BY SHANNON WILEY
Sikyong (Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile was honored on Tuesday in Salisbury University’s Holloway Hall with SU’s Presidential Medal, an honor bestowed on an individual for community leadership and forward thinking.
Sangay was given this medal for his work to regain autonomy in Tibet and for promoting peace and understanding.
Tibetans are currently a people in exile, as China has occupied the country since 1950, forcing millions to flee the country.
Today, over one million have died as a result of the occupation, according to freetibet.org, and Tibet is one of the 12 most repressed countries on the globe, according to a 2014 Freedom in the World report.
At the ceremony, Sangay gave a speech entitled “Democracy and the Third Way,” part of SU’s Bosserman Center for Conflict Resolution “One Person Can Make a Difference” lecture series.
In the speech, Sangay spoke of his humble beginnings, being born on Tibetan refugee camp in India and working during his childhood for his family on their one-acre of land while going to the Tibetan school on the camp.
From there, he went to the University of Delhi and then to Harvard Law School, becoming the first Tibetan to receive a degree there.
Sangay said that although he knew that he could remain in the U.S., he felt compelled to go back to India and help his people regain their country and return the Dalai Lama to Tibet. This compulsion he attributed to it being his “karmic duty” and to the Buddhist philosophy of “impermanence.”
“You will live, you will die; you have no choice,” he said. “But since you are leaving, leave this world with something that will make it a better place.”
In 2011, the Dalai Lama, who had until this time been the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, decided that there must be a separation of church and state and that his political power must be completely dissolved. This was in order to establish a true democracy for all Tibetan people to unite under.
A few months later, an election was held in which Sangay was a candidate. He told the audience that in this election, he was the least experienced and least qualified; despite this, he still won the majority of votes from Tibetans across the globe.
Since then, Sangay has been leading a government focusing on education, economics, health and religion and culture.
“Our religion is under great threat from the Chinese,” Sangay said in an interview.
China has banned Dalai Lama images in Tibet, shut down 99 percent of monasteries and jailed thousands of Monks in Tibet, according to freetibet.org.
To combat this, religion and culture is taught in all Tibetan schools, and the government works to keep good values in its people.
“It’s what we call a bird of two wings,” he said. “Be a professional, be great at what you do, but on the other hand, be a good person with strong values.”
Additionally, Sangay has worked to teach the world about the environmental necessity Tibet is to the world geographically. The country is home to some of the largest glaciers in the world, and unlike other glaciers around the world that melt into the ocean, Tibetan glaciers flow into rivers that stream fresh water across Asia. But due to Chinese industrialization in Tibet, this is under threat, as well.
Sangay’s main goal as Sikyong is to bring this “struggle of freedom” to completion and regain freedom for the Tibetan people. To do this, Sangay developed the “third way.”
Instead of allowing Tibetans to still live in exile, or fighting the Chinese for the independence they feel they are entitled to, the country is now seeking autonomy for Tibet under the Chinese constitution.
“This is a win-win for both countries,” he said.
Sangay said that he hopes that Tibet will become a model for other countries in a number of ways.
One of these ways is through their respect for each other even though the country has many cultural and social differences.
Sangay gave an anecdote to explain this, saying that when he was running for Sikyong, he and his opposition shared a car traveling across India for a debate, shared a hotel room the night before the debate, and then shared two meals as well as campaign tips on the day of the event.
Likewise, he spoke of the etiquette that is displayed in parliament wherein everyone must obtain permission to come in or leave the parliamentary room from the speaker, including Sangay.
The Sikyong also said during an interview that he hopes Tibet will become a model for the global community regarding world violence.
“From World War I and World War II we should have learned that violence begets violence,” he said.
Tibetans take a non-violent stance on all issues and instead try to find peaceful compromises.
Sangay also said he wants Tibet to be a model for all exiled people and all refugees. He hopes that other refugees will take after Tibet and create a democracy, because of its universality, in order to create a unified voice through their diversity. This way, when they get their country back, their government will be stronger than ever before.
Although Sangay spoke about how difficult this journey has been for the “struggle of freedom,” working on a $20 million yearly budget for their government and a $400-a-month budget for himself while facing all the struggles and obstacles of running a global movement and government, he is positive that they will succeed.
“I know that one day, we will be able to go back to Tibet,” he said.