Tibetan Prime Minister speaks at Western

On Feb. 21, 2012, Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay spoke to a crowd of 700 of the oppression of the Tibetan people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. He described himself as an “every man” who climbed the political ladder on a whim prompted by a few friends and a Facebook page, but his story revealed that he is no every man. A virtual stranger to the political scene several years ago, his segue into the limelight may have been driven by a witty friend, but the Harvard-educated Sangay, who was raised in rural Darjeeling, India, said he decided to campaign as a freedom fighter, not just a man full of promises. Sangay’s visit to WCSU was part of the President’s Lecture Series.

When he made the decision to accept the challenge of leading a government-in-exile in its quest for autonomy, Sangay rolled up his shirt sleeves and shook hands with as many Tibetans as he could find. This meant miles of travel to refugee camps and remote areas, listening to people’s needs and concerns. He sought out voters the others candidates did not; he learned that people everywhere were looking for change.

“I never said ‘Please give me your vote,’” said the 44-year-old prime minister. “I became the change candidate.”

In 40 degrees below Celsius, ballot boxes stuffed with votes from one of the highest turnouts in the country’s history were strapped onto yaks in the mountains where they were transported hundreds of miles across India to be counted — a trek Sangay called evidence of democracy and freedom for a newly formed secular, Democratic society. Sangay said that is what the 14th Dalai Lama wanted to see when he separated politics from religion and stepped aside as political leader.

“If that is (the Dalai Lama’s) expectation, that is my responsibility,” he said. “We are not going to gain our freedom through handouts. We have to get it ourselves.”

Sangay also recognized that this enormous change needs stalwart leadership that is marked “when an ordinary guy does something extraordinary. I’m an ordinary guy….this is my karma. This is my destiny.”

Change also takes time. During Sangay’s leadership, nearly two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire as a protest of oppression. Pictures of the Dalai Lama are banned throughout Tibet. Monks and nuns are denounced under the current regime for revering the religious leader. Tibetans are beaten for having pictures of the Dalai Lama; others are shot dead for expressing their religious beliefs. Sangay is committed to finding a peaceful solution that will result in autonomy for his people.

Many Tibetans, according to Sangay, believe “it is better to die than live under the present occupation of Tibet. But these are not numbers; they are human beings, like me and you, with a face, with a family.”

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Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay