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A TPR One-Year Retrospective

posted Mar 10, 2011, 6:03 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 11, 2011, 7:09 AM ]

By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review  

With the March 20 elections fast approaching, the Tibetan people should be proud of their progress towards building an enduring democracy.  To come so far while facing such adversity is a testament to the democratic ideals of His Holiness and the strength of the Tibetan spirit.  All Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, should take inspiration from this.

As we look back over this historic election season, if readers will indulge us we would like to present a personal reflection on what it has been like to be involved with a project like The Tibetan Political Review (TPR) – both the good and the bad.

For future historians writing about Tibetan democracy, TPR may not even merit a footnote.  But for us, TPR has been a project conceived in idealism, born of many hours of volunteer work, and grown into a modest but hopefully useful presence in the Tibetan community.  We are immensely grateful to our contributors and readers for giving us the chance to be part of a forum that tried to make a contribution to Tibetan democracy.

Although the good has far outweighed the bad, we have also been deeply disappointed by an escalating series of ferocious, personal, and direct attacks on TPR and on the Editors individually.  We believe that such attacks show that Tibetan democracy still has room to grow.

The Ideals

TPR was founded in March 2010 with one overarching goal: to advance debate and critical analysis in the Tibetan political world.  In attempting to live by “right motivation,” “right speech,” and “right action,” we were always guided by our attempt to contribute to Tibetan democracy to the best of our ability.

Our ideals were based on the belief that through a free and open competition of ideas, truth will prevail.  This is a belief common to both Buddhist dialectics and Western Humanism.  Our hope was that by elevating a reasoned discourse in our society, we might advance the strength and resilience of Tibetan democracy.

Specifically, we set up two distinct features on TPR: (i) articles and (ii) editorials.

ARTICLES: The articles section was open to all viewpoints and all contributors. Its content depended on who chose to write in.  We only set basic standards of writing quality, logical coherence, and the demand that an article not be an unfounded personal attack (a low threshold meaning that there had to be some factual or logical basis).  We are proud to say that in the year of TPR’s life so far, the Editors never once – never once – refused to publish an article or letter based on its viewpoint.

With our record of non-censorship, we are confident that we succeeded in creating a neutral, unbiased forum open to anyone who chose to participate.  For us, one of the best parts of TPR has been to see the wide range of articulate, well-written articles that have been submitted, sometimes from young Tibetans who have never before spoken in such a public forum.  We believe this bodes well for our future as a nation.

We also thank the North American Chitue candidates for allowing TPR’s articles section to serve as a central forum for news and advocacy in that important Chitue race.  From collecting nominations before the primary election, to providing an open platform for the final candidates to get their messages out, we are grateful for the chance to provide this service.

EDITORIALS: In our editorials, we expressed our own personal views.  The editorials were by their nature opinionated, and we never claimed that they were intended to be neutral.  We attempted to be fair in our analyses, but we made perfectly clear that we were expressing our own opinions.  We consistently invited responses from candidates and readers, especially if they disagreed with us.

As to the subject matter of our editorials, our motivation was to write about what we believed to be some important issues in need of critical analysis.  In our assessment, Tibetan democracy did not need more tame media roundtables.  It needed “tough but fair” political critiques. Sometimes this would include rigorous factual investigations, sometimes the asking of tough questions, and sometimes playing the devil’s advocate.  We believed our training as lawyers would serve this well, and we hoped that others would join in.

We are all volunteers with full-time jobs.  We simply set out to voice our opinions when we had something worthwhile to say.  We never claimed that we would address all issues, nor spend the same amount of time on all candidates regardless of whether we had something to say; that was never our goal or obligation.  Placing such an expectation on our shoulders would be foolish indeed.  Obviously, participatory democracy only works if many citizens participate, rather than expecting someone else to do it all.  We also never claimed to be or acted like a newspaper or online news site like RFA or VOA.  TPR is an online journal for discussion of Tibetan politics, not a news organization, and we do not consider ourselves to be journalists.

Throughout this process, our primary motivation remained to promote the growth of Tibetan democracy.  We believed that asking tough questions would stimulate thought and debate, and that this was not our unique responsibility.  We also believed that our prospective leaders should be provided the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity to respond in a mature, sensible, and dignified way.  After all, whoever wins the election will face far more merciless treatment from the global and Chinese media.

