The Good Guys Win One, &c.
October 14, 2010 12:00 A.M.
by Jay Nordlinger
Here on this blessed website, I’ve gone on a bit about the Nobel Peace Prize — the award this year to Liu Xiaobo. And I will have a piece in the forthcoming National Review (available in digital form tomorrow, and available in the hoary paper form shortly thereafter). But I’d like to devote a chunk of today’s column to the subject — and give you some comments from a couple of Liu’s fellow dissidents, with whom I’ve communicated.
Liu, as you know, is in prison. He has been in prisons, and a “reeducation through labor” camp, off and on for more than 20 years, since Tiananmen Square took place. And he is the first Chinese dissident — indeed, the first Chinese person — to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Chinese Communism has been in power since 1949; many brave and heroic people have struggled against it. So this prize was a long time in coming.
Soviet Communism was in power for almost 75 years: 1917 to 1991. There were just two Nobel Peace Prizes for those who struggled against this power (and there were many, many such strugglers, plenty of whom sacrificed their lives). Andrei Sakharov won in 1975. And Lech Walesa — a Pole, to be sure, but a contender with Soviet Communism all the same — won in 1983. I talked to Walesa earlier this year, and reported that conversation in NR. To see that article, go here.
The Nobel Committee honored the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa three times: the first time in 1961, when the Nobel for 1960 went to Albert John Lutuli. (In the past, the committee often waited a year, before conferring the prize for a particular year.) The second time was in 1984, when Bishop Tutu won. The last time was in 1993, at the glorious, longed-for end of apartheid. Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk won jointly.
Over the decades, Chinese dissidents, democracy activists, and political prisoners were frequently nominated. Often, they were “frontrunners,” according to speculation in the press. But they never won. It got to be kind of a joke. The rumor would be that a Chinese dissident was in line for the prize. The Chinese government would warn Norway, “You’d better not!” (The Nobel Committee is independent from the Norwegian government, though appointed by the parliament.) And somebody else would win — a non-Chinese.
(Did I mention that the Nobel Committee is composed of five Norwegians? Did I mention that the peace committee is a Norwegian committee, whereas the other Nobel committees are Swedish? I guess not. Sorry about that.)
Wei Jingsheng, the dissident and hero now in exile in the United States, was often a frontrunner. And often an also-ran. Laureates, in their Nobel speeches, would have to hail him, the way Oscar winners, clutching their precious statuettes, hail their colleagues who lost out. In 1996, Bishop Belo of East Timor said, “I think of China, and I pray for the well-being of Mr. Wei Jingsheng and his colleagues, and hope that they will soon be liberated from their jail cells.” His co-laureate, José Ramos-Horta, complimented Wei as “one of China’s best children.” Well, that was nice.
The next year, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and its leader Jody Williams, won. A man named Rae McGrath spoke for the ICBL. (Williams spoke separately.) He said, “We would . . . like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a fellow nominee and champion of civil action, Wei Jingsheng, and wish him well . . .” That was nice, too.
To its credit, the Nobel Committee honored the Dalai Lama in 1989. Earlier that year, the Chinese government had slaughtered peaceful protesters at Tiananmen Square. The Nobel Committee chairman, in remarks to the press, said that the 1989 award should be taken not just as encouragement to the Dalai Lama and Tibet; it should also be taken as encouragement to the Chinese democracy movement. The Dalai Lama paid tribute to the Tiananmen dead in his Nobel lecture.
(And when Liu Xiaobo learned of his own Nobel prize, he said it “goes first” to those Tiananmen dead.)
I asked Wei Jingsheng, via e-mail, what he thought of the 2010 prize. He said that it was of course good that the matter of Chinese human rights was brought into the international spotlight. But Liu was a “moderate reformer”: the kind willing to work with the government, hopeful of working with the government. The Nobel Committee could not stomach a different, less “moderate” kind of dissident. And what did it tell us about the Chinese government, said Wei, that even a moderate reformer could get eleven years? That is the duration of Liu’s current prison term: The clock started ticking only last December.
Wei recognizes that not everyone can win the Nobel Peace Prize. And it was good that a Chinese, any Chinese, won. But he named several others who might well have won, who deserve the honor, and glory, and help. (He excluded himself.) He named Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, Huang Qi, Hu Jia, the group called Tiananmen Mothers, “and so on.”
Let me return to the Dalai Lama for a moment: He could not have won the Nobel prize if he hadn’t been a “moderate” — a moderate opponent of Beijing. Of that I feel quite sure. The Nobel chairman in 1989 stressed the laureate’s “willingness to compromise.” For example, the Dalai Lama did not favor Tibetan independence, merely autonomy. And yet, the Chinese government took the prize to him very badly. You know what a Chinese official in Oslo said, when the 1989 prize was announced? “It is interference in China’s internal affairs. It has hurt the Chinese people’s feelings.”
As I say in my NR piece, maybe the government handed out Kleenex.
In 2003, the Nobel Committee gave the peace prize to a moderate reformer in Iran, Shirin Ebadi. She was indeed in Iran, not outside it. She was not an exile. And she was a long way from “radical” dissidence. She insisted that democracy was compatible, not just with Islam, but also with an “Islamic republic.” She wanted reform from within. She did not advocate the overthrow of the regime. And she said all the right things about the United States and Israel, the Great Satan and the Little Satan. At times, her rhetoric is barely distinguishable from that of the regime. Iranian dissidents in exile protested her Nobel prize on the streets of Oslo, as the ceremony was going on.
