Enjoy a large variety of incisive and original opinions and analysis on Tibet’s political affairs, society, culture and arts.

book & film reviews

Original reviews of books, magazines, films and music relevant to Tibet’s struggle for independence.

cinema ’59

Discuss and organize screenings of films of freedom struggle and national liberation, and propose specific titles that inspire you.

news & events

Find out about past and forthcoming events, demonstrations, actions and conferences around the world.

videos & photos

Check the latest videos from a number of sharing websites and photos collections on Tibet’s struggle for independence.

Protest must be led by the Tibetan Government in Exile
Interview with Lhasang Tsering

Tuesday, Dec 6, 2011

Photo: © Elise Stukenberg

Interview with Gen Lhasang Tsering, former president of Tibetan Youth Congress, and Rangzen activist on self-immolations of Tibetans in Tibet.
(Translated from Tibetan by Sonam Gyatso)

Tibet Times: What do you think are the main hopes and aspirations of the brave Tibetans who set themselves on fire inside Tibet?

Lhasang Tsering: Human beings, when faced with desperate situations, either kill others or kill themselves. Those Tibetans who set themselves to fire raised slogans calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet; some raised slogans about freedom in Tibet and there were also some who raised slogans for Tibet’s independence. In all, it is clear that Tibetans inside Tibet are not happy. These desperate actions makes it clear Tibetans are suffering under the brutal Chinese occupation and their intense desire for freedom is also clear. We, the Tibetans living in exile, must respect their aspirations. Particularly, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile must recognize this. Our government must respect the brave Tibetans who sacrificed their precious lives for the cause of Tibet.

Tibet Times: What would be the short-term and the ultimate impact on the Tibetan cause of these self-immolations? What is your personal view?

Lhasang Tsering: It is a huge loss for the family members and relatives of the brave Tibetan monks and nuns who set themselves on fire. They are no longer alive. However; it depends on us whether their actions will have a positive or negative result for Tibet and the Tibetan people. For example, if you hit others with just a single finger, rather than hurting others, you would be hurting yourself. However; if you hit with a firm, clenched fist with all five fingers joined in unison; it will hurt your opponent. I heard that some members’ in our community are debating whether these self-immolations are acts of violence. I feel really depressed and sad to hear such debates. People who circumambulate Tsuklagkhang and other holy sites kill insects by trampling on them. Can you refer to this as an act of violence? Their motive is spiritual accomplishment. It cannot be violence to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of protecting one’s country and one’s nation and to preserve our religion and culture. The real act of violence is being inflicted by the Chinese who oppress our people and create these desperate situations. Shirking from the responsibility to serve the Tibetan cause and failing to stand up to oppression and injustice is an act of violence and deceit.

Tibet Times: How do you define the present status of the Tibetan struggle for independence?

Lhasang Tsering: Considering the courage and dedication of Tibetans inside Tibet, the status of our struggle for independence is highly commendable and hopeful. However, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile has rendered our struggle directionless. Whether it is an individual or of a community; or even a nation; one must fulfill three conditions for a movement to succeed. Firstly; the aim of the struggle should be clear. Secondly; one must have the necessary confidence to achieve that goal. Thirdly; one must actively work to achieve that goal. Apart from merely stating that it is for the mutual benefit of Tibetans and Chinese, our present Middle Way Policy does not have clear aims and objectives. We do not have confidence because we fear that China is mighty and powerful. Apart from issuing statements or making speeches about our cause; in reality; in exile we do not have enough people who sincerely care about the Tibetan cause and no one actually leading an active struggle.

Tibet Times: Are you satisfied with official campaigns initiated by Kashag and the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile to highlight the critical situation inside Tibet?

Lhasang Tsering: As I said earlier; besides merely refusing to listen to the voice of the general Tibetan people; the Kashag is doing nothing to resolve the issue of Tibet. Therefore; it is not a question of whether it satisfies me or not. I am left in dejection and hopelessness. The government is an organization to lead people. What the Tibetan Government needs to do is to lead the struggle for freedom. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile, based in Dharamshala, has forgotten our freedom struggle and yet it seems that it perceives itself as running a real government. This is not right. The roof above our heads and the soil under our feet do not belong to us. They all belong to others. Even the general public knows that a ‘mutually beneficial’ solution for resolving the Tibet-China issue is not practical and achievable. Even if it may be achievable, we must know that we don’t have time to wait for long. Thousands of Chinese are migrating into Tibet even at this very moment when I am being interviewed here. Yes; Time is running out on us.

