The Corner

Hotel-mates

On the homepage today is Part I of my Oslo Journal. I’m in the Norwegian capital for the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human-rights conference with a twist: The participants are actually concerned for human rights, everywhere, and many of the participants have been victims of brutal regimes. As Thor Halvorssen, the founder of the Freedom Forum, points out, the typical “human rights” conference gathers the violators of such rights. Think of a U.N. jamboree: Durban I or Durban II. A human-rights conference worthy of the name should have victims of human-rights abuses, and proponents of human rights.

Bizarre, I know.

I have an interesting development to report. By sheer coincidence, Russia’s president Medvedev is on a state visit here in Oslo. Also by sheer coincidence, he is staying in the same hotel as the Freedom Forum crowd — the Grand, on Karl Johan’s Street. Earlier today, Halvorssen said, We’re sure the president’s schedule is very full, but could he spend some minutes with us? We have some questions about freedom of expression and so on. He has nothing to fear from us. After all, he’s got a big army, nuclear weapons, hundreds of bodyguards. We just have e-mail and fax machines.

This was rhetorically very effective of Thor.

There are several people from Russia participating in the Freedom Forum. One is Lidia Yusupova, the incredibly brave lawyer and activist who is under constant death threat. Another is Garry Kasparov. A third is Vladimir Bukovsky, who for so many years was a guest in the Soviet Union’s lovely prisons.

One more thing: In my journal today, I note — in just a “soft” item — that attractive banners saying “Oslo Freedom Forum” are lining Karl Johan’s Street. I’m afraid Part I has been “OBE” — “overtaken by events.” I wrote it yesterday. In the interim, the banners have been taken down and replaced by Russian flags. Halvorssen says that this was the decision of the Norwegian foreign ministry: a host of both the Russian president and the Freedom Forum. Halvorssen is told that the Freedom Forum banners will return once Medvedev leaves.

Stay tuned . . .

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