Monday, 1 November 2010

Nobel Peace Prize 2010

The Nobel Peace prize for 2010 has been awarded to a Chinese dissident activist. What a surprise! China has reacted with anger at the decision of the Nobel committee to award the prize to this man whom the regime jailed in December 2009 for ‘inciting subversion of state power’, and has accused the committee of attempting to destabilise the country by fomenting internal strife. I am shocked!

The reaction of the Chinese regime is as depressingly predictable as the decision of the Nobel committee to award the peace prize to the dissident. Indeed as Liu Xiaobo was convicted by what passes in China for judicial system he might have consoled himself with the thought that the Nobel Peace Prize was now surely his (not enough, or nearly enough, compensation for spending eleven years in Chinese gaol if you ask me).

If you (like me) do not have a position, so to speak, on this issue, you would be puzzled. On one side is China, the de facto superpower, a nation that is the inheritor of one of the ancient civilizations of the world, a nation that represents a significant chunk of humanity (I haven’t done the math, which, in any case, is not my strong point, but I would have thought that India and China, the two Asian giants, between them, represent at least one third of the humanity), and a nation that has, for the past six decades, a political system that is, not to put too fine a point on it, a police state; on the other side is a tiny Scandinavian nation that is mostly known for giving the world the pop group ‘Abba’ and a few blonde (and bland) tennis players in the 1980s, and which doles out yearly largesse in the memory of a man who invented dynamite. The Nobel peace prize is awarded by another (tinier) Scandinavian country whose most famous gift to the world is Jarlsberg cheese.

However, this is not just about the respective sizes of the countries. These Scandinavian countries have money to give, and it is a lot of money. They can of course give the money to whomever they wish; it is their money. And it is an award that is associated with a lot of prestige. Its earlier recipients include such heavyweights as Al Gore (for making a documentary) and Barak Obama (for doing what?). So, coming back to the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, we have two diametrically opposite views about the man Xiaobo. The Chinese say he is a criminal who has been convicted by the system that exists in that country, and the regime believes that he is part of the plot to destabilise China. The Nobel Committee would have us believe that Xiaobo has made so much contribution to peace (where?) that it could think of no better or more deserving person than him to shower their millions on. The Chinese are hopping mad. They are seeing all kinds of conspiracies. The Chinese Foreign minister has declared that awarding the peace prize to the criminal Xiaobo runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize (he should know). The Chinese has cancelled with immediate effect the visit of a Norwegian fisheries committee (that should teach them a lesson). If this was predictable, the Nobel committee’s response to Chinese histrionics was equally predictable. The committee couldn’t be more smug. The Chinese response, it declared, was as misguided as their accusation of interference. The committee regretted the actions taken by the regime (the dissident’s wife has been put under house arrest, and I’d imagine that she has less chances of making it to Sweden to accept the prize on behalf of her jailed husband than, as they say, a one-legged man winning an ass-kicking competition), but it was not surprised. The Nobel committee (in case it has escaped your notice) stands for a set of principles. The committee takes instructions from nobody. The Nobel committees over the years, of course, have a great tradition of standing for their principles and taking instructions from nobody. Such as not awarding the prize to Gandhi even though he was nominated twice, because the British colonialists indicated that they would be very displeased if Gandhi was given the award (and, no doubt, further indicated that the Scandinavian monarch—if such an institution exists— would not be welcome for tea at Buckingham palace; which, if you think of it, should be regarded as a blessing in disguise—if you value your life do not go to a British house for their dreadful tea). The pompous hectoring of Geir Lundestead about principles and being independent minded is what the Spanish call gilipollez, Italians call cazzata, French call connerie and the English call bullshit (don’t know what the Norwegian or Swedish call it). Or, if this is too rude, you might say the argument is rich; it couldn’t be richer than if it were weighed down with kilos of Jarlsberg cheese.

The question, here, is: what exactly has Liu Xiaobo done to promote peace in China? WikiPedia informs us that he is a political activist who is unhappy with the current political system in that country, and is agitating to change it. He was jailed in 1989, for example, for his part in the Tiananmen Square protests. In 1996 he was ordered to serve three years of re-education through labour for disturbing public order. He obviously did not learn the lesson the regime was hoping to teach him, and last year he was jailed for spreading messages to subvert the country and authority. This does not sound to me like behaviour of someone who is spreading peace.

And what is more, I don’t think the regime is exaggerating or lying when it says that Xiaobo is attempting to subvert the authority. Because that is precisely what he is doing; that is his stated aim. What is not clear (to me anyway) is whether the regime is really afraid of Xiaobo or it is merely irked at what it sees as an attempt by the uppity Scandinavians to embarrass the regime on an international stage. Whatever the case, it would be fair to assume that the Chinese Communist party can do without the likes of Xiaobo going around putting ideas into people’s head that democracy is the answer to their problems. Because it isn’t— in any case, the lies and intrigues of the rulers are the same no matter what system is in place—and also there may not be any problem—especially if you support the party—in the first place. What is impossible to know is whether the pro-democracy movement is gaining ground in China. There is no reason to suppose that—not taking into account the hard-core Communists—hoi polli of China are pining for democracy. Difficult as it is for democracy-mongers in the West, who are prepared to (illegally) invade sovereign countries and murder millions to spread the message of democracy, to believe this, the Chinese might actually be happy with how things are in their country, thank you very much. The decision of the Nobel committee to award Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize is a political decision. It is as much a political decision as George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was. There is also, I feel, an element of mischief-making. Now that China is reasserting herself on the world stage and the balance of power is shifting slowly but surely Asiawards, we should expect more of this from European countries in which industrial revolution took place with little to no regard to democracy and human rights. Expect more of hand-wringing and tut-tutting about the human right violations in China and the starving millions in India.

If I were the Chinese premier (and still in full control of all the factions in the party and my faculties) I would seriously consider starting a Chinese award. That would be the apt thing to do rather than whingeing every time the Western pranksters get up to their old tricks. The Chinese regime can award that nutter who tried to set off car-bombs the Time Square. He is fearlessly fighting a valiant battle to subvert the authority of the regime in, as a character in a Peter Carey novel I recently finished reading says, the you-Knighted States of America, and the regime gave him a life-sentence without a parole. The Chinese could honour the unsung heroes of the ultra-leftist terrorists in the neighbouring India who periodically blow up railways, kidnap and kill civilians in order to unleash an egalitarian dictatorship (and they are doing this in the name of Chairman Mao). How about conferring posthumous honours on Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein? The former tried to wipe out Muslims in the erstwhile Yugoslavia, perhaps not with as much success and efficiency as the Chinese in the Xingjiang province, but you have got to admit that the man had a bloody good go at it. And Saddam, of course, had modelled himself, his regime and his party on Stalin whose puppet chairman Mao was in the early years of his dictatorship. Nick Griffin (he, like Xiaobo, is not afraid to make his point, and, again, like him, is, so far, in minority in his country) would be happy to travel to Beijing to receive his millions. It is about time.