When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s most prominent dissidents, now serving an 11-year jail sentence, I could not help but think of a small, inspiring museum in Oslo called the Museum of Resistance. It tells the story of Norway’s courageous citizens who refused to buckle under to Nazi Germany. Today, the Norwegians did themselves proud again. The Norwegian Nobel Committee refused to be intimidated by the communist Chinese government’s effort to dissuade it from awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo by threatening diplomatic and, one imagines, trade retaliation.
Liu is a bookish, chain-smoking hero. (I met him and his wife Liu Xia in August 2007 in his apartment and again at a restaurant for lunch where he told a joke about Jiang Zemin and ladies undergarments that broke up our fellow diners, but apparently did not translate well.)
He was sent to jail in December 2009 for 11 years, for his writings and for his association with the Charter 08 movement for democracy, the rule of law and human rights. (Read Charter 08 here.) This is Liu’s third jail sentence, having previously been imprisoned for joining the democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and again for criticizing Jiang Zemin. He has joined efforts of leading Chinese activists and intellectuals to bring about a change in Beijing’s repressive Tibet policies. He also chastised his fellow citizens’ racist Internet ravings about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2005. He has been the head of Chinese Independent PEN, a free expression organization, and a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy. China considers him subversive, and his work inimical to the values of the Nobel Prize. In fact, his values are democracy, human rights, and the worth of the individual – universal values.
President Obama has recently restated his support for universal values. He shares this with Liu. They now have something else in common – receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.