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Thorbjørn Jagland, Liu Xiaobo Nobel Peace Prize Award Presentation, December 10, 2010

Jagland is chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
December 10, 2010

[Copyright, The Nobel Foundation]

Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations" of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will."

This was the first paragraph of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s announcement on the 8th of October of the award of this year’s Peace Prize.

We regret that the Laureate is not present here today. He is in isolation in a prison in north-east China. Nor can the Laureate’s wife Liu Xia or his closest relatives be here with us. No medal or diploma will therefore be presented here today.

This fact alone shows that the award was necessary and appropriate. We congratulate Liu Xiaobo on this year’s Peace Prize.

There have been a number of previous occasions when the Laureate has been prevented from attending. This has in fact been the case with several awards which have proved in the light of history to have been most significant and honourable. Even when the Laureate has come, he or she has several times been severely condemned by the authorities of his or her own country.

There was a great deal of trouble in 1935, when the Committee gave the award to Carl von Ossietzky. Hitler was furious, and prohibited all Germans from accepting any Nobel Prize. King Haakon did not attend the ceremony. Ossietzky did not come to Oslo, and died a little over a year later.

There was considerable outrage in Moscow when Andrej Sakharov received his Prize in 1975. He, too, was prevented from receiving the award in person. He sent his wife. The same thing happened to Lech Walesa in 1983. The Burmese authorities were furious when Aung San Suu Kyi received the Peace Prize in 1991. Once again, the Laureate could not come to Oslo.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize. She came. Much could be said of the reaction of the Iranian authorities, but the Iranian Ambassador did in fact attend the ceremony.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has given four Prizes to South Africa. All the Laureates came to Oslo, but the awards to Albert Lutuli in 1960 and to Desmond Tutu in 1984 provoked great outrage in the apartheid regime in South Africa, before the applause broke out thanks to the awards to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk in 1993.

The point of these awards has of course never been to offend anyone. The Nobel Committee’s intention has been to say something about the relationship between human rights, democracy and peace. And it has been important to remind the world that the rights so widely enjoyed today were fought for and won by persons who took great risks.

They did so for others. That is why Liu Xiaobo deserves our support.

Although none of the Committee’s members have ever met Liu, we feel that we know him. We have studied him closely over a long period of time.

Liu was born on the 28th of December 1955 in Changchun in China’s Jilin province. He took a Bachelor’s degree in literature at Jilin University, and a Master’s degree and a PhD at Beijing Normal University, where he also taught. Stays abroad included visits to Oslo, Hawaii, and Columbia University, New York.

In 1989 he returned home to take part in the dawning democracy movement. On the 2nd of June he and some friends started a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square to protest against the state of emergency that had been declared. They issued a six-point democratic manifesto, written by Liu, opposing dictatorship and in favour of democracy. Liu was opposed to any physical struggle against the authorities on the part of the students; he tried to find a peaceful solution to the tension between the students and the government. Non-violence was already figuring prominently in his message. On the 4th of June he and his friends tried to prevent a clash between the army and the students. He was only partially successful. Many lives were lost, most of them outside Tiananmen Square.

Liu has told his wife that he would like this year’s Peace Prize to be dedicated to "the lost souls from the 4th of June." It is a pleasure for us to fulfil his wish.

Liu has said that "The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason."

Tiananmen became a turning-point in Liu’s life.

In 1996, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labour camp for "rumour-mongering and slander." He was president of the independent Chinese PEN-centre from 2003 to 2007. Liu has written nearly 800 essays, 499 of them since 2005. He was one of the chief architects behind Charter 08, which was made known on the 10th of December 2008, which was, in the words of the document’s Preamble, on the occasion of "the one hundredth anniversary of China’s first Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th anniversary of the Chinese government’s signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." Charter 08 defends fundamental human rights and has in due course been signed by several thousand persons both in China itself and abroad.

On the 25th of December 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and two years’ loss of political rights for, in the words of the sentence, "incitement to the overthrow of the state power and socialist system and the people’s democratic dictatorship." Liu has consistently claimed that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and fundamental human rights.

There are many dissidents in China, and their opinions differ on many points. The severe punishment imposed on Liu made him more than a central spokesman for human rights. Practically overnight, he became the very symbol, both in China and internationally, of the struggle for such rights in China.

Your Majesties, ladies and gentlemen,

During the cold war, the connections between peace and human rights were disputed. Since the end of the cold war, however, peace researchers and political scientists have almost without exception underlined how close those connections are. This is, allegedly, one of the most "robust" findings they have arrived at. Democracies may go to war against dictatorships, and have certainly waged colonial wars, but there is, apparently, not a single example of a democracy having gone to war against another democracy.

The deeper "fraternity between nations" which Alfred Nobel mentions in his will, and which is a prerequisite for real peace, can hardly be created without human rights and democracy.

There are scarcely any examples in world history of a great power achieving such rapid growth over such a long period of time as China. Since 1978, year by year, decade after decade, the country’s growth rate has stood at 10 percent or more. A few years ago the country’s output was greater than Germany’s; this year it exceeded Japan’s. China has thus achieved the world’s second largest gross national product. The USA’s national product is still three times greater than China’s, but while China is continuing its advance, the USA is in serious difficulties.

