EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, Jay Nordlinger attended the Oslo Freedom Forum, the human-rights conference in the Norwegian capital. The conference is over, but the journal continues — and for Parts I and II, go here and here.
Breakfast is in the Grand Café, as lunch and dinner often are too. This is a historic old café: where Ibsen came daily, one hears. There is an interesting scene on this particular morning. As I mentioned previously in the journal, Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian president, is in Oslo on a state visit. In the café, for breakfast, are many men who are part of his security team. They look like they mean business, to put it simply — like they could hurt you while barely stirring themselves. Also in the café is Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion who is now one of the foremost opponents of the Russian government. He has spent time in jail. People notice a tension in the café: Kasparov wary, scowling, the security men much the same. In a way, a Moscow drama has been transported to the Grand Café in Oslo.
I hope you won’t think it dramatic to say that Kasparov’s defiance is palpable, because it is.
A Venezuelan participant in this conference has woken up to the news that his farm, back home, has been confiscated. Simply stolen from him, by the Chávez government. He defied them, refusing to play along or shut up. And now they have acted.
How has your morning been, by the way?
The speakers give their presentations in the Christiania Theater, a jewel of a place, with red walls and white-plaster decorations. The seats are not your regular theater seats. They are detached — lined up, but detached — and very comfortable. They are armchairs.
First at the podium is Rebiya Kadeer, sometimes called “the mother of the Uigur nation.” She is unyielding against Chinese oppression. Beijing, of course, has accused her of being a fomenter of violence. In reality, she is what the Dalai Lama has called her: “a paradigm of nonviolence.”
Kadeer was arrested in 1999 while on the way to provide testimony to a foreign delegation investigating human-rights abuses. She was sentenced to eight years in prison for “leaking state secrets and endangering state security” — that’s how they do things in China, as in other police states. She spent about five years in prison, and 700 of those days were in solitary confinement. She was released thanks to international pressure, including the award of the Rafto Prize here in Norway. That is a prize for human-rights activism and leadership. Kadeer is now exiled in the United States.
She says, “We all need to fight together against dictators and the powers of darkness.” And then she tells the story of her “nation.” In October 1949 came the occupation by Communist Chinese forces. “They persecuted not only us,” she says, “but the majority Chinese people, too. Anyone who wants democracy is treated as an enemy of the Chinese state.” But Uigurs, she says, face worse persecution than the majority Chinese. “We cannot speak our own language in our homes, and our sons and daughters cannot work in their own country. They are forcibly removed to other Chinese states to work as Chinese slave labor.”
She talks of wives who are afraid to ask, “What happened to my husband?” “We are living in an open prison,” she says.
And then there is this: “I have no weapons. They use guns, bombs, and instruments of torture to intimidate the Uigur people. And yet the Chinese government is afraid of me, because they’re afraid of the truth.” Before this lady boarded the plane that would take her into exile, “my Chinese minders said, ‘Don’t talk about human rights.’ But I do. One human voice, speaking the truth, can accomplish a lot.”
Kadeer sums up, “I’m confident that dictators and tyrants are afraid of our being together today. They are trembling now because of us. If we fight together, our peoples that live under these dictatorial, totalitarian regimes will be free.”
She has had much taken from her: her business, her family — her sons are in prison. And, of course, she is unable to live in her country. But she seems cheerful and without bitterness. She says, “My experiences have caused me great pain and grief. Nonetheless, I must speak on behalf of my sons, and not only them, but on behalf of all the others too.” She is determined to carry on, with grace.
This is an extraordinary-looking woman, with an extraordinary physical presence. She is wearing a blue jacket and a blue skirt. A green cap is on her head. She has two long braids, on either side of her face. She has high cheekbones, sparkling eyes, and a warm, bright smile. Her posture is perfectly erect. In her body, she exudes confidence, serenity, imperturbability, defiance — all those things.
I find myself wishing she could be on American television: that she could be a celebrity. She is someone with important things to say, unlike most of those who appear on television and are known to one and all.