Tibet Times: What responsibilities and what kind of movements we Tibetans in exile must initiate considering the critical situation inside Tibet? Could you please share your thoughts?

Lhasang Tsering: In exile, non-governmental organizations and ordinary Tibetans are making every possible effort towards our freedom struggle. However, these will not bring real, meaningful result, as they cannot influence the international community. We need a clear plan and a leader who can lead us and unite us all. Without such leadership, it would be like laying thousands of bricks in the wilderness. Such bricks scattered on the desert surface will not result in a house. There are many people who appreciate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s decision to devolve his political power to an elected leader; but I absolutely do not consider it a positive step. For example; if there is a shepherd who, in the name of taking his sheep to a greener pastureland, herds them here and there, and finally leave the sheep in the middle of a vast desert telling them ‘now the authority is in your hands’, is the shepherd fulfilling his duty? Of course; democracy is important, but it is an internal matter of a free country. Is it worthwhile to argue about the shape and size of the house and the colour of the walls before you have the land to build the house? In my view democracy can wait; but not the struggle for freedom.

Tibet Times: All the people who immolated themselves are monks and nuns and we often say that our struggle is for the cause of Tibetan religion and culture, so what in your view are the responsibilities of the Tibetan reincarnated lamas belonging to different religious sects in exile?

Lhasang Tsering: I cannot speak about the views of Tibetans inside Tibet, but Tibetans in exile must have various opinions with regard to this matter. Some people are not able to express their views because of their faith and devotion. Personally, I think that I have put my best possible effort in leading movements and nurturing leaders for the cause of Tibet while I was working with Tibetan Youth Congress. What I want to say is that if [in our community] there are people who think there is a spiritual practice that is more precious and sacred than serving the happiness and wellbeing of one’s country and its people; then I request you not to live in the Tibetan community. Please do not take benefits from our community. I cannot accept a spiritual practitioner who seeks to achieve individual enlightenment and who works only for the personal benefit or for the next life without shouldering responsibility for Tibet and the Tibetan people. We Tibetans do not need such spiritual practitioners at this moment.

Tibet Times: After His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s devolution of political power to an elected leader, do you think we can see some change in our movement and the nature of our struggle?

Lhasang Tsering: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been the Spiritual and Political head of Tibet for centuries. I cannot say for sure there could be a change in a day or two, or within the next few generations to come. On paper, it can be written that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has devolved his political authority to an elected leader. However; in the hearts and minds of Tibetan people it is only His Holiness the Dalai Lama who will remain as the Spiritual and Secular head of Tibet. When my body and mind separates from each other and when my flesh and blood spills out, even at that moment, my consciousness will regard His Holiness the Dalai Lama as my sole leader. [At this moment, Lhasang la took a pause and shed tears]. Once again I request His Holiness the Dalai Lama to reconsider his decision of devolving political authority when our freedom struggle needs him most because our nation is on the brink of death. The Tibetan people can change their clothes but how can we change our hearts?

Tibet Times: Do you see some hope that the Tibetan struggle [for autonomy] will gradually move on to struggle for Rangzen?

Lhasang Tsering: I am not a person who relies on empty hopes. If you ask me do I think should the struggle move on to Rangzen; in reality, I would say definitely I do. I was the one who openly expressed that it would be an impractical [solution] when His Holiness the Dalai Lama proposed the Middle Way Approach on 15 June 1987. At that time, there were Tibetans who even threatened to kill me. My children also faced problems in their school because of my position. I still keep the same political stand. I haven’t made the slightest change to it. I believe in truth and justice. I am not a person who only thinks about personal benefits. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile took a wrong position right from the beginning. There is no benefit in changing the driver if one is travelling on the wrong road. No matter how many times you change drivers, if your vehicle is going on the wrong road there is no change. First and foremost the Tibetan Government in Exile must change its course.

Tibet Times: What is your view on people who believe that we cannot have dialogues with the Chinese Government or receive international support if the Tibetans opt for Rangzen?

Lhasang Tsering: This is absolutely rubbish. They are ignorant about world politics. The policy of a state or nation is driven by its national interest. There is not a single nation in the world that frames their foreign policy by renouncing its own national interest for the sake of other nations. Between 1959 and 1965, the United Nations passed resolutions recognising Tibet’s right to self-determination. This happened when we were advocating Tibet’s independence. However; because of the spread of Communism in USSR and other countries, US and other western allies gave more focus on how to defeat Communism. As a result, Tibetan issue lost limelight then. After renouncing Rangzen as our official policy, we have not had a single nation that came up and extended meaningful support. Presently, as China is becoming more powerful, it naturally affects the interest of many other countries. For their own interests, not out of concern for Tibet, I am sure we will receive support from these countries if we take some clear actions. Isn’t it foolish to complain that one cannot get a sponsor for one’s child without first enrolling the child in school?

