Speech of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the European Parliament, Strasbourg

October 14, 2001

Madame Speaker, Honourable Members of the Parliament, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great honour for me to address the European Parliament.  I believe the European Union is an inspiring example for a cooperative and peaceful co-existence among different nations and peoples and deeply inspiring for people like myself who strongly believe in the need for better understanding, closer cooperation, and greater respect among the various nations of the world.  I thank you for this kind invitation.  I consider it as an encouraging gesture of genuine sympathy and concern for the tragic fate of the Tibetan people.  I speak to you today as a simple Buddhist monk, educated and trained in our ancient traditional way.  I am not an expert in political science. However, my life-long study and practice of Buddhism and my responsibility and involvement in the non-violent freedom struggle of the Tibetan people have given me some experiences and thoughts that I would like to share with you.

It is evident that the human community has reached a critical juncture in its history.  Today’s world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate.  But today, as we learn from the recent tragic events in the United States, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas.  The world is becoming increasingly interdependent. Within the context of this new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.  Without the cultivation and promotion of a sense of universal responsibility our very future is in danger.

I strongly believe that we must consciously develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. We must learn to work not just for our own individual self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind. Universal responsibility is the best foundation both for our personal happiness and for world peace, the equitable use of our natural resources, and, through a concern for future generations, the proper care for the environment.

Many of the world´s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family. We tend to forget that despite the diversity of race, religion, culture, language, ideology and so forth, people are equal in their basic desire for peace and happiness: we all want happiness and do not want suffering. We strive to fulfill these desires as best we can. However, as much as we praise diversity in theory, unfortunately often we fail to respect it in practice. In fact, our inability to embrace diversity becomes a major source of conflict among peoples.

A particularly sad fact of human history is that conflicts have arisen in the name of religion.  Even today, individuals are killed, their communities destroyed and societies destabilized as a result of misuse of religion and encouragement of religious bigotry and hatred.  According to my personal experience the best way to overcome obstructions to inter-religious harmony and to bring about understanding is through dialogue with members of other faith traditions. This I see occurring in a number of different ways.  In my own case, for example, my meetings with the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, in the late 60s, were deeply inspiring.  They helped me develop a profound admiration for the teachings of Christianity. I also feel that meetings amongst different religious leaders and joining together to pray from a common platform are extremely powerful, as was the case in 1986 during the gathering at Assisi in Italy.  The recent United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders held last year was also a laudable step.   However, there is a need for more of these initiatives on a regular basis.  On my part, to show my respect for other religious traditions I went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem ­ a site holy to three of the world’s great religions.  I have paid visits to various Hindu, Islamic, Christian, Jain and Sikh shrines both in India and abroad.  During the past three decades I have met with many religious leaders of different traditions and have discussed  harmony and inter-religious understanding.   When exchanges like these occur, followers of one tradition will find that, just as in the case of their own, the teachings of other faiths are a source of both spiritual inspiration and as well as ethical guidance to their followers.  It will also become clear that irrespective of doctrinal and other differences, all the major world religions help to transform individuals to become good human beings.  All emphasize love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, self-discipline and so on.  We must therefore embrace the concept of plurality in the field of religion, too.

In the context of our newly emerging global community all forms of violence, including war, are totally inappropriate means of settling disputes.  Violence and war have always been part of human history, and in ancient times there were winners and losers.  However, there would be no winners at all if another global conflict were to occur today.  We must, therefore, have the courage and vision to call for a world without nuclear weapons and national armies in the long run. Especially, in the light of the terrible attacks in the United States the international community must make a sincere attempt to use the horrible and shocking experience to develop a sense of global responsibility, where a culture of dialogue and non-violence is used in resolving differences.

Dialogue is the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations.  The promotion of a culture of dialogue and non-violence for the future of mankind is a compelling task of the international community.  It is not enough for governments to endorse the principle of non-violence without any appropriate action to support and promote it.  If non-violence is to prevail, non-violent movements must be made effective and successful. Some consider the 20th century a century of war and bloodshed.  I believe the challenge before us is to make the new century one of dialogue and non-violence.

Furthermore, in dealing with conflicts too often we lack proper judgment and courage. We fail to pay adequate attention to situations of potential conflict when they are at an early stage of development. Once all the circumstances have progressed to a state where emotions of the people or communities involved in disputes have become fully charged, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prevent a dangerous situation from exploding. We see this tragic situation repeated time and again. So we must learn to detect early signs of conflict and have the courage to address the problem before it reaches its boiling point.