But: Ebadi had done, and has done, brave and important things. She has stuck her neck out. And, much to her sorrow, she is in exile now. Sometimes a totalitarian dictatorship doesn’t give you much choice, you know?Let me tell you a little something about governmental reaction: In 1975, when Sakharov won, the Soviets were pretty ticked. They called him an “anti-patriot,” an “enemy of détente,” and a “laboratory rat of the West.” They called him a “Judas for whom the Nobel prize was thirty pieces of silver from the West.” Isn’t it interesting that the Soviet authorities should have gone in for a Gospel reference?
This year, the Chinese government has said similar things: The award to Liu is an “obscenity.” The Nobel Peace Prize in general “has been reduced to a political tool of Western interests.” Etc., etc. All of these regimes spout in the same fashion.
In addition to Wei, I communicated, via e-mail, with Baiqiao Tang, another dissident in exile, a man who has recently completed a memoir, to be published soon. It’s called My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counterrevolutionary. His words to me were much like Wei’s: “Regardless of which dissident gets the prize, we should be happy.” Now the world’s attention is focused on the Chinese democracy movement. And that movement should take advantage of this “rare opportunity.”
Tang said, “We’re facing a very powerful and crafty opponent,” in the Chinese government, “and we have a long and difficult walk ahead of us. Think of this: We can’t even rescue a Nobel Peace Prize winner from prison.” Given this fact, “how can we talk about solving the June 4 problem, the Falun Gong problem, the Tibet problem, the Uighur problem, and many other human-rights problems?” (June 4 refers to Tiananmen Square.)
“So we are still very far from success. Only when all political prisoners, including Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng, Hu Jia, Chen Guangcheng, Tan Zuoren, Xie Changfa, Liu Xianbin, Guo Quan, Wang Bingzhang, Xu Wanping, and Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan freedom fighters, Uighur freedom fighters, underground Christians, the ‘disappeared,’ and many others are released — only then can we say that human rights are being recognized in China.”
By the way, Sakharov, in his Nobel lecture — read by his wife, Elena Bonner — named the names of about 100 political prisoners in the Soviet Union. Nothing gives such men and women greater hope; nothing so discourages them as the thought, or the fact, that they are forgotten.
Tang added one more thing: “Now is the time to ask the international community to condemn the Chinese government’s human-rights abuses. Now is the time to request the release of all prisoners — not only Liu Xiaobo — and a stop to persecution. We should also use this chance to develop our democracy movement and get more people involved, until we win for our democratic ideal.”
I’m afraid I’m going to repeat what I’ve said on this site before, and what I say in my new magazine piece: In the long history of the Nobel Peace Prize — since 1901 — only four laureates have been unable to travel to Oslo to pick up the prize. That is, only four have been prevented for political reasons. The first was Carl von Ossietzky in 1936. (He was the laureate for 1935, named the following year.) He was a political prisoner of the Nazis. This is beautiful: Goering asked him to reject and renounce the prize. The prisoner told him to stuff it.
The second man prevented was Sakharov. The third was Walesa. And the fourth laureate was Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese democracy heroine, who won the prize in 1991. (She is under house arrest as we speak.)
So, will the prisoner Liu be the fifth laureate prevented from picking up the prize? It appears so. Will they let his wife go? She is under house arrest. Ossietzky had no one to speak for him. Sakharov had the great Bonner (who was out of the Soviet Union already, for medical treatment). Walesa had his wife, Danuta. Aung San Suu Kyi had her husband and two sons.
And I cherish what the 1975 Nobel chairman, Aase Lionaes, said at Sakharov’s ceremony. She said, “The Nobel Committee deeply deplores the fact that Andrei Sakharov has been prevented from being present here today in person to receive the peace prize. This is a fate he shares with the man who, forty years ago in 1935, was awarded the peace prize. His name was Carl von Ossietzky.”
She was a little off on a detail: Ossietzky’s prize had come in 1936. But she hit them dead between the eyes: She linked the Soviets’ behavior with the Nazis’. How about the current chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland? In December, at the ceremony for Liu, will he link Beijing’s behavior with that of the Soviet Union and the Third Reich? That would be thrilling.
As you well know, Cuban Communism has been in power one decade less than Chinese Communism — that brutal, murderous gang took over in 1959. The Cubans are still waiting for their first Nobel Peace Prize. Earlier this year, Armando Valladares, the writer who spent 22 years in the Cuban gulag, told me, “We would have won two or three Nobel prizes already,” if the Cuban dictatorship were right-wing instead of left-wing. I’m afraid that is so.
You may wonder why I’m yakking about the prize. Well, I’m completing a book on the subject — on the subject of the Nobel Peace Prize. It will be published by Encounter (quite a while from now). I hope you like it. (If you read it, I should say!) I find the subject terribly interesting. It gives us a survey of the 20th century. It gives us a parade of personalities. And it invites us to think about war and peace, freedom and oppression — some of the vital topics.