Tibet Times: Lhasang la, what is your expectation [from] and appeal to the Tibetans inside Tibet, especially Tibetans who set themselves on fire?

Lhasang Tsering: First of all, I would like to bend my knees to the ground in prostration before those valiant self-immolating sons and daughters of Tibet. At this present critical moment, we must prepare ourselves for a determined action. Even an old man like me has made preparations since long time back. I registered [the ownership of] my small bookshop and bank account in my wife’s name. We Tibetans must share our happiness and suffering together. Whether the loss of these lives benefits our cause or not will depend on the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the officials working in the exile Tibetan community. I request our government to come up with a well-planned strategy and to take concrete step for our struggle for freedom if we really think Tibet’s situation is critical and feel solidarity with those brave Tibetans who have already given up their lives by setting themselves ablaze. It is not of much use for ordinary Tibetans to go and protest in front of the Chinese embassy if our government is not willing to lead us from the front. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile must lead the protests and demonstrations for our freedom!

* * *

N.B. This is a translation of the interview in Tibetan published in the Bod kyi Dus Bab, issue 537/Volume 16/Series-32, 20/11/2011. For discrepancies, please consider the Tibetan version as authoritative and final. The interview is translated by Sonam Gyatso, a researcher at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.

Bookmark and Share


  • avatar Tenpa Gashi says:

    Eloquent as ever and a true force of nature. While i agree with gen. Lhasang la that H.H is the true leader of Tibet, always has been, and will be for the foreseeable future, I must say the devolvement was quite necessary and appropriate for the time. I also must say that having Kundun at the helm will not change anything until and unless the cause is changed back to Rangzen. Otherwise, everything will continue as the same as ever and we will all play our private masquerade till the end of time. But I agree with the rest of the interview. Lhasang la and Jamyang Norbu la never gave up the true cause of Tibet.

  • avatar carlo buldrini says:

    The contraddiction is evident. Lhasang Tsering (with tears in his eyes) wants the Dalai Lama to reconsider his decision and to remain the political leader of Tibet and the same Lhasang Tsering accuses the same Dalai Lama of having adopted on 15 June 1987 the (suicidal) policy of the Middle Way. That policy has failed and the Dalai Lama has “resigned”. Now there is an urgent need of a Tibetan leader (or, better, movement) who can guide all Tibetans towards Rangzen.
    To ask for the “return” of the same Dalai Lama who adopted the failed Middle Way policy, vaguely reminds me the cock, the snake and the pig at the centre of the Tibetan Wheel of Life: the wheel of Tibetan impotence will keep turning.

  • avatar k.Wangden says:

    the headline of Lhasang Tsering’s interview translated from Tibetan (སྐད་འབོད་དང་པོ་དེ་ང་ཚོའི་གཞུང་གི་མདུན་ནས་རྒྱག་དགོས་པ་རེད། )into English by Sonnam Gyatso is “Protest must be led by the Tibetan Government in Exile” might not be correct and needs a review.
    But couldn’t go through entire story and it will helpful if anyone who have time to compare this English version with origin article in Tibetan. u can read the origin story in Tibetan from this site:

  • avatar carlo buldrini says:

    Dear Lhasang Tsering, in your interview there is a sentence somehow disturbing and that I consider particularly wrong (politically). I’m referring to your: “In my view democracy can wait, but not the struggle for freedom”.
    In some aricle I wrote for Italian newspapers I said that the decision of the Dalai Lama to devolve his political power was probably his major contribution to the cause of Tibetan independence. The introduction of democracy in “Tibet” will be not only a cancer in a totalitarian regime, but will also allow the true will of Tibetan people to express itself.
    I’m sure you remember the “Solidarity Committees” of Samdong Rinpoche and the treatning of the Dalai Lama to resign because of the “riots” in Lhasa in 2008. That was not democracy, and the “struggle for freedom” you refer to, was stopped.
    I’m personally supporting the Tibetan cause since the last 40 years and I know that the 99% of Tibetan people wants Rangzen. Only democracy can make it happen.
    (But, then, would be important not only to write academic essays but also to start discussing of plans, strategies, non-violent struggle, coordination… Are we happy just with a critique of the Chinese regime or are we trying to defeat it?).

