Today is the Dalai Lama’s 82nd birthday. I will be attending an event organised by the Office of Tibet here in London. The last few I’ve attended have been great. There have been some fantastic singers and speakers and it’s always a pleasure to meet Tibetans, colleagues and fellow supporters in a context that doesn’t involve standing outside the Chinese embassy in the rain or cold.
Four years ago, however, I wasn’t able to attend the birthday event as I’d committed to visiting my husband’s family in Sweden. I was actually on quite a remote island in the Swedish archipelago when the phone call came: “A monk has been shot in the head! What should we do?”
Fortunately, the house had an internet connection and I was able to get to work. Police had opened fire on a crowd of several hundred Tibetans who had gathered to offer prayers for the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday at the sacred Machen Pomra mountain in Tawu County, eastern Tibet.
Celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday is banned in occupied Tibet. Yet, every year Tibetans risk arrest and worse, as those in Tawu know, by celebrating the occasion anyway. Sometimes we receive photos showing people gathering together, eating food, making offerings. Visually, it’s very different from some of the more traditional forms of protest and yet the statement is every bit as strong. Tibetans celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday in Tibet are taking a huge personal risk to do something which is important to them and which is a creative act of resistance against China’s occupation and attempts to subjugate Tibetan culture.
So, while I’m looking forward to tonight’s event, what I’m really looking forward to is the day when Tibetans inside Tibet can also celebrate with the same freedom that we enjoy here.
Looking back over the last month, the change in pace is almost tangible. The beginning of the month was very quiet in terms of news from Tibet. Then suddenly we had a flurry of news within the last week or so – including some news from Lhasa, which is extremely rare. Unfortunately, it was news of a fatal solo protest but it was still incredible that Tibetans in Lhasa managed to get the information out past all the surveillance they are subjected to.
June has also been a month of preparation for us. During July and August we’ll be going to four festivals: Buddhafield, Womad, the Green Gathering and Greenbelt. We’re also hosting our annual Summer Shindig in London on Friday 18 August and launching a new campaign.
That would keep us busy under normal circumstances but, since this year is Free Tibet’s 30th anniversary, our plans involve more than just turning up at festivals with our tent. We are designing a small exhibition about Tibet which we will take round the festivals and also show at our own events. We actually turned it into a competition and invited art and design students to get involved and submit their ideas. The winning proposal came from Lewis Shannon and Helena Jordan, two architecture graduates from Central Saint Martins in London. Over the last few weeks we’ve been working with them to refine the idea and are really looking forward to seeing it come to life in a few weeks.
In the meantime, we are still working on the Larung Gar and Beyond Belief campaigns and we’ll be encouraging people to get involved in both of these over the summer. If you haven’t yet signed our Beyond Belief petition then please do. The idea of the Chinese government controlling the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama is just unthinkable. And if you haven’t yet seen our Larung Gar video then please take a look and feel free to share it online.
We’ve had quite a few requests for translations of this video and we’re gradually adding these to our YouTube channel (We currently have it translated into French, Spanish and Portuguese). If you’d be interested in seeing the video in another language and can help with the translation then please get in touch. We’d love to see it shared in as many languages as possible.
Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.