I remain convinced that most human conflicts can be solved through genuine dialogue conducted with a spirit of openness and reconciliation.  I have therefore consistently sought a resolution of the issue of Tibet through non-violence and dialogue.  Right from the beginning of the invasion of Tibet, I tried to work with the Chinese authorities to arrive at a mutually acceptable, peaceful co-existence.  Even when the so-called Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was forced upon us I tried to work with the Chinese authorities.  After all, by that agreement the Chinese government recognized the distinctiveness and the autonomy of Tibet and pledged not to impose their system on Tibet against our wishes.  However, in breach of this agreement, the Chinese authorities forced upon Tibetans their rigid and alien ideology and showed scant respect for the unique culture, religion and way of life of the Tibetan people.  In desperation the Tibetan people rose up against the Chinese.  In the end in 1959 I had to escape from Tibet so that I could continue to serve the people of Tibet.

During the past more than four decades since my escape, Tibet has been under the complete control of the Government of the People´s Republic of China.  The immense destruction and human suffering inflicted on the people of Tibet are today well known and I do not wish to dwell on these sad and painful events.  The late Panchen Lama’s 70,000-character petition to the Chinese government serves as a telling historical document on China’s draconian policies and actions in Tibet.  Tibet today continues to be an occupied country, oppressed by force and scarred by suffering. Despite some development and economic progress, Tibet continues to face fundamental problems of survival.  Serious violations of human rights are widespread throughout Tibet and are often the result of policies of racial and cultural discrimination.  Yet they are only the symptoms and consequences of a deeper problem.  The Chinese authorities view Tibet’s distinct culture and religion as the source of threat of separation.  Hence as a result of deliberate policies an entire people with its unique culture and identity are facing the threat of extinction.

I have led the Tibetan freedom struggle on a path of non-violence and have consistently sought a mutually agreeable solution of the Tibetan issue through negotiations in a spirit of reconciliation and compromise with China. With this spirit in 1988 here in Strasbourg at this Parliament I presented a formal proposal for negotiations, which we hoped would serve as a basis for resolving the issue of Tibet.  I had chosen consciously the European Parliament as a venue to present my thoughts for a framework for negotiations in order to underline the point that a genuine union can only come about voluntarily when there are satisfactory benefits to all the parties concerned. The European Union is a clear and inspiring example of this. On the other hand, even one country or community can break into two or more entities when there is a lack of trust and benefit, and when force is used as the principal means of rule.

My proposal which later became known as the “Middle Way Approach” or the “Strasbourg Proposal” envisages that Tibet enjoy genuine autonomy within the framework of the People’s Republic of China.  However, not the autonomy on paper imposed on us 50 years ago in the 17-Point Agreement, but a true self-governing, genuinely autonomous Tibet, with Tibetans fully responsible for their own domestic affairs, including the education of their children, religious matters, cultural affairs, the care of their delicate and precious environment, and the local economy.  Beijing would continue to be responsible for the conduct of foreign and defense affairs.  This solution would greatly enhance the international image of China and contribute to her stability and unity ­- the two topmost priorities of Beijing ­- while at the same time the Tibetans would be ensured of the basic rights and freedoms to preserve their own civilization and to protect the delicate environment of the Tibetan plateau.

Since then our relation with the Chinese government has taken many twists and turns.  Unfortunately, I must sadly inform you that a lack of political will on the part of the Chinese leadership to address the issue of Tibet in a serious manner has failed to produce any progress.  My initiatives and overtures over the years to engage the Chinese leadership in a dialogue remain unreciprocated.  Last September, I communicated through the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi our wish to send a delegation to Beijing to deliver a detailed memorandum outlining my thinking on the issue of Tibet and to explain and discuss the points raised in the memorandum.  I conveyed that through face-to-face meetings we would succeed in clarifying misunderstandings and overcoming distrust.  I expressed the strong belief that once this is achieved then a mutually acceptable solution of the problem can be found without much difficulty.  But the Chinese government is refusing to accept my delegation till today.  It is obvious that Beijing’s attitude has hardened significantly compared to the eighties when six Tibetan delegations from exile were accepted.  Whatever explanations Beijing may give concerning communications between the Chinese government and myself I must state here clearly that the Chinese government is refusing to talk to representatives I have designated for the task.