  • avatar carlo buldrini says:

    Among Tibetans must emerge a leadership that represents particularly the 6 million who live inside Tibet and state clearly that the fundamental goal is the total independence (purna swaraj) of the country. And act accordingly. How? There are two ways: violence (armed struggle) and nonviolence. The first leads to the suicide of the entire movement. On the contrary nonviolence offers an extraordinary revolutionary potential. In the words of Martin Luther King is “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in thei struggle for freedom”.
    The idea of nonviolent struggle is very clear in all Tibetan NGOs who fight for the independence of their country. But – as mentioned – there is not an overall leadership and a strategy. With nonviolent resistance, strikes, boycotts, nonviolent direct actions, satyagraha, political noncooperation you can win a war. Baltic Countries have freed themselves when Soviet Union was still standing. In Tibet, the potential of a nonviolent stuggle aimed for the independence of the country, is enormous. They have shown it, in recent years, the mass demonstrations of the students in defence of the teaching in their mother tongue; the resistance of the monks (see Kirti) who oppose the re-education campaigns in monasteries; the Lhakar movement that, from East Tibet, has reached Lhasa.
    There will be a Tibetan leadership able of unifying this huge potential and direct it towards a national liberation movement? If this will not happen, the present Tibetan leadership must assume many responsabilities. Among these, the fact of not having been able to offer, to those inside Tibet opposing the brutal colonial rule of China, other form of struggle that is not self-immolation.

  • avatar tenzini says:

    This is not surprising that people speak anything that comes to their mind and of course they have every right to speak. But most agonizing part about the whole thing is that they speak in a way if they represent majority of the population, when in actual most of us doesn’t even agree with what they say. And more importantly they don’t take the slightest responsibility of words that they speak, at such moment I often remember a lesson from IVth grade Hindi subject where a poet Kabir Dass has in a very simple way said, “Speaking is invaluable yet everybody know how to speak, but important thing is you weigh your words in heart’s weighing machine and then bring your word out”. One such instance is recent statement made by Mr. Lhasang Tsering in an interview titled “Protest must be led by the Tibetan Government in Exile”, carried by the Tibet times. In this interview Mr. Lhasang Tsering has made many irresponsible statement on many topics from devolution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s political power to Tibetan Exile government stand on undergoing Tibet self immolation. His interview is sufficient evidence to prove that the man has now lost his rational thinking and may be even desperate to capture any meager media attention. Absurdity reached the height when the questions of the interview was preset and whatever Mr. Lhasang Tsering was saying or claiming during that interview, there wasn’t single second question from the interviewer on the statement that was being made. I wouldn’t like to talk about the responsible journalism with my only lay person hat on, but of course as a citizen of an exile Tibetan community would very much like to know from Mr. Lhasang Tsering how present Middle Way Policy does not have clear aims and objective. I am sure he himself is a staunch Rangzen believer but he didn’t said a word about any practicable ways to go forward with Rangzen, rather blamed Tibetan Government-in-Exile for rendering the struggle directionless (No Justification) . He also claims that the Kashag is doing nothing to resolve the issue of Tibet besides merely refusing to listen to the voice of the general Tibetan people. I would really like our interviewer to reanalyze the thoughts that have been expressed and redo the interview, and this time bring some credence with what he says. There are many more words from Mr. Lhasang Tsering that doesn’t behold any credible leverage yet is printed.

    Of course I am not against Rangzen and nobody is against Rangzen but when His Holiness the Dalai Lama proposed the Middle Way Approach on 15 June 1987, he also led us on every possible means to reach that goal, whether we are successful or not is another question, which also applies to Rangzen. But Mr. Lhasang Tsering has surely expressed otherwise back then, and if he cannot bring out any credible means to achieve his goal than his words be best left as emotional outburst. Not just his word but of all those who behold same emotional ties, brothers I respect your emotion but try to see the reality. You say what you think is relevant and true but your thoughts don’t reflect the beliefs of hundred and fifty thousand Tibetan living in exile or those in Tibet. Besides your much claim over stagnancy on one belief for the last fifty years, you haven’t achieve any significant changes in Tibet struggle, rather people like Lhasang Tsering had been playing blame game, and over the due course by which, they are even successful in drawing meager publicity. If you track all their speeches and statement made so far, especially during the pinnacle of Tibet struggle, they had always been little successful in drawing attention on themselves rather then synergizing into the mainstream struggle. And the biggest irony is that people tend to speak more about Lhasang Tsering and people like him than actual cause. Of course they are all men of word and if by any chance in this world people appreciate word more than action, they had be my heroes.

Leave a comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.