Sunday, October 17, 2010

Much ado about a Nobel Peace Prize

By stroke of fate I was in China at the time of the announcement of the 2010 Nobel Peace prize - which as is well known now, has gone to the gaoled Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

I have to admit that my first reaction was: typical! After mucking things up with Obama last year, the Nobel peace committee have overcompensated this year by going for someone in gaol in a non-democratic state. (There can be little doubt though that it was a much better decision than last year!).

However, there I was, in China. So naturally one wondered if we would feel it at all, and it was certainly curious that of the eight days that I was there, I only received one complimentary newspaper from the hotel - the one that happened to be carrying the almost, but not quite innocuous article about how this was going to damage the bilateral relations between Norway and China. Mostly it was the blank screen on CNN which was the most obvious way one noticed it. (The photograph of the "blank" TV above is in fact of CNN - blanked out for the duration of the report. A few days later when the same thing happened one realised immediately that there was clearly a report on the house report of Liu Xiaobo's wife! How quickly one got used to it...).

But it made me think of other things too. I remember recently seeing a documentary series on BBC - on South Africa under Apartheid. I remember in particular a woman being interviewed, a white, English-speaking South African - who was so annoyed that Desmond Tutu had received the Nobel Peace prize (though for life and death of me, I cannot exactly recall WHY she was so upset). Somehow though, she perceived it as a slap in the face, she seemed to almost take it personally. This is not unlike how the Chinese are reacting. It is true, they have undertaken tremendous reforms lately (which I do not think the South Africans had done at the same time). When discussing another issue (climate change and the "Copenhagen Accord" as it happens), I got a sense that China takes itself very seriously and as such does not appreciate its efforts being seemingly ignored or pocketed. Certainly it is useful to take into account that this is a very different culture from Western cultures. What this means for how one encourages such a society to reform is unclear to me. But I can understand the validity of such offenses.

In the end though, experiencing the smog which is probably so normal for the Chinese living in big cities that they barely notice it, being afraid for those who being kept in the dark of the Nobel Peace prize, kindly expressed an interest in visiting Norway - I realised that the freedoms and empowerment which I have is not to be taken lightly. Far too many in the world are not as fortunate.

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