Norway’s prime minister and foreign minister are not going to meet the Dalai Lama when he visits next month, as part of an effort to ease tensions with the world’s second-largest economy, Bloomberg reported on April 23. Views and News from Norway wrote on April 9 that Parliamentary President and a long-time supporter of Tibet, Olemic Thommessen, said he would not be meeting with the exiled spiritual leader because it was more important to repair relations with China. Relations between Oslo and Beijing had been frigid ever since Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, reports the Norwegian English-language website. It was Norway’s – now ruling – Conservative Party, including now prime minister Erna Solberg, who spoke up for human rights issues and Tibet in 2008. The Dalai Lama himself is a Nobel laureate and visits on the 25th anniversary of being awarded the peace prize.
According to the Views and News report,
Olav Gunnar Ballo, another former leader of the Tibet committee, said it’s a shame Norway’s leading politicians haven’t come out in support of the Dalai Lama, and it’s cowardly that appeasing China now seems to take precedence over human rights issues that were so actively brandished in the past.
According to the Voice of Tibet, a Norway-based broadcaster and website operator, demonstrators protested, on Wednesday, against high-ranking politicians’ decisions not to meet with the Dalai Lama. Among the demonstrators – about 400 according to News and Views -, were Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande, MP Rasmus Hansson of the Green Paerty, and rock musician Lars Lillo-Stenberg. Norway should not cave in to force and threats, one of the organizers reportedly told Norway’s public broadcaster NRK. According to Views and News, Liberal Party leader Grande said that
the Dalai Lama would not be received “in the basement” […] but would be brought to parliament to meet “as many politicians as we can manage to scrape together. We will show that people are concerned about the cowardice shown.”
These are strong words of criticism – and as they come from Norwegians, these words are laudable. But before Europeans elsewhere join the condemnations easily, they should pause and think what they or their countries were doing while Norwegian business was kept in the cold by Beijing. In fact, Oslo resisted the pressures for a remarkably long time.
But it is also true that the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Oslo – independent from government in formal terms, but not when it comes to membership and influence – has made a joke of itself in recent years. Awarding Liu Xiaobo was a brave choice, but the award that had preceded it a year earlier – to Barack Obama -, and the one that followed in 2012, to the European Union, were silly (to put it mildly).
Are the current (small-scale, but still bigger than elsewhere) protests only the last echoes from Norway’s better days? Or are they an indication that civil society is picking up important issues where the elites are failing? The Dalai Lama himself has turned more to people-to-people diplomacy in recent years, at least formally.
That’s where the future is.