Last update from Olso, December 12, 2010 - Katrina Lantos Swett

On our last full day in Oslo we experienced both sobering and exhilarating moments. We visited the Resistance Museum housed in the ancient Oslo Citadel. The Norwegians were attacked by Germany on April 9, 1940 and fought a courageous and unrelenting battle against their occupiers for five long years until their final liberation in 1945. This resistance encompassed almost every part of Norwegian society including students, soldiers, teachers, ministers, journalists, and untold thousands of ordinary men and women - many of whom paid with their lives for their resistance to tyranny. The Resistance was one of Norway’s finest hours, and it was a solemn reminder that while peace is one of humanity’s highest and most noble aspirations, the world faces a jagged path towards its realization. I found myself thinking of President Obama’s speech when he accepted the Peace Prize last year. This young war-time leader said, “Make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies.” I left the museum pondering his further observation on the “seemingly irreconcilable truths that war is sometimes necessary…but no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.” Humanity has not yet found a real answer to this terrible riddle.

Yet the Nobel Concert, the culminating gala of the Prize event, seemed to whisper, sing, and even trumpet that peace, brotherly love, and a world built on respect for every human being are indeed within our grasp. The star studded cast was superb- Anne Hathaway and Denzel
Washington served as the co-hosts, and Anne Hathaway was particularly warm and disarmingly natural. The performers ranged from jazz legend Herbie Hancock and Swedish pop star Robyn to the final performer Barry Manilow. The entire audience of the Oslo Spektrum was on its feet, and there was a palpable joy bubbling up from the crowd. The night concluded with the cast and audience singing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” As we later filed out into the cold streets of Oslo, there was a smile on every face and a desire in every heart to do more in our own lives to bring about peace on earth and goodwill to people everywhere.

Update from Oslo, December 11, 2010 - Katrina Lantos Swett

It is remarkable, over the period of a day and a half, how one can come to feel so close to a man one has never met – a man who is not present and yet whose presence is overwhelming in its impact. Although I have not had the privilege of meeting Liu Xiaobo, I feel that I know him and have surely seen the profound influence for good he has had on the world from his remote jail cell in China. Through his writings and the many tributes and testimonials that have been offered, I have come to know of his deep love for his wife, his spirit of dignity and strength, his love for China, and his belief in the power of freedom and human rights.

While every seat was filled at last night’s banquet, many people commented on the irony that the most important seat was the empty chair at the Prize event where Liu Xiaobo’s diploma and medal were placed in his absence. This empty chair has become a powerful metaphor for the emptiness of China’s claims to respect the human rights of its citizens. I am told that it is no longer possible to Google the words empty chair in China and that the Nobel Committee’s site has gone dark in that country as well. And yet there was a general consensus among the people I spoke with that this Prize could well mark a turning point in the struggle for democracy in that vast and powerful nation.

I had the pleasure of dining next to Geir Lundestad, the Director and Permanent Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, and he said the committee was amazed at the overwhelmingly positive response to the decision to award the prize to Liu Xiaobo. Norwegians tend to be rather understated, and Geir said that there were rarely, if ever, standing ovations at Prize ceremonies. Yesterday, Xiaobo was given three. It was interesting to hear Geir speak of the pressure from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the Committee to dissuade them from presenting the award to Xiaobo. One is tempted to ask how they can possibly be so afraid of this one gentle man who speaks of forgiveness and respect and who has firmly proclaimed, “I have no enemies.” The answer is simple and familiar – like all dictatorships throughout history, they are afraid of freedom and the power of free individuals to think, choose, and act of their own accord. They are also afraid of the heroes among us who are willing to sacrifice their freedom, comfort, and privileges to stand up for their principles.

I was so proud last night to be with one such hero – Fang Zheng. Zheng lost both of his legs when a tank rolled over him in Tiananmen Square. He and his compatriots are filled with joy at this Prize which truly belongs to all of them, and they are filled with the hope that this represents a new beginning for China. One of them said to me, “China, if it is free and democratic, can help bring greater peace and prosperity to the whole world.” I don’t think that is an exaggeration, but it needs to begin with China letting one man go free so that his empty chair may be filled.

Update from Oslo, December 10, 2010 - Katrina Lantos Swett

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!

Update from Oslo December 9, 2010 - Katrina Lantos Swett

We arrived in Oslo today on the eve of the Nobel Prize ceremony. At the Grand Hotel which serves as the check-in hub for guests and participants in the Peace Prize event, there is a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation about tomorrow’s ceremony. Upon arriving at the hotel, we almost literally bumped into the actress Anne Hathaway, who is here to co- host the Prize concert on Saturday along with Denzel Washington.

In the early afternoon there was a press conference held by the Chair of the Nobel Prize Committee, with reporters from every corner of the world. Of course the questions centered on China’s efforts to dissuade, some might say bully, other countries into boycotting the Prize ceremony. What a sad commentary on the self-defeating ways in which closed and repressive societies undermine their own best interests. Sadly some 18 countries have succumbed to China’s efforts at intimidation, but it has not seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of the many Chinese attendees. They are inspired, as is the world, by the simple eloquence of Liu Xiaobo when he wrote, “Humans exist not only physically but also spiritually, possessing a moral sense, the core of which is the dignity of being human.” He also wrote, “Freedom of expression is the basis of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth.”

This evening we participated in a reception with the human rights activists who are here as part of the official delegation representing Liu Xiaobo. It is such an honor to be among these remarkable people including many of the heroes of Tiananmen Square. Perhaps the most moving remarks of the evening came from a beautiful young woman whose own father has spent the last 8 years in prison for his activism on behalf of democracy in China. Her father, Wang Bingzhang, gave up a promising medical career to peacefully and publicly work for a free and democratic China. He has paid a heavy price for his courage and patriotism, and his family has paid a price as well. His daughter, named Ti-Anna, in honor of the 1989 demonstrations, broke down in tears as she appealed to the leaders of China to release these prisoners of conscience and“Embrace universal human values and join the mainstream of civilized nations.” (the words of Charter 08- authored by Liu Xiaobo). We were all in tears by the end of her remarks, but not tears of despair- rather tears of determination.