Boycotting the Olympics just way to independence? A Tibetan account.

Tenzin Yewong (Tibet, AC 07-09)


A page from my journal.


April 7th, 2008 



This morning in the Guardian and on the BBC website, I again found the issue of Tibet being reported on the front page. When I had first seen those articles in the worldwide media, I used to feel happy knowing that people were at least noticing our struggle; even though it was at the expense of violence and riots in my own land. I felt that somewhere there was still hope. Maybe, our voice was going to be heard. Maybe, the radical youths were going to bring some fruition, now, that the government had already given up on independence. But today, when I looked at the pictures of my fellow country mates and our supporters protesting over the torch relay, I was torn apart in my feelings.  After all, I felt ashamed at the protest against innocent people and asked myself why we were boycotting and protesting against the people who were trying to enjoy the spirit of humanity? It’s not the athletes or the people of China that we are against; they deserve to host the Olympics. It’s the communist party we are against.


But just as I started thinking that way, I felt guilty. How can I let go of this opportunity, when at last we could tell the people about the oppression that has been relatively happening in silence for more than four decades? How can I betray the hopes of other Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet? If the athletes and the common people are innocent, then so are Tibetans. What have we done wrong? I should use this chance to campaign for justice and for our rights. But then, is this the right target? Is boycotting the Olympics a just way to find our solution? If not, then what is the right way that can be effective as direct action? If not this time, then when? The youth inside me says with the peace of the Dalai Lama, we are not going any far. Some radical actions are needed. But then I think about the irony of what we are doing. In order to resolve the injustice and violence in Tibet, we are subjecting to violence and committing injustice on other innocent people.


For far too long, I used to feel whether it is Free Tibet or The middle way, who cares? China is becoming a superpower economically. Consequently lots of nations are going to be interdependent on it for financial reasons. Who would give up their economy for Tibetan Independence or Autonomy? And then, the Olympic came and with it, the unprecedented uprisings in Tibet. Now there is awareness and there is attention, but then, why am I still feeling wrong? Maybe, I realized The Dalai Lama was right. Violence is never an answer to peace and justice. He used to tell us, “Ours is a unique struggle. We are peaceful. ” I associate with it as a part of my Tibetan identity. But now, there is a new face of Tibet, a face of violence. When protesting, our intention has never been to be ill willed towards Chinese but our action makes it susceptible to ill considerations. Quoting the Dalai Lama, perhaps Autonomy is our only way to fight for our right in a righteous way. But in a China that has wounded us so much, Can I forgive and trust them? They say, forgiveness is the greatest form of love. But when the forty years of peaceful dialogue has failed, shall I take a risk of compromising or shall I take the risk of fighting for independence?


– United World College Student Magazine –


One thought on “Boycotting the Olympics just way to independence? A Tibetan account.

  1. Whether or not it is worth the risk of fighting for independence is indeed a difficult question. It is a question unfortunately many people from around the world have had to ask themselves. Taking up arms to fight for independence or any other political freedom does give that fight a sort of romanticism about it, exemplifying the passion their people feel for the cause to the point where they’re willing to die for it. Look at Cuba, for example, where Ernesto Che Guevara fought for what he believed for and he is still today an icon all around the world symbolising a passionate struggle against oppressors. Seeing pictures of him on T-shirts daily, it would be easy for anyone to think that it is undoubtedly worth the risk of fighting for independence.

    One thing that is important about any independence struggle, however, is that the side wanting independence must be seen as being on the ‘righteous side’; once the people start rioting, taking up arms, fighting a guerrilla war, committing terrorist attacks etc., they have handed their oppressors exactly what they want as they can then say: “Hey look, these people are lawless thugs. How do they expect to be able to run their own country with its own economy, its own military etc. when they can’t even control their own streets. Much better we hold on to them and control them. Heck, we’re pumping so much development into them as it is, why do they even want to have independence?” And as soon as they say that the pro-independence people have lost a large part of what was going for them.

    This is especially true in Tibet. However oppressed the Tibetan people are under Chinese occupation (and with heavily biased press as well as them not being allowed access nobody can really know how oppressed they are without seeing it for themselves) in truth doesn’t really make much of a difference to both the cause and to its global support. There are plenty of people all around the world either fighting or asking for independence including other groups within China besides the Tibetans but their stories go unheard by the vast majority of the world.

    Wanting to break away from Communist China undoubtedly is a major source of Tibet’s support from many Western governments and Western press, who look down on China’s undemocratic politics and the Party’s policies. I personally find it humourous and highly hypocritical though that these same Western governments and press who support Tibet by default also support the Dalai Lama; if Tibet ever does gain its independence and the Dalai Lama becomes its head of state he should surely be recognised, peaceful and forgiving he may be, as an undemocratically instated political dictator.

    If the governments support the Tibetan struggle because of their dislike of Communist China, the general population supports it because of their non-violent stance. Much of the world admires the fact that Tibetans do not take up arms in the face of oppression and violation of human rights. It may be that they admire their ‘peaceful religion’ also, although this should hold little weight as plenty of ‘peaceful’ religions have followers who commit acts of terror in the name of their religion, Buddhists included (such as the 1915 riots in Sri Lanka). Those same people who support a ‘Free Tibet’ probably don’t give as much support to other independence movements where violence is used.

    It seems that history tells us that there are three ways of gaining independence: either by taking up arms and defeating the oppressor (e.g. Republic of Ireland); by making it economically unviable for the oppressor to hold on to the country (e.g. India); or through the political process by use of a referendum (as might be seen in Scotland soon). Unfortunately for Tibet, none of these three options seem possible: if they take up arms they will loose their support from the general population (although it would still take some time for the role of Tibet as the victim and China as the oppressor to switch), plus they have no hope in defeating the Chinese military; the Tibetan economy is not strong enough to damage that of China as a whole if they were to take Non-Violent Direct Action; and there is no hope of the Chinese government offering the Tibetan people a referendum in the foreseeable future.

    Perhaps the best bet for Tibet is to wait for China to become more ‘Westernised’, by which I mean to adopt and respect things like human rights in exchange for more economic ties with the West. Then, as self-determination (for a people to have independence if the so want) is a human right they would be obliged, in theory, to offer the people of Tibet a referendum at some point. But being an emerging super-power with enough economic ties with the West as it is they have little more to gain by becoming as Westernised as that.

    Until then I for one say it is not worth the risk of fighting for independence just yet. The rest of the world would be too scared to join them in their fight if they started a guerilla war against China and would look down on them if they started committing terrorist attacks. Tibet won’t get its independence any time soon but it might as well take comfort in the fact that much of the world supports their non-violent struggle. The alternative is to loose the support, be alienated from the rest of the world and suffer in silence the Chinese counter attacks.

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