Oxford Student Interviews Tibet’s Prime Minister in Exile
by Greg Spear, DANBURY: Lobsang Sangay, Ph. D, Tibet’s prime minister-in-exile, presented his lecture, “Democracy in Exile: The Case for Tibet,” at Western Connecticut State University on Feb. 21.
WCSU President James W. Schmotter introduced Sangay to the packed Ives Concert Hall.
The prime minister, who is also known as the Kalon Tripa, set the tone for his speech with an opening comment that being in Southern Connecticut, he found himself in exile from Red Sox Nation just as he is the prime minister in exile from Tibet. Sangay gave attendees an overview of his path to success.
Born in the Indian refugee village of Darjeeling in 1968, Sangay said he lived in an area with nothing but fields, cows, chickens and other livestock. Unaware of his real birth date, he, like other refugee children, was given the birth date of March 10, he said. This is Tibet’s National Uprising Day, which is equivalent to Independence Day in the United States.
He said his primary childhood chore was gathering firewood for his family and the village. He attended the Tibetan Refugee School in Darjeeling where he said he ate dumplings and rice every night. Sangay joked with the audience in Danbury that eating the dumplings showed proof that Isaac Newton’s third law was wrong.
“When they hit the ground, like a rock, the dumplings bounced right back up,” he quipped.
Sangay, who is a senior fellow in the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School, told the audience that in 2010, his friends, almost as a joke, nominated him for the 2011 election for Kalon Tripa. Sangay’s first reaction was to laugh it off, he said. Despite his indifference, he said he found the exiled Tibetan community was taking him seriously. He said it got to the point where he couldn’t remove himself from the race.
On April 27, 2011, much to his surprise, Sangay won the election, beating out two other candidates. This was important for Tibet as the Kalon Tripa became an important political position when the Dalai Lama abdicated his role as political leader of Tibet, essentially separating the political leadership of the region. Sangay now found himself as the prime minister in exile. Unlike many political leadership roles, his position comes with no cabinet, no assistants, no Congress or Parliament. It does, however, come with what Sangay described as a “modest salary” – $352 a month.
Sangay said he attended WCSU as part of his mission to educate the world on Chinese repression of the Tibetan people. He reminded his audience that the issue is about Tibetan autonomy, not Tibetan independence from China. He said he hopes Chinese people respect and recognize the Tibetan culture and history. He reminded people of the recent acts of self-immolation of Buddhist Monks and Tibetan residents; he used those as examples of the gravity of the situation. Upon these emotional conveyances, the audience stood and thunderously applauded Sangay’s comments.
In a post-speech news conference, reporters asked Sangay what he would like to see people do to help Tibet. He answered simply – “Spread the word.” He said the best thing anyone can do is to create awareness of the oppression of the Tibetan people by the Chinese. This can be done one-on-one, friend-to-friend, or even more directly, by contacting the U.S. State Department and urging them to pressure China to reconsider its relationship with Tibet, he said.
Sangay plans to continue his promotion of the Tibetan cause through symposiums, meetings with government officials and lectures like the one at WCSU. He is convinced Tibet’s present relationship with China can be resolved.
About Lobsang Sangay
After finishing his local schooling in Sonada and Darjeeling, Lobsang Sangay attended the University of Delhi, where he received a Bachelor’s degree and Bachelor of Laws degree. In 1995, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Harvard Law School, where he received his Master’s of Law degree, which would eventually lead him into a political career. He’s organized seven major conferences between Chinese, Tibetan, Indian and Western scholars and two meetings at Harvard University between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Chinese scholars.
In 2004, Sangay became the first Tibetan among 6 million to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science, Harvard Law School’s most advanced law degree. In 2006, the Asia Society selected him as one of “the 24 Young Leaders of Asia.” The Asia Society is a global organization that works to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. Interestingly, Sangay has never stepped foot in his own country and if he did, would be subject to immediate arrest.