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Oslo Journal, Part III

Maryam al-Khawaja

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

One after the other, speakers take the stage of the Christiania Theatre, across from the Grand Hotel in the heart of Oslo. Do you want to pause for a little lesson, concerning the name of the city?

Originally, it was Oslo. Then, after a great fire in 1624, the city was renamed Christiania, after King Christian IV. (A Dane, of the kind that ruled over Norway for about four centuries.) In 1877, the name was spelled “Kristiania” — a display of Norwegian nationalism, I believe. (Things “K” are Norwegian, things “Ch” are Danish.) In 1925 — as recently as that — the capital became Oslo again.

I know, I know, what would you do without me?

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First to speak is Tomas van Houtryve, a Belgian-American photojournalist. He has put together a book called Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism. For Houtryve’s website, go here.

We all know that Communism “collapsed” in 1989, 1990, 1991 — in there. We saw that wall come down. But for a whole lot of people, Communism has not collapsed. Houtryve points out that there are still seven countries where the Communist party rules: China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, and Moldova.

In these countries, 1.5 billion live, with most of those, of course, being in China. “To put it another way,” says Houtryve, “1 in 5 people on this planet currently live under Communist-party rule.”

I’m sorry, but I think of something funny: For decades, a great baseball trivia question was, “What is the winningest brother-brother combination among pitchers?” The answer was Christy Mathewson and his brother Henry. Christy won 373 games; Henry won either one or none, depending on the source you consult.

Anyway, my point, as you know, is: China is wildly populous.

Houtryve knows exactly what’s going on in the seven countries in question. He shows pictures of Nepal that are very hard to look it. People love to mutilate others, don’t they? He talks about North Korea, that psychotic state. That’s what Jeane Kirkpatrick called it: a “psychotic state,” very rare in history. Houtryve shows pictures of the Hmong in Laos — the hunted, brutalized Hmong. It would never cross their minds, says Houtryve, that Communism is dead.

He also remembers all the glitterati who have supported Communism: Picasso, Chaplin, Sartre, Hemingway — everybody’s heroes.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I was growing up — and where I was growing up — anti-Communism was the uncoolest thing in the world. It was the psychological ailment of fat, ignorant, McCarthyite businessmen. But Tomas van Houtryve is a young international photojournalist — can you get any cooler than that?

Strength to his hands, and cameras.

Next to speak is Jeta Xharra, a Kosovar journalist, mentioned earlier in this journal. If I have heard her correctly, she says that people in the Balkans were egged on to hate. Extremists and troublemakers dehumanized the enemy (pick your enemy). People were encouraged — incited — to hate, and to kill. It did not necessarily come naturally.

“Ancient ethnic hatreds,” people say. Yeah, well, bad people keep stirring them up. “You’ve got to be carefully taught,” wrote Oscar Hammerstein II.

Anyway, as Xharra talks, I can’t help thinking of a Bosnian cab driver I had in Fargo several weeks ago. Readers may remember: I put him in my “North Dakota Journal,” here. He said essentially what I believe Xharra is saying.

Irwin Cotler is one of the most famous of Canadian public men. (No snickering, please.) He is the Liberal parliamentarian, former justice minister, and human-rights lawyer. His two most famous clients were Natan Sharansky (then Anatoly Shcharansky) and Nelson Mandela. He relates his life story, in a way, to the audience here in the Christiania Theatre.

He is keen on similarities between Sharansky and Mandela. And there are similarities, of course. Both are great men, overcoming awful circumstances. But there are dissimilarities too.

To begin with, Mandela was not a prisoner of conscience. “Prisoner of conscience” is a term coined by Amnesty International to describe someone jailed for his opinions. Mandela was the leader of the African National Congress’s militant wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. He learned the guerrilla arts in Ethiopia and Algeria. He was jailed for applying those arts.

Mandela always believed in the armed struggle — the gun and the bomb. That’s why Amnesty International could not classify him as a prisoner of conscience. (AI supported him anyway.) Mandela was offered early release from prison if only he would renounce violence. He refused. A great many people regard this stance as heroic.



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