This grey summer, we’ve lost something of ourselves. We are frightened into silence.

It happened when Norway met a dying Peace Prize laureate with fearful silence.

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Paying respect to late Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo outside Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, July 2017; photo: Audun Braastad
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Norwegian PM Erna Solberg trying her best not to mention Liu Xiaobo, Norway, August 2017; photo: Lars Eivind Bones

A foolish dignity

The best that can be said about Erna Solberg’s answer is that it possessed a foolish dignity. The Prime Minister very painstakingly avoided mentioning Liu Xiaobo by name. He has become a non-person for the Norwegian government. Like the evil prince Voldemort in Harry Potter, the dead democracy fighter has become “He-whose-name-cannot-be-said”.

Operation U-turn

…because it was precisely opposition leader Erna Solberg who demanded that Norway become “fireworks” in the struggle for human rights. And it was the same Solberg and her party colleagues who rightly criticized the red-green government [which preceded Solberg’s] for going all too quiet on China.

Don’t point the finger of blame

In Arendal this week, the leader of the Conservative Party [Solberg] hailed her party’s years-long tradition of loud and active support for persecuted democracy fighters, while at the same time defending the new policy as “more effective than the finger of blame”.

Identity on the line

Some will be relieved. It is indeed not always that we Norwegians understand the difference between teaching and preaching. And we’re not exactly at our most sympathetic when it sounds as if we are speaking as the self-appointed moral superpower.

A foreign policy collision

Of course, this is not the first time ideals collide with the realities of foreign policy. It is only utopian idealists and one-eyed activists who can’t see these competing interests. At any rate, these are in the genes of all who elegantly move through the world of diplomacy.

Norway as a stranger

For Norway, this is a path full of risks. It means that the rest of the world doesn’t recognize us anymore either. It is used to a Norway that has often worked to put inconvenient democratic development and difficult human rights on the international agenda. We don’t do that anymore.

No secret

Even the sharpest critic of awarding the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, Henning Kristoffersen, thinks we hurt ourselves with the Norwegian silence. He calls the Solberg government’s position irresolute, especially “given that this government has held up human rights as one of its core interests.” This is not lost on the Chinese, Kristoffersen notes. While we must perhaps be willing to sacrifice some of our pride to appease the rulers in Beijing, “it is neither in Norway’s nor Beijing’s interest that it cost us our identity,” the China enthusiast wrote here in Aftenposten right after Liu Xiaobo’s death.

«I love China»

And so we’ve come to this. Through our humiliating submissiveness to China, we’ve deprived ourselves of the right to speak out with authority against human rights abuses and violations other places.

Written by

Author of ‘Umbrella: A Political Tale from Hong Kong’ and ‘As long as there is resistance, there is hope: Essays on the Hong Kong freedom struggle…’

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