The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony took place Friday, and, as was expected, most of the attention was on who wasn’t there. This didn’t just include this year’s winner and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, who is in jail in China over his role in the Charter 08 manifesto. Also absent were representatives from more than a dozen of the 65 governments invited, including Russia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba.
The snub from these models of free expression came on the back of pressure from the Chinese government, which has been outraged by a decision that it deems meddling in its affairs. Interestingly, the Serbian government, which had planned to boycott the ceremony, in the end offered personal congratulations to Liu after Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic came under heavy pressure from rights groups following his announcement that: ‘This is Serbia's tactical move aimed at maintenance of strategic relations with China.’
There’s an interesting timeline of the Serbian decision on Global Voices.
I received an email from Jean-Philippe Béja, a senior researcher at the Centre for International Studies and Research in Paris who attended the ceremony, describing the day. I asked him if I could share with readers his take on the event:
‘To tell you the truth, I thought that it would be a very formal occasion. But the atmosphere in the Oslo City Hall on the day of the ceremony was terribly moving and Liu Xiaobo’s absence only emphasized the importance of a prize that has raised such a controversy.
‘However, from the very beginning, there was no feeling of hatred, no heated denunciation of Beijing’s leaders, no ‘anti-Chinese’ declarations. Underneath the smiling face of the absent laureate, the ceremony was dedicated to non-violence, represented by Liu’s comment: ‘I have no enemies’.
‘All thoughts were directed to Jinzhou prison, and during the whole ceremony, Liu’s spirit was present. It was present in Thorbjørn Jagland’s speech, a model of moderation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman will likely be disappointed, but nothing in Jagland’s speech was anti-Chinese. In fact, he acknowledged the immense positive changes that have occurred during the last 30 years.
‘And Jagland also didn’t refrain from criticizing attitudes in Western countries: ‘While others at this time are counting their money, focusing exclusively on their short-term national interests, or remaining indifferent, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has once again chosen to support those who fight—for us all.’
‘Jagland reminded us that many prizes had been criticized, and not only in authoritarian countries: ‘Many Americans were opposed to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King in 1964. Looking back, we can see that the USA grew stronger when the African-American people obtained their rights.’
‘Although very few of Liu’s works have been translated into English, Jagland’s speech was infused with his spirit and it was rewarded with three standing ovations. Liv Ulman’s rendering of the ‘Final Statement’ that Liu Xiaobo wasn’t allowed to read completely at his trial, drew tears from the audience members. The exhibition put together by the Nobel Peace Price centre, ‘I have no enemies’, is also a fine presentation of the various episodes of the pro-democracy movement. The absence of Liu Xiaobo, his family, or any ‘comrade’ residing on the mainland gave even more weight to the Nobel ceremony.
‘It takes a writer to convey the atmosphere in Oslo on Friday. The Nobel ceremony has shown that in some cases, small countries can make a difference.’