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<-Back to WTN Archives East meets West in Swiss Tibet (SI)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

6. East meets West in Swiss Tibet (SI)

Swiss Info
10 March 2004
By Marzio Pescia in Rikon

Protests have been taking place across Switzerland to mark the 45th
anniversary of an anti-Chinese uprising in Tibet. Demonstrators gathered in
the capital, Bern, while other protests were held in about 20 cities and

Campaigners are calling for the Chinese government to start a serious
dialogue with the 14th Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India following
the uprising.

Since March 10, 1959, many other Tibetans have followed their spiritual
leader by fleeing to India, the United States, or Switzerland.

Personal encounter

To coincide with the anniversary, swissinfo's Marzio Pescia travelled to
Rikon in eastern Switzerland, which is home to a sizeable Tibetan community.
My first contact with the Tibetan exile community in Switzerland came about
quite by chance. I was in the town centre of Winterthur, about 30 kilometres
east of Zurich. At midday, I went to a restaurant whose name and appearance
were very traditional, or so it seemed.

I sat down, looking forward to a Zurich-style veal stew, or sausage with
onion sauce. But then came the surprise: as well as the classic dishes of
German-speaking Switzerland, the menu offered Tibetan specialities. To get
into the spirit of the place, I ordered "momos"- steamed pasta pouches
stuffed with meat or vegetables - and chatted with the owner's wife. She was
middle-aged, and from Tibet. "I've been in Switzerland since I was five,"
she told me. "If you're looking for Tibetans, you should go to Rikon." Since
1968, Rikon has housed the only genuine Tibetan monastery on Swiss soil.


Today, the 3,000 members of the Tibetan community in Switzerland make it the
largest in Europe, and the third largest in the world, after those in India
and the US. "Most of us came here more than 40 years ago," said Jampa
Tsering, who chairs the Swiss Tibetan community. "In the early 1960s, the
Red Cross helped many displaced Tibetans to get out of the reception camps
in India, and obtain refugee status in Switzerland." "I arrived in 1998,
also from India, where my parents had fled during the disturbances in 1959,"
Jampa continued. "I got married in Switzerland and now I work in a factory."

Jampa is one of about 300 Tibetans who have peacefully "invaded" the small
Zurich district of Rikon (1,500 residents).

"Of course, there are a lot of them. But there haven't been any particular
problems with integration," noted local official Andreas Meyer. "They're
courteous and keep themselves to themselves." Nevertheless, the village
bears the marks of their presence. Tibetan flags flutter in the gardens of
many homes, not to mention the playground of the local school.

"Many [Tibetans] have acquired Swiss citizenship," said Jampa. But links
with Tibetan culture and traditions are still strong, especially among the
elderly. "Our community sponsors seven Tibetan schools around Switzerland,
publishes a magazine and organises traditional celebrations," he added. The
aim is to preserve a language and culture that in Tibet, according to Jampa,
are being watered down or disappearing owing to the stifling embrace of the

Eight monks of Rikon

Next, I headed for the monastery. It is only a short distance away, on the
hill overlooking the village. "It's a very important place for us. I often
go there to pray," Jampa told me. The monastery was founded almost 40 years
ago, with support from the Dalai Lama himself, to provide support for the
growing Tibetan community in Switzerland.

At first glance, the building has little of the East about it. It is a white
concrete block standing on a steep slope graced by a multitude of prayer
flags. A stupa, or Buddhist temple, nestles in the woods.Inside the block
live eight Buddhist monks who teach meditation and Tibetan language, in
addition to carrying out their religious duties. "I've lived here since
1969," Tokhang Khedup told me, showing me the altar where he prays each
morning. "We have anything from ten to 30 visitors a week. Most are
Tibetans, but there are also Swiss who are interested in our history,
religion or culture," added the elderly monk, now a Swiss citizen himself.
Proudly, Jampa told me about the ten visits to the temple made by the Dalai
Lama. "The last time was in 1998," he said. "But we monks, and the entire
Tibetan community in Switzerland, hope that he will come back soon."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Forty-Fifth Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day
  2. Tibetans in Nepal defy ban on rallies to mark uprising anniversary (AFP)
  3. Dharamsala: the tourist town the Tibetan exodus built (AFP)
  4. Website offers 22,000-dollar reward for information on Panchen Lama (AFP)
  5. Tibetan martyrs remembered in memorial service
  6. East meets West in Swiss Tibet (SI)
  7. Xinhua 10 March 2004 Qinghai-Tibet railway to shore up tourists to world's roof (Xinhua)
  8. A struggle for spiritual freedom in China (WP)
  9. Himalayan high Tibetan Buddhist monks mix practice & politics at Bard

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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