Oslo Journal, Part VI

Pavel Khodorkovsky in 2011


Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place from May 7 to 9, in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of Jay Nordlinger’s journal are at the following links: IIIIII, IV, and V.

At a bright-and-early hour, there is a breakfast session at the Café Christiania. Brownies are available. I figure it’s only polite to eat one — or several. Thoughtfully, I leave the fruit, which looks delicious, to others.

We will hear four people discuss four “emblematic cases of political detention.” One of the speakers is Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the magnate who criticized the Russian government and found himself behind bars. He has been in prison since 2003.

His son, Pavel, is in his mid-twenties, I believe. He has spent much of his life campaigning for his father, and for a different kind of Russia. Surely, he never intended to spend his life this way. Funny, what happens to people.

When Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested, he asked his lawyer to deliver a message to Pavel: “Solzhenitsyn said, ‘Live not by lies.’ I am going to fight this. We need to tell the truth. And we need to turn Russia into a normal country.”

Pavel says that the Kremlin is “always trying to put blood on my father’s hands” — always accusing him of the worst deeds. He has gone through two show trials, says Pavel, and has endured prisons and labor camps.

Amnesty International has classified Khodorkovsky as a prisoner of conscience. And Pavel notes that some people have a hard time accepting that a man who was once so rich could be a political prisoner. Yet, it’s so.

“My father’s case set off the degradation of the rule of law in Russia,” says Pavel, “and his release can set off the revival of the rule of law.”

I can say with confidence that Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be very, very proud of the way his son has comported himself here in Norway. Every father should have such a son.

Nargess Tavassolian has a famous mother: Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human-rights lawyer who was the 2003 Nobel peace laureate. (Ebadi was a speaker at the Freedom Forum last year. For my piece on her in National Review, go here.) Nargess is a doctoral student and is speaking today about another Iranian woman who is a human-rights lawyer: Nasrin Sotoudeh. This lawyer is not free to move about. She is caught in the hell of Evin Prison.

I don’t know what kind of life Nargess Tavassolian wanted to have, or expected to have. But we can thank her for spending some of it speaking up for the likes of Nasrin Sotoudeh.

Jianli Yang could have had a big and comfortable academic career: He has a Ph.D. in math from Berkeley, and a Ph.D. in political economy from Harvard. He is terrifically intelligent and talented. And good. He has chosen to spend his life campaigning and arguing for a free, democratic China.

This morning, he is speaking about Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel peace laureate, and a prisoner of conscience. China is a great power, says Yang, or an emerging great power. Why are they so afraid of this one man — a quiet intellectual who helped produce the distinctly moderate Charter 08?

They know, probably, that right ideas can bring down a one-party dictatorship (with a gulag).

Yang says there are two Chinas. (A recent Democratic vice-presidential nominee talked about “two Americas”; Yang is much more convincing.) By “two Chinas,” he does not mean Taiwan and the mainland, he says.

The first China, he calls “China, Inc.” It is “a marriage of political elites and economic elites, plus co-opted intellectuals. This is the China that dazzles the world with its might and glory.” The other China is the “under-China” — the great majority of the country.

Like you, I bet, I have heard a great many people speak about China, and they have said many different things. When I listen to Jianli — as I’ve been doing for something like twelve years now — I think, “This has the ring of truth.”


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