Empty Chair in Oslo

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the book Choosing Life in Israel. 


There’s set to be an empty chair on Friday at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. It was supposed to be filled by Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, sentenced last year to 11 years’ imprisonment for his writings and, particularly, helping draft the Charter 08 manifesto, which calls for reform and democracy in China.

Even with Liu Xiaobo absent, though, the chair wouldn’t have had to be empty—if his wife or a close relative could have been there to accept the prize in his stead.

That was what happened in the cases of Cold War dissidents Andrei Sakharov of the USSR and Lech Walesa of Poland, whose wives received the prizes for them, and Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, whose son did the same in 1991.

But in Liu Xiaobo’s case, that won’t happen because his wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest since this year’s Peace Prize was announced on October 8. CNN reports that “police have cut off all of Liu Xia’s communications: she has no phone, no Internet access and is not allowed to meet with her husband’s legal team.”

And AP reports that the Chinese authorities have been “stopping many others such as lawyers, academics and activists from leaving the country—apparently to prevent them from traveling to Oslo for the ceremony.”

As the New York Times notes, “the last time no one was present to accept the peace medal was in 1936, when the German journalist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who had been awarded the prize in 1935, was not allowed to leave Nazi Germany in either year.”

But, in addition to China itself, there will be others absent from the ceremony. The countries eligible to attend are those that have embassies in Oslo. Of these, at least 44 are to be present, including all the Western countries.

China, however, has apparently persuaded or bullied 18 other countries into “declining to attend.” A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the ceremony “an anti-China farce” and said, “We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

Those who will be skipping the alleged farce include, as AP notes, “Chinese allies Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba, Chinese neighbors such as Russia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan, and Chinese business partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

The others: Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

While there are no surprises in the list, Iraq and Afghanistan stand out for a certain irony after so much Western blood and treasure have been expended in an effort to get them into the Western camp.

Also notable in the group are other Arab and Muslim countries thought to be Western-aligned like Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. The group as a whole attests to both the growth of China’s power and the fragility of allegiance, and dissonance of values, at the outer fringes of what could loosely be called the Western camp.

Liu Xiaobo’s empty chair at the ceremony will, lamentably, symbolize a good deal more than the absence of a heroic individual or of those closest to him.

It will also evoke the ongoing lack of democracy—or of much hope for it—in a large part of the world now that the previous U.S. administration’s democratizing impulse has collided with inimical cultures.

The empty chair is also a warning of the growing arrogance of freedom’s enemies.

  • Kim Bruce

    Meanwhile, we are still doing a furious business with this tyranny.
    Their GDP is going through the roof whilst ours declines, they are pruchasing our lands and our mines, our oil fields in our own country.
    When are we going to boycott China?
    CUT OFF ALL TRADE TIES WITH CHINA NOW!

  • http://qwest.com Steve Chavez

    "BRING OUR JOBS HOME!" To hell with China! Help our hemisphere. Bring factories home and even to Mexico, Central America, and Haiti. Isn't it cheaper to ship goods across the Rio Grande than it is across the Pacific? Mexico? Yes, maybe if they have jobs there, they won't come here!

  • flaedo

    "While there are no surprises in the list, Iraq and Afghanistan stand out for a certain irony after so much Western blood and treasure have been expended in an effort to get them into the Western camp".
    Those two ^&$%holes arent worth one US soldiers life. We should have bombed them from a distance. l am so angry at bush for going in.

  • flyingtiger

    why is Serbia and Ukraine boycotting this? Can anyone explain? The other countries are your usual gang of idiots.

  • muchiboy

    ” Iraq and Afghanistan stand out for a certain irony after so much Western blood and treasure have been expended in an effort to get them into the Western camp.
    Also notable in the group are other Arab and Muslim countries thought to be Western-aligned like Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. The group as a whole attests to both the growth of China’s power and the fragility of allegiance, and dissonance of values, at the outer fringes of what could loosely be called the Western camp”

    I see the PA has refused an invitation to the ceremonies,too.Wonder why?Or is it any wonder? While there are some seeming surprises,most refusals and absentees are understandable for stated political and economic reasons.Imagine the bind Israel would be in if China were it’s only suppler of fighter Aircraft and other advanced military hardware.Could happen! We in the affluent Western liberal democracies must consider ourselves fortunate that we can afford our ethical stance on Human Rights when others in a more chaotic state have more pressing bread and butter needs and priorities.Just one more reason why we must think globally and support the moderates where ever they are in terms of modernity.muchiboy

  • muchiboy

    " Iraq and Afghanistan stand out for a certain irony after so much Western blood and treasure have been expended in an effort to get them into the Western camp.
    Also notable in the group are other Arab and Muslim countries thought to be Western-aligned like Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. The group as a whole attests to both the growth of China’s power and the fragility of allegiance, and dissonance of values, at the outer fringes of what could loosely be called the Western camp"

    I see the PA has refused an invitation to the ceremonies,too.Wonder why?Or is it any wonder? While there are some seeming surprises,most refusals and absentees are understandable for stated political and economic reasons.Imagine the bind Israel would be in if China were it's only suppler of fighter Aircraft and other advanced military hardware.Could happen! We in the affluent Western liberal democracies must consider ourselves fortunate that we can afford our ethical stance on Human Rights when others in a more chaotic state have more pressing bread and butter needs and priorities.Just one more reason why we must think globally and support the moderates where ever they are in terms of modernity.muchiboy

    • ajnn

      "We in the affluent Western liberal democracies must consider ourselves fortunate that we can afford our ethical stance on Human Rights when others in a more chaotic state have more pressing bread and butter needs and priorities."

      Excellent point. We forget how very fortunate we are and how that affluance was built on the sacrifices and hard work of those who came before us.

  • muchiboy

    “..how that affluance was built on the sacrifices and hard work of those who came before us. ”

    Every comment or observation doesn’t have to end in a fight,ajinn.muchiboy

  • Ghostwriter

    For years,we've heard those who say that America's arrogant. Well,this and Chinese criticism of the British Prime Minister wearing a poppy on Britain's answer to Memorial Day begs the question,who's the arrogant one here? I'll give you a hint. It's not America.

  • badaboo

    we kowtow to China ….why ? big buisiness writes the foreign policy in regards to relations with China . just like BP was allowed to operate so dangerously in OUR country , that they blew up a refinery killing dozens of Americans , and had the blowout disaster that polluted our waters and land , all the while doing what it damn well pleased as far as safety or corporate responsibility .
    Dont expect ANYTHING , as far as U S policy , the bucks big buisines is reeling in trumps all considerations for American jobs and/or lives .
    We're just shadow boxing on this thread .