Nobel Peace ceremony in absentia -- the Ossietzky precedent
Oslo (AFP) Dec 8, 2010
This year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, in honour of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, will mark only the second time in the prize's history that neither the laureate nor a representative will be able to come accept the award.
Three famous laureates, Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and Polish trade union activist Lech Walesa, were all unable to attend their ceremonies, but they each had family members pick up their award for them.
The only true precedent for this year's event, when Liu's chair will symbolically be left empty and no award will be handed over, was when German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky won the 1935 prize.
Imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, Ossietzky was unable to make the trip to Oslo when his prize ceremony was held in 1936.
The journalist, who had been arrested three years earlier in a raid on opponents following the Reichstag fire, was the first ever regime critic to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Furious over the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision, Adolf Hitler banned all German citizens from accepting a Nobel in any category.
To avoid a diplomatic row, the Norwegian foreign minister at the time, Halvdan Koht, gave up his seat on the committee just before it made its decision.
He was followed by another member of the panel, the former prime minister and former foreign minister Johan Ludwik Mowinckel.
And for the first time since Norway became independent in 1905, no member of the Norwegian royal family attended the ceremony, most likely to avoid further enraging the fuehrer, according to historian Oeivind Stenersen.
On that aspect, the 1935 and 2010 prize ceremonies differ: Despite palpable pressure from Beijing, which has has asked countries not to attend the ceremony and which has threatened "consequences" for those who support Liu, the Norwegian royal couple will attend.
The Ossietzky affair meanwhile prompted the Norwegian parliament to change the makeup of the committee, determining that sitting members of government could no longer be on the Nobel jury.
While Ossietzky was unable to pick up his diploma and gold Nobel medal, an obscure German lawyer tricked the family into allowing him to pocket the prize money.
Before his death in 1938, Ossietzky did make one last public appearance: at the court hearing where the lawyer was sentenced to two years hard labour for embezzling the money.
That episode also had consequences: prompting the Nobel Committee to give preference to handing absent laureates' awards to close family members.
That was the case when Sakharov, who was barred by Soviet authorities from traveling to Norway, was represented by his wife Elena Bonner at the 1975 ceremony, and when Walesa, who feared he would not be allowed back into Poland if he travelled to Oslo for the 1983 ceremony, had his wife Danuta collect his award.
Suu Kyi, who was released last month after being deprived of liberty for 15 of the last 21 years, was represented at the 1991 prize ceremony by her two sons and her husband.
Symbolically, an empty chair was placed on the stage to mark her absence.
That will also be the case this year, when Liu will not be present or have any family members representing him at Friday's ceremony.
His wife Liu Xia has been placed under house arrest since the prize was announced in October and his three brothers have been blocked from leaving China.
earlier related report
"An empty chair, that will make a strong impression," Nobel Institute director Geir Lundestad told AFP ahead of Friday's ceremony in Oslo.
"This emphasises the relevance of the Nobel Committee's choice this year and shines a light on the human rights situation in China," he added.
Friday will mark only the second time in the more than 100-year history of the prize that neither the laureate nor a representative will be able to come accept the award.
The only other time was when German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was locked up in a Nazi concentration camp, could not travel to Oslo for his prize ceremony in 1936.
Like Ossietzky, who was the first-ever regime critic to receive the prestigious award, Liu has long been an outspoken opponent of Chinese leadership in Beijing.
The writer and former professor, who was at the forefront of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, was jailed in December 2009 for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring "Charter 08", a manifesto that spread quickly on the Internet calling for political reform and greater rights in China.
"I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison," Liu said shortly after his sentence was handed down on Christmas Day.
"Now I am taking that step, and true freedom is that much nearer," he added.
Beijing was enraged by the Norwegian Nobel Committee's pick this year, announced in October, labelling the laureate a "criminal" and placing his wife Liu Xia under house arrest.
And China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu insisted in Beijing Tuesday the prize would not affect how China handles dissidents.
"We will not change because of interference by a few clowns," she said, referring to the Nobel Committee.
Behind the scenes, the Asian giant, which has swelled to become the world's second largest economic power, has been more or less explicitly pressuring ambassadors posted in Oslo to decline their invitation to the ceremony.
A total of 19 countries, including Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq and China itself, have said they will not attend, the Nobel Institute said, stressing however that some could have other reasons for declining besides pressure from Beijing.
Russia for instance has said scheduling difficulties rather than political considerations were keeping it away.
Serbia meanwhile acknowledged late Tuesday it would not attend the ceremony to maintain good relations with China.
The Nobel Institute emphasised that 44 countries would be represented, including EU member states, Japan, India, South Korea, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil. The United States will even be represented by outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
"China has made some great economic advances, but the world's governments should not be mesmerised by China's economic growth," Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zairi said in a statement this week.
At home, Chinese media have largely shied away from covering this year's Nobel Peace Prize, at the same time as Beijing has worked hard to block its critics from traveling to Oslo.
A number of Chinese dissidents living in exile will nonetheless make the trip.
In addition to the empty chair, Liu will be represented at the ceremony in the Oslo city hall by a photograph and by one of his texts read by Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann.
A day before the ceremony, Amnesty International is planning a demonstration in front of the Chinese embassy and aims to hand over a petition signed by tens of thousands of people in support of Liu.
Nobel Peace Prize host country Norway has itself felt Beijing's wrath since the award was announced, despite its assurances the Nobel Committee, whose members are appointed by parliament, is independent.
Several bilateral meetings have been cancelled and work towards a free-trade agreement between the two countries has been put on ice.
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Beijing (AFP) Dec 8, 2010
Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner to be honoured Friday at an award ceremony in Oslo, has been a vocal champion for greater democracy and human rights protection in China for decades. The 54-year-old, who was previously jailed for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, was sentenced in December to 11 more years in prison for subversion - a punishment that ... read more
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