Editor’s Note: Last week, the Oslo Freedom Forum took place. OFF is an annual human-rights gathering, held in the Norwegian capital. Jay Nordlinger’s journal began yesterday. For Part I, go here.
I have a question for Yeonmi Park, the 21-year-old North Korean defector, or escapee: “When did you first realize that your country was not normal? That it was highly unlike other countries?”
I could never have predicted her answer. She says it was when she saw the movie Titanic, in a bootleg copy. This movie, as you know, not only tells the story of the famous tragedy at sea. It invents a love story between a young man and a young woman. In the end, he gives his life for her.
Watching this movie, Yeonmi was stunned. In North Korea, there were no love stories. The only “love” was for the Communist party and the Kims. There was nothing more honorable than to die for the Kims. And, in this movie, a person was offering his life for another — for an ordinary person he genuinely loved.
Yeonmi wondered whether the director and actors would be killed. In North Korean terms, the movie was a criminal act.
And watching the movie was “mind-blowing” to her, Yeonmi says. “It transformed my thinking. It gave me my first taste of freedom. I realized that there was something else out there, that not all the people in this world were living like us.”
That is all I will say about Yeonmi Park, for now. I will have more about her in National Review magazine, and also here at National Review Online.
‐Also participating in this press conference is Nico Sell. I will give the first words of her bio. She is “a professional artist, athlete, and entrepreneur based in California.” Wow. I am none of the three. I’d like to be three of the three. For that matter, it would be swell to be based in California (not that I’m unhappy in plain old New York).
Nico says, if I have heard her correctly, “My ancestors helped start the United States.” Ah! A Mayflower chick! What more do you want?
‐The man from Amnesty International, Norwegian division, says something gratifying. He says that a person always feels “slightly embarrassed” bringing up Norway in the context of human-rights violations. People are being brutalized by dictatorships all over the world. And we’re going to complain about Norway?
Compared with other countries, Norway “is a paradise,” he says. “But paradises can be lost.” Nice line. “It is important that we not accept infringements on our liberty that we see creeping in, accompanied by the argument that it’s all for our own safety.”
Ah, I see what he’s saying: He’s saying that his privacy is being violated. That the national-security state is looming over him. I was hoping he was going to express concern about the rise of Muslim extremism or something. That was stupid of me.
‐Janet Hinostroza, the Ecuadoran TV reporter, speaks. She says that the Correa government has shut down 28 newspapers. The government always finds some pretext to close them. Even a daily on the left, Correa called a “right-wing newspaper.” In Ecuador, “right-wing newspaper” means an honest one.
‐Iyad El-Baghdadi is the Palestinian from the UAE, who was recently kicked out. They said they would do one of two things (“they” being the UAE government): jail him indefinitely or fly him to Malaysia. El-Baghdadi chose the latter course, and he was stranded in the Kuala Lumpur airport for three weeks. (There was a movie along those lines, I believe.)
His wife, back in the UAE, was pregnant with their first child. He met his son for the first time last week. The babe is four months old.
El-Baghdadi says, “Whatever ordeal I’ve been through pales into insignificance” when we consider the ordeals of others: for example, the suffering of Arab democrats in jails.
And, contrary to myth, there are Arab democrats, lots of them. They have not yet proved powerful enough to overcome the anti-democrats who stifle them, jail them, torture them, “disappear” them, and kill them.
‐When she speaks, Yulia Marushevska is emotional. She is the young Ukrainian woman who starred in the YouTube video I Am a Ukrainian. Here at the press conference, she is on the verge of tears. She speaks strongly, however. She talks about the violation of her country, the innocent people being killed. “It is shocking that these things are happening in the 21st century in the heart of Europe.”
#page#In a way, it’s touching that she thinks the 21st century should be better than previous centuries. The president of the United States has the same problem: He speaks of the 21st century as though it should be a time of enlightenment. As though some law dictated that people and the world get better as the years roll on.
It’s also touching that Yulia regards Ukraine as “the heart of Europe.”
Anyway, to hear her is very moving. She is obviously a patriot, a democrat, and an idealist. We could use more of them.
‐Marina Nemat is a regular at the Freedom Forum. When a teenager, she was a political prisoner in Iran. She was tortured and raped in Evin Prison, one of the darkest places on earth. She has lived in Canada for many years and is an irrepressible human-rights advocate.
I ask her about the democracy movement in Iran. Unless I’m mistaken, we have not heard much from it since 2009. Is that because the government beat it decisively? Has the government been so brutal, the democrats are unable to rise again?
Marina responds with some anger, I would say. She says that, when she was a prisoner, in the early 1980s, “there was no Facebook and no Internet, and all the foreign journalists had been expelled from Iran. So when we were put in Evin Prison, tortured and raped, the world did not take notice. The world didn’t give a damn.”
She points out that the world cared intensely about the American hostages in Iran, a few years before. But the world would never care much about the Iranian victims of the Khomeinist regime. I take her point, believe me, and have made it myself, many times, in different fashions. But I also think that it was natural to be interested in the American hostages. It was an international crisis.
Marina says that the democracy movement in Iran is not at all dead. It’s just that the opposition — the government, the theocratic regime — is a strong, terrible, and murderous foe. “If you have a loaded gun to your head, and the heads of your children, it’s kind of hard to move.”
Of course, of course. (No one said it wasn’t.)
‐Lhamo Tso is the Tibetan woman whose husband was in prison for six years. Dhondup Wangchen’s offense was to make a documentary about Tibet — Leaving Fear Behind — on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. The Chinese Communists imprisoned him from 2008 until this summer. His wife and family were denied contact with him for the entire six years. (And he, of course, was denied contact with them — that’s the other side.)
There is only so much Lhamo Tso can say at this point. The reason is, her husband is still in Tibet, and his family is very much hoping to bring him out. Her voice is quavering. Her English is broken. It is moving to see her this morning.
‐Janet Hinostroza, the Ecuadoran journalist, makes an interesting point: The Correa government has built “beautiful highways” around the country. “We have beautiful infrastructure, beautiful public works. But for what? We aren’t using them, because no one wants to invest in my country. There is no security for companies to come into my country.”
‐I have mentioned Kasha Jacqueline, the Ugandan gay-rights activist (and princess). (Literal princess.) She is a brave woman. I am always interested in what she has to say. I admire her.
This morning, she says that “American evangelicals” have “whipped up” anti-gay sentiment in her country. “They lost at home,” so they are trying to prevail elsewhere: e.g., in Uganda. She says that they are doing the same in Russia.
Frankly, I don’t know very much about this subject. I do know this: Americans seem to be a peculiarly powerful people. They are held responsible for everything under the sun (especially for bad things).
I also know this: When a 20-year genocide was being carried out in southern Sudan — a “slow-motion genocide,” Elie Wiesel called it — basically the only people who gave a damn about it were American evangelicals. They were also the only ones trying to stop Sudanese slavery.
If America falls — as fall she must, apparently — there will be this bright side: The world will not be able to blame us any longer for its problems. Whom will they blame instead? The Chinese? The jihad?
I think of what John Bolton says, about the world and the eclipse of American power: “They’ll miss us when we’re gone.” They sure will.
Now, lest you say, “Jay can’t stand any criticism of America,” bear this in mind: I spend 98 percent of my life — certainly my professional life — criticizing America and Americans. Starting with the president! So . . .
See you tomorrow.