This year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate is...
Liu Xiaobo (link to PEN America)
The guesses, including mine (though I thought we'd have another Chinese dissident than this one), were correct. The Nobel Peace Prize to a Human Rights advocate from China has been expected for years. The committee's decision underscored the importance of increased responsibility for political rights in a country like China where the economic development the last few years have allowed hundreds of millions to escape poverty. Now is the time to also improve living conditions in other aspects of the Chinese society.
Liu is currently in prison in China for his political activities. Chinese authorities claim he was "inciting subversion of state power", which is what many political critics have been charged with the last few years. He has been politically active for many years - already in 1989 during the student rebellion in China he was participating. He is an academic, a literature critic and philosopher, he has been the president of the Chinese PEN Center, and he is one of the authors of Charter 08 which is a document calling for greater political freedom, freedom of speech and respect for human rights in China.
Chinese diplomats reportedly approached the Norwegian Nobel Committee earlier this year, warning that Sino-Norwegian relations might be affected if the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a Chinese dissident. Fortunately the Nobel Committee - which, again it must be underscored, is independent of the Norwegian government - has never been afraid of making controversial decisions, and if anything, attempts at influencing the committee has often had the opposite effect than intended.
Whether or not the relations between Norway and China really will be affect remains to be seen. Whether the prize will have any effect for the laureate also remains to be seen. Experts report that it is unlikely that he will be released from prison, but that the publicity the prize generates will at least make it difficult to treat him badly while he is in prison. In the long run a prize such as this might be one of many things that eventually will make China have to revise its human rights policy. Maybe.
Comparable, perhaps, to this laureate is the 1991 laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still imprisoned in Burma. The Burmese junta has announced that she will be released in November this year, but it remains to be seen if this will really happen and whether that will have an effect on the political climate in Burma. Hopefully it will. For Burma it has taken (at least) 19 years. How long will it take for China?
Fitting, I think, since he also was a man of peace, Google is doing a tribute to John Lennon in honour of his 70th birthday tomorrow. I know I will Imagine all the people, living life in peace. May John Lennon's imagination one day ring true!