Oslo Journal, Part I

Tutu Alicante


Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place last week, in the Norwegian capital. We begin Jay Nordlinger’s journal today.

I have a strange thought in the airport men’s room. No, it won’t be as shocking as you might suppose. My thought is: “Someone should do a piece on urinal heights around the world. A study.” The urinals here in the Oslo airport are as high as I’ve ever seen. Italians and other shorties would have to be on tippy-toe, for sure. Children — no chance.

The Dutch are the tallest people in the world, I’ve read — even taller than East Africans. Their urinals must be skyscraper-like.

Being in the Oslo airport reminds me of one of my favorite stories. I use it when I need to illustrate the pulchritude of Norwegian women.

An American guy and a Norwegian girl met at a business school in Switzerland (I believe). They fell in love and got engaged. The American guy thought his Norwegian was absolutely the hottest thing on two feet. He went with her to Norway for the first time — to meet her family and see her homeland.

At the airport, he looked around and said, “Hey, wait a minute. They all look like you. You’re nothing special.” The engagement survived this remark, and it became a running joke in their marriage.

Joke or not, there is truth to it: If Norwegian girls don’t think they’re beautiful, it’s because everyone else looks like them, more or less.

Reminds me a little of British journalists: They go to America and dazzle us Yanks with their style. They are the toast of our towns. Back at home, they would not especially stand out: They all got style, to considerable degrees.

I meet a man from Equatorial Guinea — Tutu Alicante, a lawyer and human-rights activist. For many years, he has lived in the United States. Equatorial Guinea is no place for a human-rights activist.

I would have been hard pressed to place Equatorial Guinea on a map. Papua New Guinea, I sort of know about. And Guinea. And even Guinea-Bissau (which I mentioned in a piece last month, about an American criminal who fled there). But Equatorial Guinea? Anyway, it’s a nation on the west coast of Africa, halfway down.

In the airport, Alicante speaks Spanish with some Latin American journalists. (They may be from Spain, but I think not.) In short order, I find out that Equatorial Guinea is Spanish-speaking.

I never knew that Spain did African colonization. I couldn’t have told you that a single African nation was Spanish-speaking. There’s Portuguese out your ears there. But Spanish?

How satisfying to learn something new.

The theme of the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum is “Out of darkness into light.” I think of what Michelle Obama just said: “This president has brought us out of the dark and into the light.”

You didn’t know that President Obama was the Messiah? What are you, some kind of right-wing racist?

In the Grand Hotel, I pass the Nobel Suite — where the peace laureate stays, when he comes to collect the prize. If I ever stay in the suite, I’m afraid I’ll have to shell out for it. I’m not sure the peace prize is in the cards.

But think of it: To sleep where Rigoberta Menchú once slept . . .

A press conference is held in the Hambro Room of the Grand Hotel. I thrill and bow to this name, Hambro. It refers to C. J. Hambro, a Norwegian politician from the last century. A Conservative. It was he who organized the flight of the royal family, government ministers, and others out of Oslo. He arranged a train, which spirited these people away with 30 minutes to spare. The Nazis were closing in.

Anyway, a tense, amazing story, when you have time for it. Later, Hambro became a member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. He died in the 1960s.

Presiding over the press conference is Thor Halvorssen, the founder and president of the Freedom Forum. He is also the founder and CEO of the Human Rights Foundation in New York. Halvorssen is a dynamo for human rights, and therefore invaluable.

Today, he says that dictatorships want two things: to blot out civil society and strangle freedom of speech. Those are their two foremost goals.

At this year’s forum, he will present many, many speakers, from all over the world. Three of them are former slaves, and current abolitionists.


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