New Year’s dawn in the company of His Holiness

Sometimes one needs to go far to hear that the EU has accomplished a great deal. This happened to me on Sunday morning, 14 February, when His Holiness, Tibet’s spiritual leader, received me in Dharamsala, northern India, shortly before his departure to the United States.[:]

In this small town at the foot of the Himalayas is located the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. Tibetan refugees have merged into a life with the Indians, under the aegis of the Government of India, ever since the 14th Dalai Lama fled the Chinese invasion in 1959.

The Dalai Lama began our private meeting by praising the European countries which have beyond their national interests joined together for the common good. He sees a need for this federalist model also in Africa, Latin America and in other continents. However, the Dalai Lama expressed regret that the nations were not able to join forces for their common interest at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen.

From there, our discussion continued naturally to the issue of Tibet. The proposal of Tibet’s government in exile to China is a “genuine autonomy” in line with the Chinese constitution and thus without violating the territorial integrity of the large empire. In this regard the Tibetan representatives view as an ideal model for such arrangement North Tirol in Italy and the Åland Islands in Finland. Despite these clear concepts and notions in the proposals, Beijing has tended to view them only as an undercover of separatist efforts.

The 9th round of talks between Beijing and Dharamsala, which has just finished, brought no easement to the current status quo. The endlessly optimistic Tibetans nevertheless feel that China’s new ideas concerning the development of the wider Tibetan areas go much along the lines of their proposals.

Contrary to China’s claims to its partners, the Dalai Lama has completely rejected the traditions of theocracy and feudalism. With times changing, His Holiness has encouraged the Tibetan refugees living in diaspora to adapt to modern democratic structures, even if strong support for his leadership is unchanged. When we met on that sunny Sunday morning, immediately after the Tibetan New Year’s ceremony, His Holiness introduced me to their prime minister, stating that the prime minister is his boss in all secular matters, and he the spiritual chief of the prime minister.

In this manner the elected parliament and government in exile have begun to increasingly assume responsibilities on policies and governance while the Dalai Lama has increasingly withdrawn to the background of the secular matters. His Holiness has even suggested that the Tibetan diaspora could by democratic means assess whether the Dalai Lama institution is at all useful to preserve after his death.

The Dalai Lama is a beloved character all over the world. His simple messages of non-violence and compassion also touch people in the Western countries. Aso a spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama advocates a new kind of secular ethics in a situation where religions do not appeal to people in the way they did before.

For 20 years I have admired and supported the efforts of the oppressed people of Tibet to preserve their own distinctive culture and language under the control of a superpower. In my current post I can now do much more to help. I feel ever more obliged to respond in Brussels and in Helsinki to the expectations of the Dalai Lama towards the European Union.

On 10 March, two years have passed since the uprising in Tibet which China bloodily suppressed. The European Parliament must repeat its call for an independent international UN investigation into these events. According to the sources of the Tibetan exile administration more than 200 people were killed, 6000 arrested or imprisoned and 250 were sentenced to severe penalties. Last autumn two Tibetans were executed. I also heard testimonies of terrible brutality and torture in prisons, especially targeting the Buddhist monks and nuns.

There are lots of human rights violations in the world. The Tibetan question remains to me as one of the most pressing of them all. When I will meet next Monday in Brussels the human rights representative of EU’s new foreign policy chief, I know what I am going to say to her as a first thing. EU must finally unify the disparate views and talk to China seriously. The EU should stop pretending “the human rights dialogue” with China because its results are essentially non-existent and it only justifies the continuation of oppression. The Tibet issue requires special attention in this regard.

I have been convinced by many knowledgeable persons that a real international pressure does effect this emboldened economic superpower. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama hopefully comes to Finland for the fourth time, the Finnish state leaders must end their cowardly indifference and finally officially receive him at last.

Heidi Hautala

Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights

Kuva: Brysselissä Dalai Laman lähettilään ja MEP Lichtenbergerin kanssa