Many a day, I walk by U.N. headquarters, on my way to NR headquarters. (The United Nations and National Review are very different organizations. Don’t you think?) Often, there is a protest outside the U.N., and it is usually righteous: the Tibetans against the Chinese Communists, the Chinese against the Chinese Communists, the Burmese against the Burmese fascists — or whatever they are — and so on. Friday morning, there was an unusual amount of press around one speaker. And as I got nearer, I could see it was Richard Gere, the actor. (Did I need to say that?) He was speaking in behalf of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese political prisoner who was being given the Nobel peace prize — in absentia, of course — that day.
I am a great believer in “Shut up and sing” — the idea that entertainers should not involve themselves in politics. But, once in a while, entertainers do good. And Gere knows a heck of a lot about the Chinese government and its various oppressions. I have attended a few international conferences at which he has been present. I’m not name dropping — it’s not like we sat around and discussed actresses or anything.
In any case, if people want to gaze at Gere’s excellent white hair and expensive wire-rimmed glasses, while hearing something true about China — fine with me.
#ad#‐Liu is basically the fifth Nobel peace laureate to be prevented from going to Norway to pick up the prize. Now, why do I say “basically”? Well, let’s run through a little history.
In 1936, Carl von Ossietzky was given the prize (for 1935). (It was a “reserved” award, to use Nobel lingo, given a year late.) He was a political prisoner of the Nazis. When Ossietzky won the prize, Goering went to him and told him to refuse it. Ossietzky told him to stuff it. He was a great man. He, of course, was not released to attend his Nobel ceremony.
In 1975, Andrei Sakharov, the great physicist and great dissident in the Soviet Union, won the prize. The Soviets refused to let him out. His wife, Elena Bonner, was out of the country already — she had been in Italy, receiving medical treatment. She stood in for Sakharov at the Nobel ceremony. She read both his acceptance speech and his Nobel lecture, written by him, the laureate. Have you ever read Sakharov’s Nobel lecture, “Peace, Progress, Human Rights”? Really great. (Find it here.)
In 2010, Liu Xiaobo sat in prison, and his wife was under house arrest.
Now, you’ll often hear that Lech Walesa, the laureate for 1983, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the laureate for 1991, were prevented from going to collect the prize. And that is basically true, essentially true. Here’s the thing: Walesa could have gone. But he wondered how it would look if he went to the West to dine with the swells. What would his comrades in prison think of that? Also, he was worried that the Polish dictatorship would not let him back into the country. And he wanted to remain on native soil, to continue leading the Solidarity movement.
I talked to him about this earlier this year. The way he put it was, “They could have made me an exile. The Communists could have said, ‘They love you so dearly in the West, they have given you the Nobel peace prize, why don’t you stay with them there, forever?’”
Aung San Suu Kyi could have left too — in fact, the Burmese dictatorship would have been delighted to be rid of her. But she, too, wanted, and wants, to remain on native soil, whatever the circumstances.
‐Will the Nobel prize to Liu do him any good? For example, will it free him? I don’t know. Doubt it. The prize did not free Ossietzky. But, in the run-up to the award, when it looked like Ossietzky would win it, the Nazis removed him to a hospital, where he was kept under 24-hour guard. (In 1938, he would die of tuberculosis, plus the effects of torture and hard labor.)
Did the Soviets’ treatment of Sakharov improve after he won the Nobel prize? No. Elena Bonner has told me that it got worse. He had embarrassed them internationally, after all.
Walesa? He says that the Nobel prize meant everything to him and Solidarity — he doesn’t know how they could have succeeded without it.
Aung San Suu Kyi? Has the prize protected her, prevented the regime from killing her? I don’t know.
I believe that the prize will do Liu good on the principle of, The more fame, the better. Dictatorships want their political prisoners to be forgotten; the prisoners want nothing more than to be remembered. That’s why Sakharov, in his Nobel lecture, named the names of political prisoners — about a hundred of them. That’s why Jeane Kirkpatrick named the names of political prisoners on the floor of the U.N. That’s why Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart names the names of political prisoners on the floor of the U.S. House.
I once interviewed, by phone, a Cuban dissident named René Montes de Oca Martija. He had escaped from prison; he would shortly be recaptured. He said he wanted to thank those — including Diaz-Balart — who had remembered him and mentioned him.
‐The Chinese government was damn ticked, understandably, when Liu got the prize. They took several actions. They denounced the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the usual Communist terms (though I did not hear “running dogs”). They placed the wife under house arrest. They warned other countries not to send ambassadors to the prize ceremony. (Many of them complied, the bastards.) And, oh, yeah: They hacked the website of the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
Come on, guys: You’re a historic dictatorship. Every day, you torture Falun Gong practitioners to death the way normal people say “Good morning.” Hacking a website? It’s basically a junior-high prank. What would the Helmsman say?
