We just returned from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and I am feeling deeply inspired and uplifted. The simplicity and sincerity of this occasion is a powerful antidote to the cynicism that“life” can sometimes engender. The venue was the Oslo City Hall, a beautiful venue that held about 1100 people. Its most notable feature is stunning murals of Norwegian life that are most reminiscent of the murals done by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression in post offices and other public buildings around America. There were only two speeches at the event – a stroke of genius and compassion in and of itself.
The Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jaglund, gave an excellent speech that clearly articulated the purpose of the prize. He spoke about the essential link between democracy and human rights and the world that was established in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust – namely a world based on ideas of international cooperation (the United Nations) and the recognition of universal human rights (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). He lauded China for its remarkable economic progress that has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty. He then went on to respectfully but firmly reminded them that their own progress as a great power cannot reach its full potential as long as they continue to deny their own people the fundamental human rights that they have embraced in the Universal Declaration and in their own Constitution.
The incomparable Liv Ullman read Liu Xiaobo’s final statement to the court which he wrote last December just days before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for writing and speaking on behalf of peaceful democratic reform in China. The statement is titled “I Have No Enemies,” and the most striking thing about it is the spirit of reconciliation, respect, forgiveness, and love that permeates every word. After hearing his words, it was clear to me that he was chosen not only because he is a prominent Chinese dissident but because he has a profound understanding of how to achieve real peace, even in the face of persecution and imprisonment. Because neither Liu Xiaobo nor any member of his family was present, the medal and diploma were placed on an empty chair on the platform. The entire audience rose as one for a sustained standing ovation, and it was clear no one wanted to sit down. The chair may have been empty, but somehow it seemed very full – both of his spirit and the spirit of many other heroes of Tiananmen Square and beyond who are ready to sacrifice themselves for a China that is truly free and can then take its place as a great nation of the world.
Liu's only request to the Nobel Committee was that children sing at the ceremony. The Children’s Chorus of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet closed the program with a delightful medley of traditional songs and pieces by Norway’s most famous musical son, Edvard Grieg. While the majority were the traditional blue-eyed blond haired Norwegians, it was wonderful to see the diversity represented by the children aged from 5 to 18.
As we emerged from the Hall after greeting many people, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressmen Chris Smith and David Wu, there were a few snowflakes beginning to fall on the festive streets of Oslo. It was fitting, celebratory, and above all peaceful!