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The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese Liu Xiaobo its peace prize on Friday. Only they didn’t. China allowed neither Liu nor anyone representing him to travel to Oslo for the ceremony. So, his medal and the accompanying commendation were presented to an empty chair. This absence marked the first time that an honoree or representative was unable to accept the Nobel Prize for Peace in person since Count Carl von Ossietzky, detained in a concentration camp in Hitler’s Germany, was prevented from receiving the award in 1935.
But Liu wasn’t the only one not to make the trip to Scandinavia. Envoys from Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Venezuela, and Vietnam declined their invitations. So, too, did the Russian ambassador.
Russia objected to the Norwegian Nobel Committee honoring Liu on Friday. On Thursday, the Kremlin boosted the idea of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “Public and non-governmental organizations should think of how to help him,” an anonymous source inside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s office explained to Russian media. “Maybe, nominate him as a Nobel Prize laureate.”
Is it the Russian government’s practice to present awards to those who leak its state secrets?
Earlier this month, Russian gadfly Oleg Kashin experienced every journalist’s worst nightmare—not only becoming the story, but doing so by enduring a brutal beating by pipe-wielding goons. The shocking, video-captured attack made its way across the globe through YouTube and broadcast media. But the episode was hardly shocking to Russian journalists, several dozen of whom have been murdered over the last two decades. Russian journalist, like Mexican policeman or Iranian stripper, isn’t a particularly safe profession.
So why praise from the Kremlin for the likes of Assange?
Russia, in its present and past incarnation, has tried to politicize the Nobel Peace Prize. During the Cold War, it did this by preventing those from behind the Iron Curtain from accepting the award and by establishing an Eastern Bloc version of the prize.
As the Stalin Peace Prize from 1950 to 1955, the Soviet Union bestowed the award upon the likes of East German playwright Berthold Brecht and American entertainer Paul Robeson (both, predictably, Stalinists). Later, when Stalin fell out of favor in Moscow, the award morphed into the Lenin Peace Prize. Among the bellicose figures honored by the Lenin Peace Prize were Fidel Castro, Le Duan, an architect of North Vietnam’s invasion of the South and later the unified state’s leader who purged society of citizens who had been friendly with the U.S., and Guo Moruo, a Chinese government official so subservient to the Communist line that he affirmed the decree to burn his writings.
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