Europe Tibetan Congress — a bridge to nowhere?

For the first time, over a hundred Tibetans representing 15 European nations gathered this weekend in Basel, Switzerland, with a stated purpose of reinvigorating the Tibetan movement at European level. Also on agenda was the question whether to start a non-governmental organisation to represent Tibetan communities across Europe or not. If so, to discuss its guidelines, direction and a set of plans of action.

This initiative, which is the result of many discussions and meetings, I believe was partly inspired by the World Jewish Congress formed in 1936 in Switzerland. Today it is one of the most influential international public association representing Jews throughout the world.

The conference faced its first uphill task when it became apparent that many discussions prior to the meeting in some Tibetan communities in Europe had taken place without detailed information about the goal of the Congress. Thus, the first Europe Tibetan Congress (ETC) took place amongst doubt, suspicion, hope and optimism.

Disagreement raised its head in the form of a clear status of the said Congress and whether this body is in opposition to a section in the ’Rules and Regulations’ of a regional body. Majority of the delegation from Switzerland raised objection as they did not see a need of a non-governmental body. On the other hand they claimed that a gathering of Tibetans living in Europe is essential and necessary to provide a platform for exchanging ideas and thereby strengthening the movement. Yet I didn’t hear a proposal on how to go on providing that platform.

By the afternoon session, knee-jerk reactions to the ETC’s original proposals, draft guidelines and charter, veered the gathering in a direction from whence, it never really came around. The goal of taking the Tibetan movement a notch higher did not have much airtime as the talking points became the status of the Congress and the difficulty of creating a NGO with regard to one provision in the charter of the Local Assembly of Tibetans in Switzerland.

As I look back at this weekend, I ask myself these simple question. Do I ultimately feel inspired and have a sense of satisfaction? Were we able to make the best possible use of this gathering? Were we able to leave our petty differences and come together as a movement? I have no easy answers.

The inability to clearly demarcate initiatives and campaigns at a local, national, European and international level by many became the biggest stumbling block in the deliberations. When there is a lack of creative ideas, the recourse is to hide behind the cover of drik-shi (rules and regulations).

The Conference press release came out with three key declarations, of reiterating His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the legitimate leader of the Tibetan people, a memorandum to the Chinese President, and to put in efforts to appoint a Special Envoy on Tibetan Affairs at EU level. No concrete plan of action except a set of recommendations of regular initiatives to Tibetan communities in Europe came out at the end of the conference.

The next Congress in planned in October 2010, either in Norway, Belgium, or France. And surprisingly or unsurprisingly, none of the members in the organising team is from Switzerland and England — two communities that spearheaded the opposition to the Europe Tibetan Congress. Ultimately this might be the sole consolation for me and many like us. Or else this Congress might become like the abbreviation it resembles: ’etc’, basically meaning ’odds and ends’.

I was gently chided by some for not being realistic, unable to see the positives that came out of this meeting. It is true that due to this Congress, I met many young Tibetans who inspired me with their intelligence, a clear grasp of the issue and their commitment towards the movement. This is a solace for me. Yet their voices were drowned and discarded by a vocal majority except for a nominal nod and a round of applause.

A bucketful of cold, conservative water was poured over this historic meeting at a critical period in our history due to pettiness and unwillingness to move beyond our comfort zones. None of the recommendations moved beyond the regular campaigns and initiatives already being implemented by various Tibetan communities. An opportunity to send a clear message of support to our brethren inside was missed.

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