Archive for December 28th, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Liu Xiaobo and the Confraternization of Nations

My new book is the elephant in the room that official Norway – politicians, most media, academics – are adamant not to see,

Frederik S. Heffermehl wrote in a guest commentary for News in English, a Norwegian website, on December 10. The purpose of the prize, i. e. Nobel’s will, had been global disarmament based on international law and institutions. Heffermehl warned that the continuing silence maintained by Thorbjørn Jagland and Geir Lundestad, the chair and secretary of the committee, and the absence of a public debate, was undermining democracy. Without a certain respect for facts, truth and honest debate, democracy cannot function, he wrote.

On his website, Heffermehl points out that a will may need to be reinterpreted according to changed realities, but adds that the realities Nobel was facing when establishing the Peace Nobel Prize hadn’t changed at all.

[T]he goal of the interpretation of a will is to find out what the testator intended, the purpose he or she had in mind. To describe the recipients he had in mind Nobel created a Swedish word, fredsförfäktare (‘‘champions of peace’’). Under the law it is both improper and illegal for the Nobel Committee to ignore the specific expression that Nobel actually used, champions of peace, and instead give its own content to the much less specific term ‘‘peace prize.’’ The committee is guilty of an unauthorized change of its mandate.

Criteria for choosing a winner are neatly listed there, and not easy to be found elsewhere.

It should be pointed out that Heffermehl does not criticize Liu Xiaobo, this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He criticizes – and has long criticized – what he considers a deviation in our times, from Nobel’s original will.

The criteria listed by Heffermehl had, he writes, been left to help the Nobel Committee understand what Nobel had in mind. Going by the criteria, I think the award to Liu Xiaobo is actually justified.

1. The greatest benefit on Mankind

It is justified to think of Liu as a man who during the expired year has conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. In a country where nationalism is rampant, and every move or utterance against it considered treason, by the authorities and many “ordinary people”, Liu wasn’t shy to speak his mind. With the charter 08, in the drafting of which he played a leading role, he spelled out what it takes to help people find peace with themselves, and those who govern. Censorship, propaganda, and victimization by countless relative powerless people by relatively more powerful ones has led to a climate in China which is continuously searching for scapegoats. Conveniently, and thanks to propaganda and censorship, much of the anger is now projected on people and powers abroad. Liu has now served the first out of eleven years for speaking truth for power.

Many people elsewhere are no less brave in their search for peace than Liu Xiaobo, and suffer no less than he does. Many people elsewhere actually pay with their lives. But if Heffermehl’s challenge to the Nobel Committee is the elephant in the official Norway’s room, Liu’s contribution is big, too, because his country is the new elephant in the room of the global economy and global politics,  and because many of Liu’s compatriots are or were unaware of the efforts he and other human-rights activists made. Many of his compatriots condemn his efforts, out of fear of “foreign conspiracies” against China.

2. Champions of Peace

There is no civil society in China that would address the requirements for peace. The Chinese Communist Party decides what contributes to peace within and without. Non-governmental involvement is only a theory. The steps a man or a woman can take in China had been taken by people like Liu. He had helped to draft the Charter. He had spoken “truth to power” – and he spoke his sometimes juicy, but frequently thought-provoking (if you are willing to think) opinion to the very small Chinese “public” that was technically in a position to take note of his opinion.

The verdict brought by Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court in December last year wasn’t specific. It is possible that it only took the drafting of the Charter 08 into consideration. It is also possible that it took everything from 1989 (or even d1988) to 2008 into consideration. Liu’s eleven-year prison sentence comes across as a culminative reaction to his work – and the Nobel Peace Prize may count as a culminative appraisal of it.

3. Confraternization of Nations

Given the secrecy of the Chinese state, the state surveillance of its media – mass media and individula media such as cellphones alike -, news and information is often hard to verify. But Liu Xiaobo did make contributions to the confraternization of nations even within China. Liu linked Han-Chinese human rights and Tibetan rights, according to Woeser:

I still remember that night when he asked me in his stammering voice on Skype to please sign my name under “Charter 08” as a sign of respect and trust towards him and in memory of his long support of and consideration for the Tibetan issue. I signed my name without any hesitation. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested in his home and one year later, concealed by the haze of Christmas celebrations, he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

Liu Xiaobo, once again, isn’t the only human-rights activists who considers every Chinese citizen’s human rights, regardless of nationality. In several cases, Han-Chinese lawyers volunteered to defend Tibetan culprits in “politically sensitive” cases. When reading what Dolkar Tso, wife of an imprisoned Tibetan businessman, reportedly wrote early this year, it gives you an idea as of how feelings can contribute to peace among people with different civilizational backgrounds, or how feelings can stirr hatred between them.

But while Liu Xiaobo isn’t the only Han-Chinese stakeholder who cares, he is, again, an outstanding citizen of an important country. He doesn’t fear his own country. He doesn’t fear the outside world. He says that he has no enemies, and no hatred. To be able to handle ones own fears is a prerequisite for confaternization.

4. Abolition of Standing Armies

Here, interpretation comes into play, indeed. No big and no small country worldwide is in the mood to advocate the abolition of standing armies – not even Costa Rica, which has no standing army of its own. That Liu isn’t calling for disbanding standing armies doesn’t disqualify him.

5. The Holding and Promotion of Peace Congresses

Every statesman, no matter his record otherwise, can probably be praised for his or her support of one or another peace congress. Liu is, for obvious reasons, in no position to hold or promote peace congresses.

All that said, Heffermehl’s objections to the Nobel Committee’s work do seem to require public debate in Norway. I believe that the right man got the prize in 2010, but for the reasons I’ve given here myself. The problem for the committee in actually “justifying” its choices, I believe, is to state its reasons, but without “offending” powers that be. This is particularly true the case with  China which raises hell in such situations. But when looking at the list of winners since 1960, you can frequently appreciate the temptation for a jury to keep its explanations pussy-footed.

China reportedly suspended trade talks with Norway indefinitely in November. No matter if “cultural relativism”, business interests, or anything else are reasons for the Committee’s  ways of communication – they need to be discussed in a democracy, if democracy is to function.

Liu Xiaobo is the first Han-Chinese winner of a Nobel. When thinking about the Nobel Peace Prize, can you think of other Chinese citizens who deserve the prize, too, or instead?

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