This was the optimistic message delivered to a central London audience on 24th April, after we had enjoyed a three-course meal provided by the Tibet Foundation. Mr Tsering Gombo, a Tibetan nomad, delivered a stirring talk about his peoples’ struggle to maintain their cultural identity and historic way of life against two giant neighbours — China and India. China, as much of the world knows, occupies and oppresses his country, but Mr Gombo also identified the Indian government’s programmes of “development” and assimilationism as an insidious cultural threat.
Mr Gombo was born on land now forcibly incorporated in the Chinese Empire. But as a child in 1962, he crossed the border into Ladakh, the ancient mountain kingdom known as “Little Tibet”, but which is now under Indian rule. For nomadic herdsmen, the arbitrarily-drawn boundaries of the New World Order are a source of bewilderment and trauma. Mr Gombo spoke with some sorrow about his starkly beautiful mountain land and the dispossession of his people, a minority even within Tibet. Still affected by polio, he expressed gratitude to those in Britain and other Western countries who had helped him reconstruct his life. But his rejection of the consumer culture was palpable. He did not want roads and refrigerators, but land and freedom.
The Tibet Foundation is a London-based charity established in 1985 to promote awareness of Tibetan culture and religion. As well as medical and educational programmes, the Foundation aims to bring them spiritual sustenance — helping them preserve their culture whilst in enforced exile around the world. Where possible, it helps Tibetans under Chinese rule too, as their customs and society still come under systematic attack. Another of the Foundation’s projects is the restoration of Buddhism in Mongolia, where the Communists plundered temples and forced celibate monks into marriage.
Through almost half a century of occupation, the Chinese have used immigration as one of their principal methods of social control, introducing into Tibet millions of settlers so that today they outnumber the natives in many places. This demographic imperialism called to mind the situation in Latvia. There, the government is under pressure from unelected Eurocrats to grant citizenship to ethnic Russians, settlers implanted by the Soviet regime. Mr Gombo stressed the value of culture in resistance to imperialism, whether that culture be Tibetan, Irish, Jewish or African. His stress on landscape and identity was influenced, perhaps, by Bon, the indigenous spirituality of Tibet which resembles the ancient religions of Northern Europe….