#page#‐The Chinese Communists did something else, in response to the Nobel committee’s choice: They created their own prize. The Nazis did the same thing, after Ossietzky. And the Soviets did the same thing in 1949, after Soviet bigs, including the biggest, Uncle Joe himself, had been passed over for the Nobel prize. I wrote about this phenomenon — the alternative prizes of dictatorships — last week. If you’re interested, go here.
‐In late November, David Frum wrote a column in which he mentioned that Libya was giving Erdogan, the Turkish leader, the Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Isn’t that sweet? You know who else won that prize? The man widely regarded as the greatest political hero in all the world: Nelson Mandela. He also received prizes from Castro, the Soviets, and other such human-rights lovers. He was the last winner of the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union — the prize that started out as the Stalin Peace Prize in 1949.
Three people won both the Nobel peace prize and the Stalin or Lenin Peace Prize: The other two were Linus Pauling and Sean MacBride, both inveterate fellow-travelers.
#ad#You might well excuse Mandela. These nasty characters — Castro, Qaddafi, the Soviets — had supported him in the anti-apartheid struggle. Of course, they hadn’t done that out of the goodness of their hearts; they were playing against the “West.” And Mandela could have done an infinite amount of good for the political prisoners in Cuba, Libya, and elsewhere. If he had said just one word for these people, it would have made a huge difference — because he had more moral authority than anybody. But no. He said nothing. He refused to lift a finger for the men and women in the dungeons of the governments giving him prizes.
Well, did he at least refrain from praising the jailers and torturers? Oh, no. He hailed Qaddafi for his “commitment to the fight for peace and human rights in the world.” Incidentally, one of Mandela’s grandsons was named for Qaddafi. About Castro’s Cuba, Mandela said, “There’s one thing where that country stands out head and shoulders above the rest. That is in its love for human rights and liberty.” The Cuban people may love those things; their rulers for the last half-century, no.
Anyway, an interesting, not-uncomplicated study, Nelson Mandela. I will have more to say about him later . . .
‐I thought you might like to know something about Aung San Suu Kyi — she was released from house arrest last month, after seven years. She is the daughter of Burma’s national-independence hero, Aung San. He was assassinated when Suu Kyi was two.
She went to Oxford, and there she met her future husband, Michael Aris. During their courtship, she wrote to him, “Sometimes I am beset by fears that circumstances and national considerations might tear us apart just when we are so happy in each other that separation would be a torment.” She suspected she would have national responsibilities. Before they were married, she asked Michael to take a vow before the vows, so to speak. As he would recount later, she asked him to pledge that he would never “stand between her and her country.”
In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi flew to Burma to take care of her ailing mother. She also took up the cause of Burmese democracy. And she has not been out of the country since. For 15 of the last 21 years, she has been under house arrest, cut off from the world. In 1991, her husband and two sons went to the Nobel ceremony for her. The older boy, Alexander, 18, gave a speech; the younger boy, Kim, 14, lit the first torch in the traditional torchlight parade.
The laureate’s husband died in 1999, on his 53rd birthday. He had last seen his wife at Christmas 1995. Following this most recent release from house arrest, she may see her grandchildren for the first time.
‐Holy-moly, have I gone on. I was just going to mention a few Nobel things, then move to myriad other topics. But I kept Nobel-ing. I’ll throw out a few other things — quick-like — then let you go.
I was in Milwaukee recently, and beheld, as I have beheld before (“beholden before”?), the beautiful, four-sided clock they have there. A local told me, “That used to be the biggest four-sided clock in the world. But now the Saudis have built one that’s larger.” Shoot. Well, Milwaukee can say this: It has more churches and synagogues than the whole of Saudi Arabia.
‐I love something in the Milwaukee airport: After security, they have a place where you can retie your shoes and generally reassemble. They call it the “Recombobulation Area” — “recombobulation” being the opposite of “discombobulation.” Perfect.
‐My pal Jamie Glazov of FrontPage Magazine has a new book out. It’s called Showdown with Evil: Our Struggle against Tyranny and Terror. I have blurbed it thusly: “Jamie Glazov knows how to gather the sharper minds, and he knows how to probe them. He has one of them himself: a sharp mind. This collection of interviews and commentary is a guide to our perilous times.” If you’d like to read Richard Perle’s foreword, go here.
‐Donald Arthur, a singer, writer, actor, and other things, is just about the best raconteur I know. Just about the best mimic, too. If he had a one-man show on Broadway, it would sell out for months or years, I believe. Anyway, he has just co-authored the memoirs of Lotfi Mansouri, the opera director and impresario. Check it out.
Had enough? (That was the Republican slogan in the 1946 midterms.) Me too. Thanks for joining me, dearhearts, and see you later.