UPDATE: The ‘Partij voor Geluk‘ has removed their link to Bhutan as a guiding country for Gross National Happiness in response to the comments made by me. Which is a good thing and I welcome that! I wish this new party all the best in their endeavors. Obviously it is important that the myth of Bhutan as a hallmark for happiness is dismantled and the human rights violations by Bhutan are recognized and acknowledged.
A new political party is coming to the Dutch politcal arena. As a counter movement to the current development of Dutch (or even western) society. The Party for Happiness, in Dutch ‘Partij voor Geluk’ (www.partijvoorgeluk.nl). How nice.
A Party for Happiness, what a great initiative don’t you think? Because, to be honest, everything in this world is judged in financial economical terms like Gross National Product (GNP) meaning money, the filth of the earth. And there is another option like the one that this PvG suggest. Just look at Bhutan they say. Bhutan the buddhist Himalayan kingdom where Gross National Happiness is the measure for government success, Bhutan where the people are happy and Bhutan where according to it’s prime minister Mr. Thinley ‘even the dogs smile’…
But is that true? How are things concerning Gross National Happiness in Bhutan really? Is Bhutan really that happy conutry and does the United Nations indeed push them forward as an example, as a guiding nation for the world?
The answer my friend, is blowing in the Himalayan wind. And it simply says: no. Not at all. Bhutan is not an overly happy country and although the dogs might smile, many of it’s people certainly don’t. Bhutan is the only 100% Bhuddist ruled country in the world. A country that in the years 1990 – 1992 exiled some 120,000 of it’s citizens to India and in the end to refugee camps in Nepal where they have lived ever since. Almost 20% of the Bhutanese population now live outside the country in global diaspora since the United Nations started mass third country resettlement in 2007 shifting almost all of these refugees to countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. Bhutan as a nation is responsible for the percentagewise largest ethnic and cultural cleansing since world war two. Hardly a nation to set an example to the world.
Gross National Happiness in Bhutan is according to the latest results certainly not all over. Things like health care and education are experienced as factors making the mostly rural population less than happy. According to Bhutan’s own annual GNH report that was recently published. Bhutan does not have freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of travel, freedom to speak Nepali, freedom to dress to your own desire, freedom to smoke a cigarette… Bhutan does however have over 400 political prisoners (according to sources like Human Rights Watch), it throws monks in jail for carrying 30 grams of tobacco on them and has been denying international requests to repatriate it’s own people to the south and east of the country. Bhutan sabotaged 19 years of talks with the Nepalese government for repatriation, lies structurally to the refugees, the international community and the press about their willingness to take their people back and Bhutan remains a country as closed to the outside world as North Korea. If you live in Bhutan and oppose the government you can be thrown into jail, be tortured (Bhutan has the doubtful reputation of a great inventor of torture methods), thrown into exile or even get killed.
Over the past decades the Human Rights Evaluations by the United Nations on Bhutan have repeatedly shown many comments from countries like the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands and others on the situation concerning the exiled population now living in the refugee camps in Nepal with already half of them resettled in the largest third country resettlement project of the UNHCR ever. Continuous reporting by organizations like Human Rights Watch and Global Human Rights Defence have made clear that Bhutan is not a country of Gross National Happiness but a country of Gross Human Rights Violations.
It’s sad to see that western society has a very biased and uninformed view of the Bhutanese reality. Bhutan has been able (and has been given ample space to do so) to build an effective reality distortion field around it’s atrocities. That reality distortion field has a name: Gross National Happiness. As a concept welcomed by Buddhists and politicians globally. It is because of that western urge to be inspired by something nice as ‘happiness’ that helps Bhutan in covering up the reality and trying to change history. Using that concept is very much like taking king Herod’s approach to an unwelcome reality: washing hands in innocence while allowing human rights violations to continue.
Not quite a good start for a political party I suppose.
If you want to know more about the reality of Bhutan and the situation of the Bhutanese exiles surf to http://www.headwindfilm.com, watch the trailer of the upcoming documentary and read my essay about the topic.
© 2012 Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
director of Headwind
Friend of Bhutan Media Society