The power of five unknown Norwegians

It only takes one Norwegian with eight fingers to punch off any hostile remarks that a group of angry Chinese students can come up with.

Last Tuesday (have been too busy to blog) I went to a lecture by Geir Lundestad, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

I mention Lundestad’s fingers because of the highly peculiar first question by a Chinese student in the audience. The young man wanted to know why the Committee decided to give the Prize to some dissident he had never heard of – and why had the speaker lost two of his fingers. Needless to say, it is not usual to ask such personal questions at Oxford events. (He lost them chopping wood as a 7-year old with another reckless boy of the same age. Ouch. You don’t want to know, really.)

I had not expected to see so many Red Army followers at an event titled ‘What can the Nobel Peace Prize accomplish’. I can only assume that many Chinese students at Oxford are funded by their government and are accordingly loyal to the regime. How else can one explain that they seemed to be defending the 11-year imprisonment of someone whose only crime is writing some words.

“We are very angry with the Prize”, said another young man. “We can discuss anything freely in China.”

“How could the Chinese know about Liu Xiaobo when he is being censored? How can China address corruption without a free press? Can you isolate economic change from political change?” asked Lundestad.

He stated that five unknown Norwegians (the Nobel Committee) cannot overthrow governments, but the Prize can sometimes bring about big changes. Lech Walesa said that he couldn’t have done what he achieved in Poland without the Prize. “Before I was shouting and no one listened. Now I whisper and everyone wants to hear”, Walesa had once said.

The young Chinese students said they hadn’t heard of Liu before the Prize. Perhaps the signifigance of the Prize is making their generation in China value free speech over a quick yuan.


About Johanna Vehkoo

Journo, speaker, fact-checker. Formerly Visiting Scholar at Wilson Center, Washington DC, and Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University. Wrote a book about the future of quality journalism. Founder of award-winning startup Long Play. Blogs in both Finnish and English.
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