By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
The scene: the inauguration of the new leader. He is relatively young. He won election over an older and more experienced rival. He happens to have been educated at Harvard and in the British Commonwealth. In his inaugural speech, he declares:
“We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation …, proud of our ancient heritage... [We are] unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
This scene, of course, was January 20, 1961, at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as 35th President of the United States.
With the official announcement that Lobsang Sangay will become the second directly-elected Kalon Tripa of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the Tibetan nation is reminded that it also faces a generational transition, as the U.S. did in 1960. Tibetans are witnessing the process of the torch being passed from the “1959 Generation” to the “Post-1959 Generation.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, it is unlikely that anyone from the 1959 Generation will win election in a future Kalon Tripa election five or ten years hence. Therefore, the 2011 Kalon Tripa election results do truly represent a generational shift in leadership: from the 1959 Generation to the generation born after Tibet’s freedom was lost.
We say the election “represents” this generational shift, because it is part of a larger context. Consider the uprising that swept across Tibet in 2008, continuing to the present day. Those brave protesters, courageous monks, and fearless students have never known a free Tibet, yet they are willing to face armed Chinese forces to demand it. They have never seen His Holiness, yet they are willing to risk their lives to call for His return. The members of the Post-1959 Generation are showing that they have the determination to lead the Tibetan struggle to new heights.
However, it would be cynical or foolish to suggest that it is time to push aside the 1959 Generation, as if they were an obstacle or a spent force. Generational transitions should be a respectful process, not a revolutionary moment. Each generation must realize that its duty is to contribute to the nation to the best of its ability: generations rise and fall, but the Tibetan nation endures.
As this process plays out, the Tibetan people should feel confident looking to the future. To paraphrase President Kennedy, the heirs of the revolution – the Post-1959 Generation – are beginning to take primary responsibility for the fate of the Tibetan nation. This should be celebrated. Tibetan people’s struggle for rights and freedom continues, re-invigorated by youthful determination.
With regard to the incoming Kalon Tripa, all Tibetans should wish Lobsang Sangay well in his administration. Tibetans should also thank Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Tashi Wangdi for their campaigns and for contributing to Tibetan democracy.
We are encouraged that Lobsang Sangay promised a platform of “unity” and “innovation.” Post-election “unity” is needed, and the Tibet-wide uprising of 2008 should remind Tibetans in exile of the nature of the real opponent. Equally needed is “innovation” and its corollary: openness to new ideas. This requires from all Tibetans an ability to critique and debate ideas without being clouded by emotion or taking disagreement personally.
Another critical task that the next administration must face is the need to nurture, encourage, and train new leadership. Lobsang Sangay was the beneficiary of a long-term investment by the Tibetan government: mentoring, a Fulbright scholarship, access to officials, and the facilitation of substantial private funding for his Harvard position. These facts are a reminder that leadership talent does not usually just spontaneously arise, but requires prolonged investment in what economists call “human capital.”
The incoming Kalon Tripa’s administration therefore would be wise to prioritize investment in human capital to ensure that the younger generations are as well-trained as possible to receive the torch from the 1959 Generation. This means investment in education. It means investment in the dedicated civil servants who work in the Tibetan government, including providing better training, better pay, and an opportunity for advancement based on merit. It means encouraging other avenues for new leaders to emerge and grow outside of the executive, such as strengthening the institutional capacity of the parliament, judiciary, and settlements.
We are optimistic that the incoming Kalon Tripa will play a positive role in these tasks. And given the overall context, we are confident that the larger Tibetan trend is a positive one. As more responsibility shifts to the Post-1959 Generation, this new generation will prove to themselves, to China, and to the world, that the issue of Tibet is not about one person or one small group; it is about the collective determination of the entire Tibetan people, generation after generation.
As suggested by President Kennedy’s words, those Tibetans in the Post-1959 Generation must remain proud of their ancient heritage, and remember that as heirs they must honor past generations. And as they look forward, they must resolve to “pay any price, bear any burden” to assure the survival and freedom of the Tibetan nation. The torch is being passed, and the new generation will show themselves worthy of carrying it forward.
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