There’s a real possibility that Tibetan youths will resort to violence to realise their desire for autonomy. According to a Tibetan who fled to Switzerland, Namkho Tschsang, this will certainly happen if the international community continues to ignore the suffering of Tibetans and doesn’t provide them assistance.
“Young people in particular are angry about the current situation”, says 32-year-old Tschsang. He was invited to come to the Netherlands by the International Campaign for Tibet to mark International Human Rights Day today. “They’ve been living under Chinese rule for years, but they don’t see any changes.”
“People are protesting against this, but they’re doing it in such a way that the government cannot suppress the demonstrations. Tibetans don’t attack Chinese buildings, for instance. They don’t use violence against others. But this hasn’t led to any results. That’s why they can’t promise that they won’t eventually have to resort to violence.”
Even though Tschsang has been living and working (as a cleaner) in Switzerland for the past decade, he closely follows developments in his country. He had to flee Tibet in 2003 after he and some of his friends paid a visit to the exiled Dalai Lama in India. When they returned, the Chinese authorities arrested one of his friends. Shortly afterwards, Tschsang fled to Switzerland using a false passport.
He keeps in touch with his family by phone, but he wasn’t able to return to Tibet for seven years. In 2010 and 2011, he managed to sneak in and visit his family in Ngaba, a small village in eastern Tibet. He was amazed at the changes. “There were soldiers everywhere. It felt very frightening.”
The fear and sadness which he saw in the eyes of his countrymen moved Tschsang. The self-immolation of a monk, Phuntsog, on March 16, 2011 and the his cremation two days later made Tschsang decide to do more for his compatriots.
“The self-immolation coincided with the third anniversary of the Chinese government’s violent suppression of the Tibetan uprising. Tibetans wanted to mark the event with a peaceful protest. I wanted to take part, but I had a camera with me. I realised that it would be better to take pictures and film the protests so the rest of the world could see them.”
Tschsang recorded the occupation and intimidation by the Chinese security forces in his village. Two days later, he also filmed Phunsog’s cremation. “Hundreds of people were present to pay their last respects. The event caused a lot of commotion. It showed just how far Tibetans were prepared to go to attain their goal.”
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The first monk had set fire to himself two years earlier, but Phunsog’s self-immolation had a domino effect. Since then 94 Tibetans, both monks and ordinary citizens, have set themselves on fire. Last Saturday, the figure rose to 96.
The Dalai Lama long remained silent about the self-immolations. But on July 9, in an interview with the Indian newspaper The Hindu, he spoke for the first time about this very delicate political issue. “Those who have set themselves on fire have sacrificed their lives”, said the religious leader. “So I don’t want to create the impression that this is wrong.”
In the interview, the Dalai Lama also addressed the young generation of Tibetans. He said that the Middle-Way Approach – whereby Tibet would have genuine autonomy within the Chinese constitution – was the “only realistic way” to peacefully resolve the Tibetan problem.
Tschsang agrees with his religious leader. “Of course, I would prefer independence, but that would be very difficult. So I’m in favour of the Middle-Way Approach because it would allow us to preserve our language, religion and culture while remaining part of China, a bit like Hong Kong and Macau.”
“But 95 percent of the people who have set themselves on fire want a fully independent Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. They see no other way of achieving that goal than self-immolation. They consciously chose not to injure anyone.”
In May 2012, Chinese state-run television accused Tschsang of inciting separatism in Ngaba. It said he had shot the footage on orders from the Dalai Lama. “I wasn’t surprised by the accusations”, says Tschsang. “China criticises everyone who tries to do something for the Tibetan cause. I can’t go back to my country, but I will continue to do what I can. I want the world to see what is happening in Tibet. That’s my way of contributing to the debate.”