Oslo Journal, Part III

Tibetan prime minister Lobsang Sangay


Editor’s Note: Last week, Jay Nordlinger attended the Oslo Freedom Forum, the annual human-rights conference held in the Norwegian capital. For the first two parts of his journal, go here and here.

I have a friend named Mileydi Fougstedt, who’s a Cuban journalist resident in Stockholm. Her first name is pronounced pretty much like “m’lady.” So when you’re speaking to her, you feel like you’re speaking to a high-class Englishwoman.

Mileydi tells me she spent some time living in Britain — where her name was the source of some confusion and mirth.

One of the speakers here is the prime minister of Tibet — the democratically elected prime minister of Tibet. I’m speaking, of course, of what’s called the “Central Tibetan Administration”: Tibet’s government-in-exile, located in Dharamshala, India.

The PM is Lobsang Sangay, who, if I have understood correctly, is the first Tibetan to graduate from Harvard Law School.

He begins his address to us with a joke — though not entirely a joke. The Chinese government finds different ways to bedevil him and other inconvenient people. For example, they try to sabotage his computer. He has learned to be very wary of attachments.

Attachment, he informs us, is a cardinal sin in Buddhism.

Again if I have heard correctly, he has never seen Tibet. But “I’m proud to be born a Tibetan, and I’m proud to serve as a Tibetan.” He suggests that the Central Tibetan Administration stands as a model for governments-in-exile.

I think of something from Nobel history — the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989, the committee gave the award to the Dalai Lama. And the chairman, presenting the award, said, “This is by no means the first community of exiles in the world, but it is assuredly the first and only one that has not set up any militant liberation movement. This policy of nonviolence is all the more remarkable when it is considered in relation to the sufferings inflicted on the Tibetan people during the occupation of their country.”


Sangay notes that 117 Tibetans have now self-immolated — have burned themselves to death. That is a high toll. The Communists allow “no space” for protest, he says, and if you fall into their hands, you would rather be dead. Protesters, or would-be protesters, have an understandable fear of torture — interminable torture. Before they self-immolate, they inject poison, just to be sure. They don’t want to survive.

Freedom for Tibet, he says, “will be one of the best stories of the 21st century.” And when that day comes, he would be happy to welcome us all to Lhasa.

I have mentioned something in this column many times: When I looked into Darfur, many years ago, I found that possibly the worst aspect of the story was the rape. Not the mass murder, oddly enough, but the rape: the constant, incessant rape.

And so it is with many situations in the world. (I found the same when looking into Liberia.)

One of the Freedom Forum’s guests is Soraya Bahgat, who has set up a group called Tahrir Bodyguard. You know Tahrir Square in Cairo. This has been the site of mass protests. It has also been the site of assaults — mob sex assaults — during these protests. According to Bahgat’s bio, volunteers for her organization “patrol the square during protests in high-visibility helmets and vests to intervene in any attacks on women.”

It’s heartening to know that there are people who do really useful things with their lives. (Don’t get me wrong: Marrying, raising children, being a good citizen — such things as these are really useful too. I know you understand me.)

An American professor and activist, Lee Ann De Reus, gives a talk about the DRC — that is, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And I remember an old joke: though it wasn’t really a joke.

The GDR, or the German Democratic Republic, a.k.a. East Germany, was three lies in one: not democratic, not republican, and not really German, given control by Moscow.

Hosting television coverage of the Olympic Games, Bob Costas seemed to rejoice in saying “German Democratic Republic.” It was so politically correct. It was also nauseating — one of those little things that sustained Communism for so long. Unjustified legitimization.

And you remember what the Khmer Rouge renamed Cambodia, right? “Democratic Kampuchea.”

At the podium, Professor De Reus discusses “root causes.” I have no doubt she knows what she’s talking about. I must say, though, that I long ago developed an allergy to the phrase “root causes.” From so many, it was basically an excuse for terrorism and other crimes.

Lunch at the Grand Hotel is more pleasant than the “DRC” (to put it mildly). I meet a Danish entrepreneur, who is devoting what he has earned to the propagation of good works — to the defense and promotion of freedom. How refreshing, how satisfying: to earn a pile and then sprinkle it on worthy, necessary efforts.

I ask him, “Will the U.S. economy recover?” He gives me two words, like the one word in the famous Dustin Hoffman movie: “Shale oil.” So, yes.

Not even Obama and the Democratic party can keep us from getting it forever — I mean, forever keep us from getting it.