Eesti Elu
Dalai Lama and Estonia: a moral dilemma - democratic ideals vs realpolitik
Arvamus 27 May 2011  Eesti Elu
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Tibet’s Dalai Lama will make his third visit to Estonia this August, having been invited by composer Sven Grünberg. As on the previous trips, the visit has aroused critcism of Estonia’s top leadership who are expected to avoid open and official meetings with the Tibetan leader.

Former prime minister Juhan Parts (currently economics and communications minister) states that he would have certainly met with the Dalai lama: “Why not? I don’t see any reason not to meet with him. He himself has stressed that he is a religious leader, not a politician.”

The Dalai Lama (Nobel Peace Prize laureate 1989) has met with all US presidents starting with Jimmy Carter and amongst others, Lithuania’s Vytautas Landsbergis, the Czech Republic’s Vaclav Havel and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Political ideology seems not to be a factor in making one’s choice: When recently the City of Paris decidied to confer the title of Honorary Citizen on the Dalai Lama, supporting the proposal were the socialist and greens; opposing it were the communists, centrists, conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party members.

Some economists in Estonia view the country’s trade relations superceding any intent to focus on China’s miserable human rights record or the plight of politically suppressed Tibetans. Others acknowledge that, yes, China would react negatively to western official recognition of the Dalai Lama, but eventually China would want to continue with its robust trade/investment relationship with the west and anything hindering it would be unproductive. China’s indignation would subside.

A study (Fuchs and Klann 2010) of how bilateral tensions affect trade with autocratic China seems to confirm this viewpoint. It found that meetings of a political leader with the Dalai Lama decrease exports to China by 8.1%. This “Dalai Lama effect” disappears two years after a meeting takes place. The researchers indicate that there could be potential losses when receiving the Dalai Lama, but not meeting with him is not necessarily the conclusion to be drawn from the findings. The willingness to bear the costs of trade reductions in conjunction with bilateral disagreements lends credible resolve to the political position of such a country.

In a January 18 Washington Post article authored by practising Tibetan Buddhist Matteo Pistono, Estonians can find parallels between Tibetans and the fate of Estonians during the Soviet occupation: “It is in Tibet where the rights and freedoms set forth by the community of nations as “universal” are deemed by China to be “arbitrary” and an aggressive assimilation agenda forged by the Chinese Communist Party threatens the survival of a unique wisdom that holds the development of compassion as its spiritual goal. “

Estonians, demanding self determination for their country, are familiar with this adage: If a freedom-loving nation does not oppose repression, wherever it may be, it has lost its moral authority to speak on behalf those oppressed. Pragmatists however insist that the Tibet/China conflict is a classical nationalistic dispute in which the rights of a people, Tibetans, to self-determination and independence is pitted against the rights of a multiethnic state, China, to maintain what it sees as its historical territorial integrity. (Harkens back to the Soviet era’s Kremlin, even to today’s power elite of Russia.)

Would it be naive to ask why some leading western decision-makers shouldn’t make the righteous choice to officially recognize the Dalai Lama, support the aspirations of the Tibetan people and bear the brunt (it seems only temporarily) of Peking’s wrath? It’d be easier to look in the mirror every morning.
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