Friday is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel and as always the Nobel Prizes will be presented. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony will as always take place in Oslo’s City Hall, but this year the ceremony will be very different from earlier years in that no prize will actually be given out as there is no-one to receive it.
The laureate for 2010, the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was sentenced to eleven years in prison last year, while his wife was put under house arrest as soon as the award was announced on 8 October. His brothers have also been refused permission to leave China so that they cannot travel to Oslo to accept the Prize on his behalf. Thus an empty chair will appear on the podium in the City Hall.
The situation that no-one is there to represent the laureate is a new one. Aung San Suu Kyi’s two sons accepted the Prize on behalf of their mother in 1991, while Danuta Walesa came to Oslo to receive her husband’s prize in 1983. Mikhail Gorbachev was represented by his Vice President in 1990, but since then the Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that only family members can act as proxies.
This thwarts the idea put forward by Lech Walesa, who suggested that he and other previous Nobel Peace Prize laureates should go to Oslo and accept the Prize collectively on Liu Xiaobo’s behalf. That would indeed have sent a powerful message of international solidarity.
The award of the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo is in many ways reminiscent of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1935, which a year late in 1936 was awarded to the German dissident and anti-Nazi Carl von Ossietzky, whose paper had revealed Germany’s illegal rearmament. This obviously caused Hitler to go into one of his rages, forbidding Germans to accept any Nobel Prize in the future. The turmoil of 1936 led to the decision that members of the Norwegian government should not sit on the Nobel Committee so that its decision would not appear to be influenced by Norwegian authorities. That year the royal family also stayed away from the Peace Prize ceremony in order not to give further offence to Hitler – hardly the most glorious episode in the history of the Norwegian monarchy.
The Chinese dictatorship, which has not yet picked up on the fact that the Norwegian Nobel Committee does not represent the Norwegian authorities, has been busy threatening Norway with reprisals for awarding the Peace Prize to Liu. Despite these threats the King and Queen will attend the ceremony and the following banquet as usual and the King will also attend the concert the following evening (normally the concert is attended by the Crown Prince and/or the Crown Princess, but they are still away on their long foreign journey).
Unusually, the USA will be represented not only by its ambassador, but also by its third highest-ranking official, outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have also issued threats to those countries which are represented at the Nobel ceremony, but this has met with limited success. Of the 65 countries which have embassies in Oslo nineteen have declined their invitations. In addition to China the list of absentees consists of Serbia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Colombia, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran – hardly a roll-call of the great champions of democracy and human rights.