As more than 500 Tibetan leaders in exile hold emergency talks over their future strategy on China in Dharamsala, India, the debate is becoming increasingly heated within the community in Germany too. The question seems to be whether to take a direction towards violence or to pursue a non-violent approach in the hope of achieving gradual change. China is unwilling to compromise.
Although the Dalai Lama has taken a backseat, he remains an extremely pivotal figure for the Tibetan movement in exile
There is some talk of a violent uprising, explains Lhanzom Everding, the chairwoman of Germany’s Tibetan association. She says that there are some young Tibetans who want to go this way.
“They say that they are in pain now and if they are going to have to die anyway it makes more sense to die at once and make some problems for the Chinese whether their goal is achieved or not,” Everding explains. Things do not have to be made easy for the Chinese, is their attitude.
For decades now, the Dalai Lama has pursued a pragmatic approach. The Chinese approach, meanwhile, has been shaped by the attitude of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who said in the 1980s that everything could be discussed except Tibetan independence.
Gradually changing the status quo
Some Tibetans think today that the only solution is to find a way of changing the status quo gradually and with moderate means.
Everding thinks the first step would be for Tibetans to make clear that they are willing to live under the Chinese leadership but that they should have a high degree of autonomy.
Many Tibetans have expressed frustration about the failure of the Dalai Lama’s pragmatic approach and the fact that autonomy talks between Tibetan exiles and Chinese officials have come to a standstill. This is why some are opting for violence.
Violence is not the answer
But violence is not the answer, says Dr. Namri Dagyab, who has conducted research in Tibet about monasteries: "Over the last 20 years, since the Dalai Lama first introduced the ‘Middle Path’ and a non-violent approach, this policy has not been successful.”
But it does not make sense to go to the other extreme, he says. “The policy was worth a try. But if you try something that doesn't work, you should rethink your position.”
He adds that it is “very difficult for Tibetan politicians to make demands or even say something that could be considered as going against the Dalai Lama's opinion."
Dalai Lama is omnipresent
Although the Dalai Lama refused to participate in the Tibetan delegates' conference, his presence can be felt everywhere in Dharamsala . Tibetans are not used to taking political decisions without him.
Lhanzom Everding explains why the Dalai Lama has been, and remains, so important for the Tibetan political movement: “With his Holiness we can achieve more. He expresses a very easy language that the whole world can understand.”
She believes that if he were not here, it would not be good for the Tibetans nor the Chinese, as the Chinese side will not “find a person like him who can make such big compromises.”
So, the Tibetans in exile are at a crossroads and remain uncertain which way to go -- especially as the Chinese side is completely unwilling to compromise. Their options are limited.
But whether he wants it or not, the Dalai Lama seems set to remain a major political figure -- whatever direction the community eventually takes.