By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 28 April 2018
Yoko Alender is a member of the Estonian Parliament, representing the Estonian Reform Party. Ms Alender is also the leader of the All-Party Estonian Parliamentary Group for Tibet. She was in McLeod Ganj for a three-day visit to see the current situation of the exile Tibetan community, and to show her support and solidarity with the Tibetan cause. Excerpts from an interview by Lobsang Wangyal:
Q: This is your third visit to McLeod Ganj. What changes did you see in your visits?
A: I was here the first time in 2004, and the second time in 2008, so the last time was 10 years ago.
Here in Dharamshala it seems like the Tibetan community is still very strong, and even better organised, at least what we have seen meeting the exile administration and the President, and also visiting some monasteries and nunneries.
But obviously the situation in China is much worse since 10 years ago. So maybe you see this kind of contrasting forces, that it’s getting worse in Tibet. Here in exile, for exile Tibetans, the administration seems to be doing all they can for the people.
Q: What’s your impression of CTA President Lobsang Sangay?
A: The President seems like a very wise man. We had a long discussion, and he gave me a lot to think about.
Discussing things with him was more like putting the Tibetan question in a whole-world perspective. The question of Tibet is a question of human rights and democratic values for all of us, and actually something we all can relate to. It’s not about supporting Tibet, it’s about supporting democratic values and human rights.
Q: What do you think about the sense of dedication of the European Union towards human rights?
A: Europe itself has been for a few years, in internal difficulties, a little bit — of course nothing to compare with the people in Tibet. But still, there has been a rising of populism, a rising of a little bit of extremism in some countries. Unity of Europe has been on the minds of the European people also, with the UK leaving, Brexit. I think some of the focus on human rights and other countries therefore has suffered somewhat.
Obviously also, we have had very close to us, Ukraine, a war in Ukraine. Of course for many Europeans the war in Syria is a very acute question, and obviously the violation of human rights there also. We could always do more.
Q: Syria is obviously one of the biggest agendas for now, and North Korea another. But the issue of Tibet has been going on for a while, but the people’s support, the feelings, is kind of drifting away. I don’t know how strong it is in your country, but in Europe in general?
A: There is always an interest towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama, especially now when it is 60 years already since he went into exile. Of course in the world, there are so many problems. So always we need to advocate … this is one of the reasons I wanted to come here for myself to see what the situation is, because I hadn’t been here for so long, for ten years.
Even though you can read everything on the Internet, it’s still another thing to meet people and to hear their stories. Definitely I think we need to raise the issue and also to talk about the political side a little bit more.
Generally people know more, or have a bigger interest in His Holiness and his teachings, in compassion. But maybe they are not so aware of what happens actually in China, what China is doing in Tibet — this is not very widely discussed.
Q: French president Macron was in the US a few days ago. He gave a talk saying that meeting with the Dalai Lama was quite difficult. He talks so much about climate change. The effect of global warming is quite drastic and dramatic in Tibet. Isn’t there a sense of hypocrisy talking so much about the climate change, but not trying to do anything about it in Tibet, where the issue in Tibet is quite critical. It is important to be practical, but there is nothing. How do you look at it?
A: I think it’s another issue people don’t know very much about, or haven’t realised. For human rights, there is some knowledge, but this huge climate issue, I think this is something we need to be informing people more about, in the West. Because it’s one world, everything in nature affects everyone. In general I think because of problems with politics, with national politics, these big really important global issues maybe have got left too much behind.
Q: The World Parliamentarians Convention for Tibet was going to be held at the end of April. It didn’t happen. What happened to that?
A: Yes, this is why I was coming here. I understand it has been postponed, but it will happen we hope, because it would be very good. I met one Swedish colleague yesterday, from the Swedish Parliament, we had a good exchange of thoughts. It would be very good to hear how people who want to support justice, who want to gather and pass on true information about what is happening to Tibetans, are doing it in their countries and to share experiences.
For one country, it is very hard to do something. For example if you want to push for change in the European Parliament, it is important to communicate between countries and have contacts. So I hope the conference will happen, and I hope to be invited, and to be able to come and join.
Q: You met the Dalai Lama Friday. What was your impression and what did you discuss?
A: The message that was most important for me to take home was the appreciation of foreign support to the Tibetan people and culture. Also we mutually agreed on the most important role of education in both the East and the West, and education also of the mind and the heart, the most human and most valuable traits to develop also in our schools.
Ms Alender's website is http://yokoalender.ee