By Daire Collins
Staff Writer, The University Times (Irish Student Newspaper of the Year 2011)
On Thursday last the Hist presented the inaugural secular political representative of Tibet exile community with a gold medal for outstanding contribution to public discourse. Visiting Ireland for his first time, Dr Lobsang Sangay graciously accepted the award on behalf of the Tibetan people in front of a packed chamber.
Dressed in Tibetan attire, Dr Sangay began his speech with the humbling story of his youth and his rise to the head of the Central Tibetan Administration. Born into poverty in a Tibetan refugee town in Northern India, his parents had to sell one of their three cows in order to send Lobsang to the local school. After excelling in school, despite the impoverished circumstances, he was accepted to the University of Delhi. Here most of his time was spent protesting outside the Chinese embassy over their occupation of Tibet.
Dr Sangay proved worthy of his parents sacrifice and was granted a scholarship to the University of Harvard. Graduating with honours, he began teaching law in Harvard until in 2011 when he was elected as head of the Tibet Government in Exile. Dr Sangay compared his real life rags to riches story with the Tibetan struggle and urged the audience to have belief that a solution will come.
Having recounted the light-hearted tales of his adventurous election campaign (which spanned five continents), Dr Sangay turned his attention to more serious matters, the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He referred to the increasing numbers of self-immolations occurring in Tibet, 24 since 2009, 12 of those happening in 2011. Although the Tibetan Government in Exile denounce the act, “Tibetans are doing so because they have no other means of calling for freedom and for the return of the Dalai Lama. When you cannot have a peaceful demonstration, or paste up posters, or have a rally – when there is no possibility for protest without the likelihood of being arrested or shot, then their only way is self-immolation.” Dr Sangay stated that his biggest fear is that of those who self-immolate becoming numbers rather than people’s lives.
Despite the continued peaceful protest within Tibet, the Chinese continue to send in more troops. When asked “What are the Chinese afraid of?” Dr. Sangay replied “That is a good question for Xi Jinping! There is nothing for them to be afraid of; the Chinese authorities have 2.5 million soldiers in Tibet, 3.0 million including paramilitary forces with automatic machine guns, for 6.0 million Tibetans, or one to every two Tibetans.”
Having compared the Irish struggle for independence and peace with the Tibetan one, Sangay stated that the Good Friday agreement was a sign of inspiration to the Tibetan community. It confirmed the belief that long struggles could be resolved. On the question of the recent of visit of Mr. Xi Jinping the Chinese foreign minister, Dr Sangay stated that although was up to every country and leader to decide how to proceed on national matters. “We would urge that freedom of speech and speaking for injustice should be a national part of discourse . . . We would expect that principle would be preserved and reciprocity will be there. On that basis one would expect it natural for Irish leaders to speak up for human rights in general and Tibetan in particular.”
Following his speech Dr Sangay presented the members of the Hist committee with a traditional Tibetan scarf. In a truly humble fashion, Dr Sangay then mingled with the audience and shook hands with the attendees, before leaving the building to a final rapturous applause.