A Nobel Account
Image Credit: The Office of Nancy Pelosi

A Nobel Account


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.’

December 24, 2010 at 02:07

There are a lot of things one man can do, and a man like Liu XiaoBo has certainly done a lot in the past. He was a human right activist and ideologist. In some part of his ideas, he’s magnificent and great. Too great that many oversees his potential threat and true benefits. Why would the CCP send him behind bars now, when the world focuses on China’s performance? Why would CCP risking to ruin its image for one man like Liu XiaoBo? The crime, as China punished Liu for, is ‘Subversion’, a threat that will jeopardize China’s national security (the 1.3bil Chinese China), not for ‘participation in human right activism’. Why many people can’t differentiate that? If he were an American proposing such ideas in the name of US for the Congress, I’m sure he’d be in Guantanamo, and not listed in Nobel at all.

December 16, 2010 at 02:41

release her *from* house arrest

December 15, 2010 at 23:51

“By the way the Nobel Peace Prize committee is better to make sure of giving the prize money to LXB himself, not even his wife, she may take the money and fly without LXB.”

by the way, have your CCP friends released her friend house arrest yet?

John Chan
December 15, 2010 at 17:43

@John, you are wrong, if the LXB did not evocate federation type of national structure change he wouldn’t be charged for subversion, and he won’t be dealt as public enemy number one, particular LXB is fully aware of his USA background. So far none of the people against the CCP has raised such proposition, LXB is the first one and the only one. All Chinese know that federation in China means warring states, that’s why every Chinese evocates and supports strong central government since the era of Warring States few thousands years ago. Changing China into federation is the fast and thorough way to destroy China, the direct benefactors of such change is the US, The EU, Japan, India, etc. to name a few.

John, right of free speech in the West is a right with obligation, you can be sued, jailed, etc. if someone does not like your “free speech”. The West has a well-established judicial system to make sure the conviction of your “free speech” is legal and legitimate.

Nobel wanted to award people that have made contribution to peace, human rights or anything else is not in the scope of Nobel Peace prize when Nobel set it up. The Nobel Peace prize Committee is acting beyond its mandate for the purpose of gaining fame and inference. Anyhow the prize awarding ceremony is a gorgeous party that not money can buy, so all the big shots can have a boast of their ego trips at the expenses of China.

By the way the Nobel Peace Prize committee is better to make sure of giving the prize money to LXB himself, not even his wife, she may take the money and fly without LXB.

December 15, 2010 at 11:50

John, only the nation’s citizens have any legitimacy whatsoever to make that point. I do not foresee a vast outpouring of support for Liu simply because his predicament is a price already accepted by the population. Pressure to release him not only introduces uncertainty to his case, but to the millions of others on corruption, drug violations, murder, mayhem etc that the people really do care about. Many Chinese would say there needs to be more use and creative use of the state’s powers to combat rising crime, disruptive social changes etc. I would personally argue that logical limitations on the right to free speech are far easier to establish in a country still developing those institutions than in a decades-old democracy where something like that will get you laughed out of office.

Also, an interesting quirk about the charge of subversion is that there is no actual definition of it, so the government decides if you have committed it or not. The party decided he screwed up, and so now he is in jail for 11 years. There technically has been no overt breach of legislative procedures with Liu – it was an open-and-shut case of dissident v. state. Reality in China is simply that the state is more powerful.

December 15, 2010 at 08:05

Michael, that would be a good point if the courts actually followed Chinese law when making decisions. The fact of the matter is that the Chinese “constitution” enshrines the right to free speech, yet they continually oppress those that express themselves. As for “subversion”, all Liu did was ask that the government follow the Constitution. He did not “advocate war” or “separatism” as some have suggested.

December 14, 2010 at 15:10

The Noble prize committee have indirectly questioned the judicial sovereignty of China. I doubt any country in the world would appreciate having their judicial decisions questioned by foreigners, and the Noble decision makers should have realized that.

Maybe in 11 years time when he gets out, the crime that Liu committed (subversion) will no longer be considered a crime. However, at the time he published his writings they were criminal, and therefore the law must apply. To accede to the wishes of the Nobel prize committee is to set a very disturbing precedent for foreign (ie Western) “supervision” of Chinese laws.

December 14, 2010 at 09:37

Liu XiaoBo is probably sitting in his cell and regreting what has he done, by simply divide his charter 08 into different sections and publish them at different times he can avoid being jailed all together because some of the things he asked are essentially what many Chinese commentators in China speaks about OPENLY. the 2 thing that put Liu in jail was because he no.1 he wanted to topple the current government this will be seen as an act of promoting a revolution, no.2 he wanted to split Tibet Xinjiang and inner mongolia from China by asking for A federated republic(this will in effect make Tibet and Xinjiang de facto independent states) for these rediculous demands i dont feel sorry that he got 11 years behind bars.

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