“Twenty one years ago today His Holiness the Dalai Lama was presented with the Nobel Prize. I was just 13 but I remember well the overwhelming feeling of joy, celebration and vindication in my house – as well as the uncharacteristically optimistic look I saw on my father’s face – when we received news of the Nobel Committee’s decision. At that time, most people had never heard of Tibet, let alone the Dalai Lama, and the slogan “Free Tibet” often led to people inquiring after what we were giving away.
In those days, while pursuing international support for Tibet, Tibetans were often challenged to provide proof of the atrocities taking place there. But other than the eyewitness accounts of escaping refugees, we had none. There were no digital cameras to record the abuses, and no Internet or cell phones to communicate directly with Tibetans inside the country. In the eighties, if we received a simple post card from our family or friends in Tibet, even with most of the text blacked out, it was cause for celebration. This lack of connection and “hard evidence” often left Tibetans feeling helpless and frustrated as we tried to build our movement.
But the Nobel Peace Prize helped to change all that. Along with the protests in Tibet in the mid to late eighties, the award gave global recognition to our struggle, and a kind of validation to our suffering. Most importantly, it helped spark the birth of the modern Tibet support movement which has played a critical role in keeping the Tibetan issue alive in the international community and gives moral support and encouragement to Tibetans still suffering under Chinese oppression.
Thisyear, the Nobel Peace Prize gives global recognition to the aspirations of the Chinese people for human rights and democracy — aspirations that the Chinese government, and many in the Western world, have claimed they don’t have or need. Thanks to Liu Xiaobo’s fearless words and tireless advocacy for change in China – and the Nobel Committee’s courageous decision to honor him – the world is, at long last, paying attention to the human rights crisis inside China. And there is no question that something is very wrong, indeed Liu Xiaobo’s harsh prison sentence and Beijing’s hysterical response to his award is proof of this.
By imprisoning Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese authorities have done exactly what they were trying to stop – they have spread his ideas and his writings across China and around the world, and far from silencing his voice, they have ensured that he is being heard by people everywhere. Far more dangerous for them though, Liu Xiaobo’s words are inspiring and invigorating a new movement of Chinese, Tibetan and other rights advocates. This is the key to change in China and this is why they are terrified.
Back in 1989, on that beautiful day when His Holiness received his medal in Norway, we couldn’t have imagined that the Dalai Lama would become a household name, one of the most recognized and popular global leaders of our time and a serious challenger to the Chinese government’s influence in the world. And now, as we stand at yet another historic crossroads in the epic battle for rights, freedom and global peace, I cannot help but feel real optimism for what the future may hold, for Liu Xiaobo, for the Chinese people, for Tibetans, for all of us.”