The Norwegian Nobel Committee — which is to say the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize — has selected Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident. I should be limited in my remarks, just now. During the Falklands War, the British defense minister read out a statement to the press: a statement about British successes in the war. The prime minister, Thatcher, was standing at his side. After the defense minister finished his statement, the press started to badger Thatcher about “What next?” Thatcher, annoyed and affronted, said, “Just rejoice at that news — and congratulate our forces and the Marines. Goodnight, gentlemen.”
I wrote about the Nobel Peace Prize and China two days ago: here. And I will say a little bit more now — although our main reaction should, indeed, be “Rejoice.”
The Nobel Committee started to give human-rights prizes, really, in 1960, when they gave the award to Albert John Lutuli, a great man who was president of the African National Congress in South Africa. (He is not a fraction as well known as Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu. He ought to be, believe me.) So, from 1960, the Nobel Peace Prize has often been a freedom prize. The Nobel Committee, of course, says that everything is “peace”: Everything that is admirable, or that they admire, is “peace.” Remember that they gave the prize to global-warming crusaders in 2007.
Chinese dissidents — Chinese human-rights strugglers — have long been passed over for the prize. They have often been nominated; they have often been “frontrunners.” Nobel laureates, in their lectures, have had to hail and salute Chinese dissidents — the way Oscar winners have to hail and salute the losers. Wei Jingsheng was often hailed and saluted this way: “Sorry about that, Wei, better luck next time.”
Chinese Communism has been in power since 1949. Many, many people have struggled against this wicked, suffocating, murderous power. There has been no prize for them until now: 2010. It is welcome nonetheless. Just this week, a Chinese democracy activist, Baiqiao Tang, told me that human-rights abuses were getting worse in China. Every day, through e-mail, rights groups send me news of the latest horrors: arrests, tortures, and killings.
Soviet Communism was in power from 1917 to 1991. Just two Nobel Peace Prizes were given in the anti-Soviet struggle: the one to Sakharov in 1975; and the one to a great Pole, Walesa, in 1983. (I am using the term “anti-Soviet struggle” broadly here.) Three Nobel prizes were given in the anti-apartheid struggle: the one to Lutuli in 1960; the one to Tutu in 1984; and the one shared by Mandela and de Klerk at the (merciful, glorious) end of apartheid, in 1993.
To its credit, the Nobel Committee displeased the Chinese Communists once: in 1989, when the committee gave the award to the Dalai Lama, symbol of Tibetan freedom (though the Dalai Lama has always been eager to accommodate Beijing — which is why he won that peace prize).
What effect will the Nobel prize have on Liu Xiaobo? I don’t know. It probably will not free him. (I guess I didn’t mention that he is in prison — of course.) Some governments simply don’t care. The Nobel Committee gave the prize to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese heroine, in 1991. Didn’t budge that dictatorship a bit. Decades earlier, in 1936, the committee gave the prize to a prisoner of the Nazis, Carl von Ossietzky. Hitler said, “I don’t give a damn.” But he sort of did: He forbade German citizens to receive any Nobel prize, and created alternative Nobels.
What effect will this year’s prize have on the Chinese democracy movement? Oh, it will encourage them — greatly. It will put jolts of joy and hope through their bodies. I’ll have a lot more to say later. But, for now, I should close as I began: Rejoice.