Economic success has lifted several hundred million Chinese out of poverty. For the reduction in the number of poor people in the world, China must be given the main credit.

We can to a certain degree say that China with its 1.3 billion people is carrying mankind’s fate on its shoulders. If the country proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favourable impact on the world. If not, there is a danger of social and economic crises arising in the country, with negative consequences for us all.

Historical experience gives us reason to believe that continuing rapid economic growth presupposes opportunities for free research, thinking and debate. And moreover: without freedom of expression, corruption, the abuse of power, and misrule will develop. Every power system must be counterbalanced by popularly elected control, free media, and the right of individual citizens to criticise.

More or less authoritarian states may have long periods of rapid economic growth, but it is no coincidence that nearly all the richest countries in the world are democratic. Democracy mobilises new human and technological resources.

China’s new status entails increased responsibility. China must be prepared for criticism and regard it as positive – as an opportunity for improvement. This must be the case wherever there is great power. We have all formed opinions on the role of the USA through the years. Friends and allies criticised the country both for the Vietnam War and for the lack of civil rights for the coloured people. Many Americans were opposed to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King in 1964. Looking back, we can see that the USA grew stronger when the African-American people obtained their rights.

Many will ask whether China’s weakness – for all the strength the country is currently showing – is not manifested in the need to imprison a man for eleven years merely for expressing his opinions on how his country should be governed.

This weakness finds clear expression in the sentence on Liu, where it is underlined as especially serious that he spread his opinions on the Internet. But those who fear technological advances have every reason to fear the future. Information technology can not be abolished. It will continue to open societies. As Russia’s President Dmitrij Medvedev put it in an address to the Duma: "The new information technology gives us an opportunity to become connected with the world. The world and society are growing more open even if the ruling class does not like it."

No doubt Medvedev had the fate of the Soviet Union in mind. Compulsory uniformity and control of thought prevented the country from participating in the technological revolution which took place in the 1970s and 80s. The system broke down. The country would have stood to gain a great deal more from entering into a dialogue at an early stage with people like Andrej Sakharov.

Your Majesties, ladies and gentlemen,

Today neither the nation-state nor a majority within the nation-state has unlimited authority. Human rights limit what the nation-state and the majority in a nation-state can do. This must apply to all states that are members of the United Nations and who have acceded to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. China has signed and even ratified several of the UN’s and the ILO’s major international conventions on human rights. It is interesting that China has accepted the supranational conflict-resolving mechanism of the WTO.

China’s own constitution upholds fundamental human rights. Article 35 of the country’s constitution thus lays down that "Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration." Article 41 begins by stating that citizens "…have the right to criticise and make suggestions regarding any state organ or functionary."

Liu has exercised his civil rights. He has done nothing wrong. He must therefore be released!

In the past 100 to 150 years, human rights and democracy have gained an ever-stronger position in the world. And with them, peace. This can be clearly seen in Europe, where so many wars were fought, and whose colonial powers started so many wars around the world. Europe today is on the whole a continent of "peace". Decolonization after the Second World War gave a number of countries, first in Asia and then in Africa, the chance to govern themselves with respect for basic human rights. With India in the lead, many of them seized the opportunity. Over the latest decades, we have seen how democracy has consolidated its position in Latin America and in Central and Eastern Europe. Many countries in the Muslim part of the world are treading the same path: Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia. Several other countries are in the process of opening up their political systems.

The human rights activists in China are defenders of the international order and the main trends in the global community. Viewed in that light, they are thus not dissidents, but representatives of the main lines of development in today’s world.

Liu denies that criticism of the Communist Party is the same as offending China and the Chinese people. He argues that "Even if the Communist Party is the ruling party, it cannot be equated with the country, let alone with the nation and its culture." Changes in China can take time, a very long time: political reforms should, as Liu says, " be gradual, peaceful, orderly and controlled." China has had enough of attempts at revolutionary change. They only lead to chaos. But as Liu also writes, "An enormous transformation towards pluralism in society has already taken place, and official authority is no longer able to fully control the whole society." However strong the power of the regime may appear to be, every single individual must do his best to live, in his words, "an honest life with dignity."

The answer from the Chinese authorities is to claim that this year’s Peace Prize humiliates China, and to give very derogatory descriptions of Liu.

History shows many examples of political leaders playing on nationalist feelings and attempting to demonize holders of contrary opinions. They soon become foreign agents. This has sometimes happened in the name of democracy and freedom, but almost always with a tragic outcome.

We recognise this in the rhetoric of the struggle against terrorism: "You are either for me or against me." Such undemocratic methods as torture and imprisonment without sentence have been used in the name of freedom. This has led to more polarisation of the world and harmed the fight against terrorism.

Liu Xiaobo is an optimist, despite his many years in prison. In his closing appeal to the court on the 23rd of December 2009, he said: "I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme."

Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." When we are able to look ahead today, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of the many men and women who over the years – often at great risk – have stood up for what they believed in and thus made our freedom possible.

Therefore: while others at this time are counting their money, focussing exclusively on their short-term national interests, or remaining indifferent, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has once again chosen to support those who fight – for us all.

We congratulate Liu Xiaobo on the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010. His views will in the long run strengthen China. We extend to him and to China our very best wishes for the years ahead.