Today in the United States we observe a peaceful transition of power, as Republicans take over the House of Representatives. Among many Americans, this change produces either elation or groans, depending on your partisan leanings. But the mere fact that we can have a change in government through free and fair elections, and a transfer of power from one party to another without interference from the security apparatus, should be celebrated even among those doing the groaning.
It’s a cliché to say that Americans take for granted the democratic freedoms denied to so many around the world. The six million Tibetans inside Tibet have never enjoyed the right to elect their leaders or change their government. Furthering the injustice, they have been denied these rights for 60 plus years by a regime that invaded then imposed its anti-democratic system of governance.
John Boehner, who becomes Speaker of the House today, acknowledged the Tibetans’ lack of rights in remarks during the Gold Medal ceremony of the Dalai Lama in 2007: “[Tibet] has a capital, it has a flag, it has some six million people who live there. Most of them are simple farmers and shepherds. But the people of Tibet have become well acquainted with brutality and cruelty.” (Full remarks excerpted below.)
As discussed in my previous posting, we do not expect this change in power to have any major impact on Tibet policy, as the Tibet issue has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support. In fact, it will likely result in increased oversight of the Obama Administration’s policies on China and human rights. One area to watch out for, however, is whether Republican pledges to cut spending have any impact on the $14 million in annual Tibet support programs.
By contrast to Tibetans in Tibet, Tibetans living in exile have been able to establish a vibrant democratic system within their exile government. The 50th anniversary of this democracy was celebrated last September, and is being put into vigorous action right now in the run-up to the March 20, 2011 election, when Tibetans will enable their own peaceful transition of power. Tibetan exiles will elect the next Kalon Tripa (prime minister) and parliament, with much at stake for the future of the Tibet struggle. A debate between the three Kalon Tripa candidates was recently held in New York and one will be held in Washington, DC, on March 1.
Remarks by then-House Minority Leader John Boehner at the ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, October 17, 2007
“Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, Madam Speaker, my colleagues and all of our special guests here today, thank you for coming as we celebrate His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. The United States Congress has voted to present our highest honor to a great leader, a great leader who has struggled his whole life for religious freedom and the liberty of his people.
“We gather under this very symbol of democracy. This rotunda completed during our nation’s Civil War has come to embody the words of our founding fathers. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Those words are as true today as they were 231 years ago. They are a beacon for any people anywhere yearning to break the chains of tyranny and live and worship in peace.
“Now Tibet is the roof of the world. It’s the home to Mount Everest and most of the highest peaks in our world. It has a capital, it has a flag, it has some six million people who live there. Most of them are simple farmers and shepherds. But the people of Tibet have become well acquainted with brutality and cruelty. Some have faced imprisonment for their religious beliefs. The Dalai Lama, who we honor today, has taken on the burden of his people. And he’s become a symbol of dignity, of tolerance and of religious freedom.
“Tonight when this work is done, this ceremony is over, all of you will go home. Members of Congress will finish their work tomorrow, and they will go home. We’ll go to our districts and we’ll see our families. But the Dalai Lama will not go home. He has not been home in 50 years. So today, we honor his sacrifice and his struggle and with a firm commitment that we will never forget the people of Tibet.”