Oslo Journal, Part II

Garry Kasparov


Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, the Oslo Freedom Forum, the leading human-rights conference in the world, took place. It is held annually in the Norwegian capital. Jay Nordlinger’s journal began yesterday, here. We continue today.

I see Garry Kasparov in the hallway. Whenever I glimpse him — which is usually at this forum — I think, “What is he thinking? Normal stuff, relatively normal stuff? Or stuff beyond the imagination of the average person?” (Kasparov is one of the greatest chess champions in history.)

Part of the breakfast spread in the dining room of the Grand Hotel is chocolate — fragments of chocolate. As I think I’ve remarked before in these journals, I can hardly think of anything more civilized.

The conference begins in the Christiania Theater. (Do you recall that Oslo used to be called Christiania? Actually, it was first “Christiania” and then “Kristiania.” Then it became Oslo, as it was hundreds of years before. I could get into the history, but we have lots to cover.) First on the stage is a pop singer, to sing a song. It’s 9:30 a.m. — which is pretty early to sing.

I think of a story from Richard Tucker (the late, great American tenor). He was on a USO tour, I think, performing for the boys in Vietnam. A general or admiral or someone asked him to sing at 6:30 a.m. Tucker said, “I don’t spit before 9 o’clock.” But I think Tucker sang anyway.

Thor Halvorssen, the Freedom Forum capo, addresses the audience. He tells us something touching. A young Bahraini girl living in Norway was set to protest in behalf of Ali Abdulemam, a Bahraini blogger who has been in hiding for more than two years.

But lo and behold, he is out of hiding — and with us here at the forum. So there is no need to protest. Thor unfurls the banner she had prepared anyway.

And she will attend the forum (though only after school).

This first session is titled “The Asymmetric Activist.” I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I have an inkling. I think of Solzhenitsyn’s famous title, “The Oak and the Calf.” Do you know this splendid book? It’s one of that man’s best.

Solzhenitsyn took his title from an old Russian image, or notion: A calf butts its little head up against a mighty oak, trying to knock it down. This is the epitome of futility. And yet, Solzhenitsyn, and other “calves,” to be sure, knocked that sucker down.

Chen Guangcheng is at the rostrum. I mentioned him in the first part of this journal. He is one of the bravest men in the world — his physical courage, coupled with his mental or spiritual courage, is almost unbelievable. Looking at him, and listening to him, you know that he’s a natural leader. That is obvious.

I remember something that Jianli Yang, another dissident, once told me about him: Even when Chen was a child, there was something about him that drew others to him.

Here in the theater, Chen speaks a little of his own ordeal. He speaks a lot of what his family is going through in China now — vile stuff. And he speaks of China’s future. (“Transformation depends on our collective efforts.”)

It’s bad enough that they’re beating the hell out of his brother and nephew. But do they have to pull up the garden planted by his elderly mother?

At the end of his remarks, Chen says, “The idea that universal values don’t apply to China is a myth propagated by an authoritarian regime that is trying to hang on to power.” I have paraphrased, but closely, I think.

And I will have more to say about Chen — to whom I have spoken — in the next National Review.

Later, I talk to three native Chinese speakers — one Chinese, two Taiwanese — who say the same thing about Chen’s talk: It was superbly written and read. Apparently, he had a Braille device with him on the lectern.

Bear in mind: This is a blind and self-taught kid from the sticks.

Zhen Li lives in Budapest. We talk a bit about Chen and his wife, Yuan Weijing. “A true love story,” he says. Yes. Pretty much every dissident depends heavily on his wife, if he has one. Think of Sharansky. Think of Sakharov. Think of just about everybody. Think of Liu Xiaobo now.

But what if you’re blind? That dependence is even greater.

(I’m trying to think of female dissidents and their husbands. Aung San Suu Kyi is an interesting case. Before they got married, she made her future husband take a vow before the vows — that he would never stand between her and her national efforts. I get into this marriage a little in my Nobel book.)

I mentioned Jianli Yang, above. He is a magnificent, sterling, stirring man. For a 2007 article I wrote about him — “Leader of the Chinese” — go here.