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Archive for August 19th, 2011

Warring Tibetan Bookstores: A Glimpse of Nepal Between Great Powers

Posted by Rosa Harris on August 19, 2011

A wall of books, all by one author. photo credit: Eric Ribellarsi

From Winter Has Its End
By Eric Ribellarsi

Nepal is a classic border region – to the south lie the humid, densly populated plains of India. To the North, over the ice-peaks of the Himalayan ridge, is the Tibetan plateau, today dominated harshly and uneasily by the expansive new Chinese powerhouse.

So bookstores here in Katmandu, the main city of Nepal, are entwined with geo-politics, and are often consciously implanted to influence the direction of events.

For example, Tibetan bookstores are everywhere in Kathmandu. They have many purposes. First, they are there to promote the claims that the Dalai Lama (and the apparatus of Buddhists monks) have on the political future of Tibet. They are there to connect with Kathmandu’s tourist trade, and keep the issues of pre-communist Tibet before them. And they are also there as a kind of projection of power: Because the base area of the Dalai Lama’s forces is to the South, across the Nepal-India border, in India. And Tibet itself lies to the north, across the Nepal-China border. And for over fifty years now, the Lamaists have used Nepal as a forward base area – from the CIA-backed guerrilla attacks into China during the 1960s, to the monk demonstrations against the Chinese control in the 1990s.

When I walked in, the bookstore was full of Buddhist works and new-age white people. Of course, most prominently featured are the works of the Dalai Lama. Two entire walls in the store are dedicated the writings of the Dalai Lama. One book is entirely dedicated to photographs of the Dalai Lama.

I thought to myself that “the Dalai Lama’s cult of personality is large enough to make Stalin blush.” And that brought up the strange and ironic contradictions within Western “pro-Tibetan” sympathies: Liberals, who would never tolerate a conservative religious government in their country for a second, actively support elevating medieval monks to power in Tibet. People who have few illusions of what theocracy would mean in their countries (or Iran!) freely fantasize that renewed theocracy would be heavenly in Tibet.

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