We are proud when we look back at some of the issues that we have raised in our editorials: campaign finance transparency; the candidates’ positions on Tibet’s political struggle and identifying the next Dalai Lama; youth versus experience; fighting demagoguery; the candidates’ professional qualifications; the importance of policy over personality; exorcising the “refugee mentality.”

The Attacks

For some time now, unfortunately, we have been the subject of baseless attacks accusing TPR of being biased and unfair against a certain Kalon Tripa candidate.  We do not like to single out anybody, but it is difficult or impossible to describe the nature of these attacks without providing some basic details.

We first would like to state that the attackers’ allegations of “bias” are simply false: we never once rejected an article based on its viewpoint.  And our editorials were just our own opinions.  How could this possibly be “biased”?  If there was a perceived imbalance in the types of articles, it was the obligation of critics to submit their own articles rather than complain about other viewpoints being expressed.  If critics disagreed with an editorial, the mature response would be to write a rebuttal.

Nevertheless, the attacks kept building.  We were denounced and libeled by the candidate’s campaign in an email it sent to its mailing list.  We were accused by the campaign’s web manager (in articles we still published) of “deceitfully” and “viciously toying around with the Tibetan sensibilities,” and of being part of a group of “elitist relics.”  We were accused by others of having a connection to statements made by completely unrelated individuals, as if we were all part of some dark conspiracy.  We were even falsely accused on the candidate’s unofficial website of “lobbying” for a rival (an accusation since removed).

On the contrary, we received some submissions that were bitterly critical of the candidate that we did not publish because we viewed them as violating our basic policy against unfounded personal attacks.  If we had indeed been part of a conspiracy, we likely would have published those damaging submissions.

Instead, we attempted to address any legitimate concerns of that candidate’s supporters by putting disclaimers that TPR “invites updates from all candidates.”  As with all candidates, we consistently invited that candidate’s responses.  We even delayed publication of two letters in order to have the candidate’s responses published simultaneously.

We went so far as to seek out and publish material favorable to that candidate.  This included proactively publishing videos, articles, and statements from the candidate’s website (which we did not do for any other candidate).

Despite all these accommodations, the attacks upon us have only gotten bolder and more ferocious, and now the attackers -- whoever they are -- do not have the courage to put their names behind their words.  We have been anonymously accused of running a “smear campaign.”  Our individual photos have been anonymously spread over Tibetan internet forums in banner ads denouncing us by name.  We have received what can best be described as hate mail from questionable email addresses.

As disappointing as this has been to see, we are glad that such retrogressive voices have been in the minority.  And the candidate himself has always been gracious to us in person.  Even for the attackers, we are optimistic that one day they will learn to see past their cynicism and paranoia.  Ultimately the democratization of Tibetan society will continue, and this is an issue that deserves everyone’s highest dedication and idealism. 

The Next Chapter

Overall, we believe that TPR has been a worthwhile endeavor for the cause of Tibetan democracy.  We have done our best to live up to our ideals of promoting free and open debate.  Our hope is that the many hours of volunteer work put into this project have resulted in something of tangible benefit to Tibetan democracy.  Currently, we are assessing what the future holds for TPR, and we would like to remind readers that TPR is permanently archived at http://sites.google.com/site/tibetanpoliticalreview/.

One must take the good with the bad, so we accept the baseless attacks we have endured.  We do not take these attacks personally, because ultimately such behavior reflects poorly only on those who engage in it.  It is our hope that one day Tibetan democracy will be free of such immature negativity.

When this election is over, the Tibetan people must remember that the legitimacy of the Tibetan government-in-exile is bigger than any person.  Whether someone voted for the victor or not, all must respect the office of Kalon Tripa and Chitue.  We must act with a renewed sense of national unity.  Regardless of cholka, chod-luk, family or class background, age, gender, choice of spouse, place of residence, citizenship status, so-called ethnic “purity,” length of time outside of Tibet, or any other distinction, we are all members of one indivisible Tibetan nation.

Bod gyalo!