Oslo Journal, Part II

Franak Viačorka


Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place last week, in the Norwegian capital. For Part I of Jay Nordlinger’s journal, go here.

In an elevator, I meet a young man from Belarus — Franak Viačorka. He fills me in on the latest. At the beginning of 2011, I wrote quite a bit about Belarus, which was suffering from a vicious crackdown by its dictator, Lukashenko. There was a National Review piece, plus a three-part online series. (Go here, here, and here.)

Since then, I have not paid attention (as is the way, unfortunately, so often in life).

One of the figures in the drama was Andrei Sannikov, a presidential candidate. Viačorka tells me he was just released from prison: in unrecognizable shape. Obviously, he has been through a mental and physical ordeal. The light is gone from his eyes. They have crushed him.

Accompanying the NR piece was a picture showing Sannikov happily casting his ballot with his wife and young son. To see it, go here.

Viačorka himself has been through a lot in his 24 years. In jail several times. His girlfriend snitched on him to state security for a year. His buddies in the army betrayed him.

After digesting all this — as best I can — I say, “Did you ever see The Lives of Others?” This is the 2006 movie about East Germany and the Stasi. Viačorka says, “They showed it once in Belarus. At the end, everybody stood up and clapped. They did not show it again.”

(For a piece I did on the maker of the movie, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, go here.)

Viačorka comes from a dissident family. His mother died two weeks ago; his father is in very bad shape (age 50).

What can I tell you? At this link is a trailer of a film — a film based on Franak Viačorka’s life (yes, already). At this link is a documentary about him and the Belarusian struggle.

Franak is a journalist, a Václav Havel Fellow at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Can I say something about America? Reviled, defamed America? This country has done a lot of good in the world. A lot of people around the world depend on it — cling to it, as to a lifeline.

Remember that, the next time someone — a teacher, a neighbor, a talking head — trashes America to you. That’ll be today, right?

Near the Grand Hotel, on Oslo’s main boulevard, is a Ben & Jerry’s. Those Vermont lefties really get around, don’t they? And they are superb capitalists.

And ice-cream makers to the gods. And to the rest of us. Have you tried their S’mores? Mind-blowing. Quite possibly the best ice cream in world history. (Though I remember a grape gelato in Florence, when I was a student. There were flecks of grape skin in it. I think the grapes had been picked that very day. It was almost frightening, so good was it.)

Oslo is also stuffed with TGI Friday’s restaurants and 7-Eleven convenience stores — more than I see at home, actually.

Before dinner, the Freedom Forum provides some entertainment — first in the form of Shabana Rehman, a Pakistani-Norwegian comedian. She talks about the trouble she has at U.S. airports, trying to pass through immigration.

“So, you’re a Pakistani-Norwegian comedian?” the official says.

“Yes,” she says.

Skeptical, the official says, “Tell me a joke.”

Shabana says, “Did you hear about the 19-year-old Swedish virgin?”


“Neither did I.”

Now, that’s very funny. But can I make a semi-serious point? One very often hears complaints from foreigners about their treatment at U.S. airports. And obviously there is a crying need for reform.

But, you know? We didn’t wish this system upon us, or upon others. We don’t choose to take our shoes off, in order to fly. We’d like to waltz out and waltz back in. And we’d like others to waltz in and waltz out.

But some very nasty people have done some very nasty things to us — and are seeking, night and day, to do more. So, here we are. If the world has complaints — and the world does — the world should direct those complaints to the many enablers of terror.

We didn’t start this.


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