″I Only Want to Return to a Free Tibet″ | Current Affairs | DW | 03.04.2008
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"I Only Want to Return to a Free Tibet"

Tsewang Norbo fled Tibet during the 1959 uprising and he hasn't returned since. Only when the country becomes independent will he return. Until then, he's fighting in Germany to help free Tibet.

Three protestors holding Tibetan flag in a market square

Tibetans protesting in Frankfurt

The son of simple farmers without political ambition, Norbo was only ten when he fled his home in the village of Singeri, along with his parents and sister during the 1959 Tibetan Uprising that killed over 90,000 Tibetans.

Like many others, Norbo's family crossed the border into India, where they first made their home.

Protestors waving Tibetan flag

Tibetan Youth Congress activists in Dharmsala, India

Today, there are around 150,000 Tibetan exiles like Norbo living abroad, more than two-thirds of whom live in India. Most stay in the north Indian city of Dharamsala, where the exiled government of Tibet and the Dalai Lama are based, and from where a worldwide community of exiles is organized. Through their offices in the US, Canada, and Europe, votes are cast and actions -- like those demonstrations currently being held around the world -- are planned.

In recent weeks, supporters of Tibetan independence in Nepal, India, Germany, and Great Britain have taken to the streets to protest China's recent crackdown in Tibet.

Norbo, the 48-year-old founder of Verein der Tibeter, an organization of Tibetans in Germany, has likewise spent his time collecting signatures and attending protests and vigils, including one held in Munich on March 31, 2008.

By drawing attention to the situation in Tibet, he hopes to push the German government to take action. "I can't accept China in Tibet illegally," he said. "I have had the chance to live in a free world, and with that opportunity comes a lot of responsibility."

Better education in exile

Tibetologists today estimate around 2,000 to 3,000 people leave the country annually. Many are children sent abroad by their parents in order to get an education outside the constraints set up by the Chinese government and in line with Tibetan culture and religion.

Norbo himself came to Germany over 30 years ago for his studies. His sister went to Switzerland, which, with about 3,000 emigrants -- ten times the number in Germany -- is home to the largest Tibetan community in Europe.

Some were lured by the Alps, reminiscent of the Tibetan landscape. But it's not only the Alpine air that draws Tibetans. After the national uprising, the Swiss government was prepared to take in a number of refugees. The country is also home to the only monastery in the West that's been recognized by the Dalai Lama and numerous organisations exist there to preserve the religion and culture of the exiles.

Ten red-robed Buddhist nuns standing in the mountains

Tibetan nuns at Shusong Village in China

In light of the strong interest in Tibetan mythology and the Dalai Lama immense in Europe and Germany, Norbo believes that Tibet's plight too sparks considerable interest in the West. Even so, he said, "It's not being acted on."

Tapped telephone conversations

Norbo remains uncertain about what actually happened last month in Tibet. He can only gather information from Chinese state media and from the Internet -- though landline connections in the country are broken. Mobile phones only work sporadically, and when they do work, the conversations are tapped, he said. Sometimes, however, messages are sent in code.

In a recent conversation with a friend in Tibet, Norbo was told: "It's not so good. It's cold, very cold. 500 sheep have already died." Whether that means 500 injured or 500 dead, he doesn't know.

Norbo plans to be at the next free-Tibet demonstration in Germany. But there's no going back to the country for now.

"When I think of Tibet, I see a beautiful landscape and clear water before my eyes," he said. "Nevertheless, I would like to return only to a free Tibet."

"It's just lip service"

Norbo is critical of the German government's reaction to China's stifling of protests in Tibet.

"It's only lip service," he said, referring to Berlin's condemnation of the violence in Tibet and calls on Beijing to show restraint. "At the very least, we shouldn't rule out an Olympic boycott as a means of pressure against China," he said.

Dalai Lama waves

The Dalai Lama

He's equally critical of the Dalai Lama and his calls for China's renouncement of power and his readiness to create an autonomous Tibet.

"I don't agree with the use of force. But for many years, nothing has happened, neither in China nor on the part of the international community." Force, he said, would at least be an option that would draw attention to the situation. And he believes that an increasing number of his countrymen still living in Tibet would agree.

Norbo doesn't doubt his country will attain independence. "The question is whether it happens in this life or in a later one."

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