By Tenzin Kunga, Advocacy Officer, Free Tibet
Large contingents of Tibetans living across Europe will gather in Italy’s historic capital city on 10th March to mark the 64th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising against the Chinese colonial occupation of Tibet.
A coalition of 15 Tibetan Communities/Associations in Europe representing Tibetans living in Europe (numbering approximately 60,000) holds biennial general meetings in different cities across Europe with the Tibetan Community of the host city as the main organiser assisted by the Office of Tibet that has jurisdiction over the host country. (The jurisdiction of all countries in the continent of Europe is divided amongst the 3 Offices of Tibet based in Brussels, Geneva and London, plus a Coordinator based in Paris). One of the important discussion points at these biennial meetings is to decide the venue for a pan-Europe Tibetan National Uprising mass rally to be held every alternate year. At its last meeting held in Milan in early October 2022, Rome was re-confirmed as the venue for the mass rally in March 2023.
Illegal invasion of Tibet and Dalai Lama’s exile
Since 1950 Tibet has been under the colonial occupation of the Chinese Communist regime and continues to be under occupation for more than 70 years now. After the representatives of Tibet’s government sent to Beijing for negotiations in 1951 were forced by the Communist regime to sign the now infamous 17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet under duress at the threat of full scale invasion of central Tibet, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama made great efforts for eight years to work with the Communist Chinese authorities based on the Chinese commitments in the Agreement. However, after the regime failed to honour their promises in the Agreement and threatened Tibetan people’s traditional way of life, the working arrangement with the invading masters became untenable. In March 1959 when the Communist army general stationed in Lhasa invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to a Chinese musical performance at their army barracks and ordered that he arrive there without his usual contingent of Tibetan bodyguards, Tibetans suspected that the Chinese army were planning to kidnap their beloved leader. Tens of thousands of Tibetans surrounded Norbulingka, the summer residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for days acting as a human wall so the Chinese couldn't take away their leader frustrating the devious attempts of the Chinese army general to bring His Holiness to the Chinese army camp.
During this time, Tibetans rose up unitedly against the Chinese colonial occupation demanding freedom from Chinese autocratic rule and raising slogans calling China to quit Tibet - a clear sign that Tibetans have had enough of this illegal occupation.
After the Chinese army started shelling the area to disperse those gathered, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to take the most difficult decision in his life then to escape from Lhasa, so that Tibetans gathered outside his residence could disperse and be saved from the Chinese shelling.
Following the brutal crackdown of the large-scale protests in Lhasa during which the Chinese army killed tens of thousands of Tibetans and stamped their control over Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced into exile to India - where he continues to live today. He arrived in India as a political refugee on 31st March 1959 as a young man of 25 years and today he is 87.
Commemorating Tibetan National Uprising Day in exile
Over the years following His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s exile into India, Tibetans escaped across the dangerous Himalayan passes mostly during winter - braving the elements, frostbite and trigger-happy Chinese border police - to a life in exile by the side of their leader. Gradually Tibetans have also migrated from India to countries across the globe mostly for settlement and studies. One of the most important and political anniversaries that the Tibetan refugee community in exile has never stopped commemorating is the Tibetan National Uprising Day which they mark every year on 10th March.
2023 marks the 64th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day and whilst the day will be commemorated across the world, except inside Chinese-occupied Tibet where there is no space for any kind of dissent whatsoever, Tibetans in Europe will descend in large numbers onto Largo Corrado Ricci on 10th March 2023 and march through Fori Imperiali and converge at Piazza della Madonna di Loreto.
Organised by The Tibetan Community in Italy jointly with the other Tibetan Communities in Europe, the mass uprising rally is being supported by Associazione Italia-Tibet, gstf sast and International Campaign for Tibet. Tibet Support Groups across Europe, Tibet supporters and the public are encouraged to join the mass rally. Representatives of other persecuted nationalities like the Uyghur Muslims, Hongkongers, Southern Mongolia, Taiwanese in Italy will be joining in the protest in solidarity with the Tibetans.
Europe stands with Tibet
We cannot let the world forget Tibet. The lack of any international condemnation and the accompanying weak response to China’s illegal invasion of Tibet the year after the People’s Republic of China was founded has only emboldened the Chinese dragon - Chinese Communist Party that rules China - to continue its aggression. The Uyghurs in East Turkestan are suffering one of the most horrible atrocities perpetrated by the Communist regime, which has been described as “crimes against humanity” in a UN report by outgoing UN Human Rights chief last year. The brutal crackdown of the legal and largely peaceful protests by the freedom-loving youth in Hong Kong in 2019 and the imposition of National Security Law a year later has turned a bastion of liberty into a place with very limited breathing space for free speech.
Meanwhile, Tibet is locked off to the outside world. Under a dark cloak of highly intrusive surveillance coupled with technologically advanced censorship, the Communist regime operates with impunity far away from the gaze of the outside world. The Chinese government deliberately attacks the root of the distinct and unique religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people through systematic policies disparaging Tibetan language and religion. Almost a million Tibetan children, some as young as four years, are forcibly put into Chinese colonial boarding preschools and schools while Tibetan language studies offered by monastic schools are closed down leaving Tibetans with no alternative to learn their language.
Not content with stealing Tibet’s valuable mineral resources, nomadic farmland and forest cover, the Chinese regime is now stealing Tibetans’ DNA in broad daylight with the excuse of fighting crime and helping trace missing people. It is time the world woke up to China’s excesses in Tibet, which it conveniently replicates elsewhere in East Turkestan and Hong Kong. The threat of Chinese invasion looms large over Taiwan.
Through this mass rally in Rome, Tibetans in Europe would like to remind the international community that the Tibet question continues to remain unresolved. They seek a resolution to the long-standing Sino-Tibet conflict. The world has looked the other way for far too long. It is time for the world to act on Tibet. Europe can lead the way and Tibetans ask Europe to stand with Tibet.