The failure of the Chinese leadership to respond positively to my Middle Way Approach reaffirms the Tibetan people’s suspicion that the Chinese government has no interest whatsoever in any kind of peaceful co-existence. Many Tibetans believe that China is bent on complete forceful assimilation and absorption of Tibet into China.  They call for the independence of Tibet and criticise my “Middle Way Approach”.  Others are advocating a referendum in Tibet. They argue if conditions inside Tibet are as the Chinese authorities portray it to be and if the Tibetans are truly happy, then there should be no difficulty holding a plebiscite in Tibet.  I have also always maintained that ultimately the Tibetan people must be able to decide about the future of Tibet as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, stated in the Indian Parliament on December 7. 1950: “…the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and nobody else.”

While I firmly reject the use of violence as a means in our freedom struggle we certainly have the right to explore all other political options available to us. I am a staunch believer in freedom and democracy and have therefore been encouraging the Tibetans in exile to follow the democratic process.  Today, the Tibetan refugees may be among the few communities in exile that have established all the three pillars of democracy:­ legislature, judiciary and executive.  This year we have taken another big stride in the process of democratisation by having the chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet elected by popular vote.  The elected chairman of the Cabinet and the elected parliament will shoulder the responsibility of running the Tibetan affairs as the legitimate representatives of the people.  However, I do consider it my moral obligation to the six million Tibetans to continue taking up the Tibetan issue with the Chinese leadership and to act as the free spokesman of the Tibetan people until a solution is reached.

In the absence of any positive response from the Chinese government to my overtures over the years, I am left with no alternative but to appeal to the members of the international community.  It is clear now that only increased, concerted and consistent international efforts will persuade Beijing to change its policy on Tibet.  Although the immediate reactions from the Chinese side will be most probably negative, nevertheless, I strongly believe that expressions of international concern and support are essential for creating an environment conducive for the peaceful resolution of the Tibetan problem.  On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue.  It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a mutually beneficial solution that will contribute to the stability and unity of the People’s Republic of China and secure the right for the Tibetan people to live in freedom, peace and dignity.

Madam Speaker, honourable members of the Parliament, brothers and sisters of the European Parliament, I consider myself as the free spokesman for my captive countrymen and women.  It is my duty to speak on their behalf.  I speak not with a feeling of anger or hatred towards those who are responsible for the immense suffering of our people and the destruction of our land, homes, temples, monasteries and culture. They too are human beings who struggle to find happiness, and deserve our compassion.  I speak to inform you of the sad situation in my country today and of the aspirations of my people, because in our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.  Today, our people, our distinct rich cultural heritage and our national identity are facing the threat of extinction.  We need your support to survive as a people and as a culture.

When one looks at the situation inside Tibet it seems almost hopeless in the face of increasing repression, continuing environmental destruction, and the ongoing systematic undermining of the culture and identity of Tibet. Yet I believe that no matter how big and powerful China may be she is still part of the world.  The global trend today is towards more openness, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.  Sooner or later China will have to follow the world trend and in the long run there is no way that China can escape from truth, justice and freedom.  Since the Tibetan issue is closely related with what is happening in China, I believe there is reason and ground for hope.

The consistent and principled engagement of the European Parliament with China will accelerate this process of change that is already taken place in China. I would like to thank the European Parliament for the consistent display of concern and support for the non-violent Tibetan freedom struggle. Your sympathy and support have always been a deep source of inspiration and encouragement to the Tibetan people both inside and outside Tibet. The numerous resolutions of the European Parliament on the issue of Tibet helped greatly to highlight the plight of the Tibetan people and raise the awareness of the public and governments in Europe and around the world of the issue of Tibet. I am especially encouraged by the European Parliament’s resolution calling for the appointment of an EU special representative for Tibet.  I strongly believe that the implementation of this resolution will enable the European Union not only to help promote a peaceful resolution of the Tibetan issue through negotiations in a more consistent, effective and creative way but also provide support for other legitimate needs of the Tibetan people, including ways and means to preserve our distinct identity. This initiative will also send a strong signal to Beijing that the European Union is serious in encouraging and promoting a solution of the Tibetan problem. I have no doubt that your continued expressions of concern and support for Tibet will in the long run impact positively and help create the conducive political environment for a constructive dialogue on the issue of Tibet.  I ask for your continued support in this critical time in our country’s history.  I thank you for providing me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

Thank you.