Deity Goes into Retirement: Tibetans Face Uncertainty in Post-Dalai Lama Era

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Violence against others, as well as violence against one's own body, is forbidden in Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama condemned the acts of protest. Sangay agrees with him, but he also expresses "great understanding for the courage of my fellow Tibetans, who are understandably outraged and distraught," and says that he respects their actions. He is performing a careful balancing act, as he tries to reconcile the highly contradictory positions in his community.

"I also welcome the intervention of the United Nations in Ivory Coast and Libya," says the new premier, "and I call upon the world to intervene in our cause, as well."

Is Sangay seriously calling for an armed international campaign on behalf of Tibet, within the internationally recognized borders of the People's Republic of China?

"No, no, not military," he adds. He is careful not to portray himself as an unrealistic dreamer. "But Tibet should become the subject of serious negotiations at a level that would involve presidents and prime ministers," he says. "The whole world is morally and politically obligated to get involved." He believes that the revolutions in the Arab world could become a model in China. "Wherever there is repression, there is always resistance. But I do not advise my fellow Tibetans who are oppressed in the People's Republic to use violence."

Sangay believes that the Chinese cannot resist the tide of history forever, a tide that is increasingly being shaped by the free will of the people. "I am democratically legitimized, but the leadership in Lhasa is not. The authorities in Beijing will have to talk to us sooner or later," he says self-confidently. He expects especially strong support from Germany and points out that Chancellor Angela Merkel is a committed champion of freedom. "She knows what it means to live under communist tyrants."

Naturally the premier-in-exile, who was sworn in at the parliament-in-exile two weeks ago, pays close attention to the political maneuvering of the communists.

The Communist Party, which has always equated Tibetan Buddhism with "feudalistic practices," has long attempted to exploit religion in a bid to silence Dharamsala. Tibet's god-kings have traditionally participated in the search for their spiritual deputies. In 1995, the Dalai Lama designated (or recognized, depending on one's worldview), a young boy as the reincarnation of the deceased Panchen Lama, and hence the new second-highest ranking member of the religious hierarchy. Through middlemen, the abbot of the Shigatse monastery in communist-controlled Tibet had secretly sent photos of various candidates to Dharamsala.

China's political leaders were outraged. Their agents abducted the boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was six at the time, and brought him to Beijing. Since then, the authorities have refused to provide any details about the boy, even though foreign delegations have repeatedly requested information about his whereabouts and wellbeing. Human rights groups have called him the "youngest political prisoner in the world." When asked about his fate, officials in Beijing say tersely that he is doing well, that his parents are anxious to give him a "normal life," and that it was necessary to protect him from the "Dalai Lama clique."

"We don't even know if he is still alive," says Sangay. "He would be 22 now."

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