suggested that working with the Chinese could improve the economy in Tibet.
 
“For a little gain, we’ve lost the entire economy; to appease the powerful neighbor, we’ve plunged into the greatest tragedy,” Tenzin said.
 
“We learned a bitter and harsh lesson. We don’t want our tragedy to happen to anyone else. We don’t want that to happen to the Taiwanese people,” he said. “Absolutely do not trust [the Chinese].”
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