By Woeser, translated by High Peaks Pure Earth
Losar is almost upon us and, as we all know, Tibetans have very different feelings towards this year’s Losar. The concerned authorities took notice of this very early on. Party Secretary Zhang Qingli has repeatedly given the orders, saying “playing the first move of the chess well, and wage a war on one’s initiative well”. Various state media have attributed this “Not celebrating Losar” to the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Tibetan Youth Congress. In reality, “Not celebrating Losar” was first proposed by Tibetans in Tibet and originated out of spontaneous wishes. Nobody organized Tibetans “Not celebrating Losar”; nobody called on Tibetans “not to celebrate Losar”, no, no. However, the impact is tremendous, everyone is aware of this great ‘civil disobedience’ all over Tibet.
Some say that this kind of “civil disobedience” is only at a low-level, that it is merely not celebrating and nothing more. They maintain that it is a safe action which ends on the individual level, is short-term and does not entail much great risk. In fact, this is not true. Over the past year, the military might all over Tibet has been so great that all Tibetan areas have become prison-like. In today when you could even be arrested for listening to music, “not to celebrate Losar” has been regarded as a serious “separatist” activity, so much so that some Tibetans have been accused of spreading “not to celebrate Losar” rumours and been arrested. In fact, ‘civil disobedience’ in Tibetan areas is even more difficult to carry out than in other places, therefore any kind of result obtained is worth paying attention to.
The way this government treats Tibetans is inhuman. Any kind of Tibetan demands have been trampled on contemptuously. All Tibetan hopes have been shattered contemptuously. The Dalai Lama has not been able to return to his own homeland for fifty years. The Panchen Lama has been missing from the world for thirteen years. It has been ten years since the Karmapa left his home…there is also the wrongly imprisoned Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, how many elderly people in Kham called out his name as they breathed their last words, and they all died with the injustice unaddressed. Those locals haven’t been celebrating any festivals or holidays for the last few years…Many predictions have become an alarming reality, the thirteenth Dalai Lama once said: “Tibetan people will be stripped of their rights and property, and we will become the slaves of the invaders…” One of my monk friend’s 70 year old mother took to the streets last year to protest. Later, a working group went from door to door to investigate why they had participated in protest, were they not demanding “Tibetan Independence”? The old woman said: “Independence or no independence, I don’t know, neither do I understand it, but I know very well that we don’t have freedom, we don’t have rights, I took to the streets, and what I want is freedom and rights.”
And Tibetans have never stopped voicing their demands and protesting: major episodes of dissent occurred in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999… and right up until last year when the scale of demonstrations shocked the world. Of course, the inhumanness of the authorities once again became reality: its response is still heavily armed military police, armoured vehicles and jails. It has always been nothing but “strike hard” campaigns. People who live under such state violence usually fear the violence, and they have to be silent because of their fear. It is a long-term silence and a silence in which people are leading a befuddled life. It is also a silence in which “people are deeply grateful”; and it is a silence in which they can only prostrate, hang up prayer flags and distribute lungtas (wind-horses)… This is not something one can not understand. But this time it is different.
A Tibetan went back to Lhasa from the west and after spending a short time very cautiously, he returned to the free world. He sent me a letter and said that when he went back before, he was always disappointed with what he found. He said people only talked about money or having fun. But this time when he went back he felt there was hope because it was totally different. I also have a Tibetan friend who went back to Amdo from a Chinese area. This friend visited cities and towns and villages and he was encouraged by everyone he met: everyone from government officials to herdsmen from his hometown. So he told me: “I have been surprised again. Last year Tibetans surprised everyone, and this year it’s the same. This is so great, we are of one mind. It gives people hope.”
What’s striking here is that these two friends independently expressed to me their hope. And this struck me as unusual. It reminded of a Czech intellectual who once commented on the relationship between the citizens and the unjust authorities: The more one acts like a slave and a servant, and is full of fear, the less seriously the authorities will take you. Only if you have them understand that injustice and despotism can not proceed without obstruction, will you have some hope that they will restrain themselves to some extent. People must forever keep their dignity, not to be scared of threat, not to servilely beg others, and only to tell the truth. In doing so, people can create a kind of pressure because all these are acutely set against the actions of the authorities.”
19th February, 2009, Beijing