A Message of Peace at New Years

December 23, 2010

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As the years ends and we begin to welcome the possibilities of 2011, I thought it appropriate to highlight a portion of Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland's speech awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 to Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a Chinese dissident writer and human rights activist, was absent from the December 10 ceremony in Oslo because he is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” in China. Because Chinese authorities permitted neither Liu nor a family member to represent him at the ceremony, his award was marked by an empty chair.

This action, of course, speaks louder than words. Liu missed the ceremony for the very reason he received the prize. As Jagland said, “the severe punishment imposed on Liu made him more than a central spokesman for human rights. Practically overnight, he became the very symbol, both in China and internationally, of the struggle for such rights in China.”

In the portion of Jagland's speech that follows, he stresses the positive impact a free society has on innovation. Would love to hear your thoughts on Jagland's talk.

“We can to a certain degree say that China with its 1.3 billion people is carrying mankind's fate on its shoulders. If the country proves capable of developing a social market economy with full civil rights, this will have a huge favorable impact on the world. If not, there is a danger of social and economic crises arising in the country, with negative consequences for us all.

“Historical experience gives us reason to believe that continuing rapid economic growth presupposes opportunities for free research, thinking and debate. And moreover: without freedom of expression, corruption, the abuse of power and misrule will develop. Every power system must be counterbalanced by popularly elected control, free media and the right of individual citizens to criticize.

“More or less authoritarian states may have long periods of rapid economic growth, but it is no coincidence that nearly all the richest countries in the world are democratic. Democracy mobilizes new human and technological resources.

“China's new status entails increased responsibility. China must be prepared for criticism and regard it as positive – as an opportunity for improvement. This must be the case wherever there is great power. We have all formed opinions on the role of the USA through the years. Friends and allies criticized the country both for the Vietnam War and the lack of civil rights for the colored people. Many Americans were opposed to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King in 1964. Looking back, we can see that the USA grew stronger when the African-American people obtained their rights.

“Many will ask whether China's weakness – for all the strength the country is currently showing – is not manifested in the need to imprison a man for 11 years merely for expressing his opinions on how his country should be governed.

“This weakness finds clear expression in the sentence on Liu, where it is underlined as especially serious that he spread his opinions on the Internet. But those who fear technological advances have every reason to fear the future. Information technology cannot be abolished. It will continue to open societies. As Russia's President Dmitrij Medvedev put it in an address to the Duma: ‘The new information technology gives us an opportunity to become connected with the world. The world and society are growing more open even if the ruling class does not like it.'

“No doubt Medvedev had the fate of the Soviet Union in mind. Compulsory uniformity and control of thought prevented the country from participating in the technological revolution which took place in the 1970s and 80s. The system broke down. The country would have stood to gain a great deal more from entering into a dialogue at an early stage with people like Andrej Sakharov.”

Kathie