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The Nobel Dissonance


A blink, a trembling instant passes
to a flash of awareness: I’m still alive
On Central Television News
my name’s changed to “arrested black hand”
though those nameless white bones of the dead
still stand in the forgetting
I lift up high up the self-invented lie
tell everyone how I’ve experienced death
so that “black hand” becomes a hero’s medal of honor

Would the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo think of the Nobel Peace Prize he received in Oslo today as another such medal of honour?

When he got to know he was this year’s recipient, he said, “I dedicate this prize to all those lost souls who have sacrificed their lives in non-violent struggle for peace, democracy and freedom.”

He was referring to the struggle for democracy in 1989 that resulted in the massacre in Tiananmen Square by the People’s Liberation Army. Between arrest and imprisonment, he became a voice of protest, the voice of silence.

It is only natural, then, that China tried to muscle its way in to prevent other nations from attending the ceremony to celebrate one who has maligned its reputation. Or so it would appear. China cannot deny Tiananmen. It cannot deny its role in Tibet. It cannot deny that under the garb of Communism it has prevented any other ideologies. The question is: Has China ever wanted to? The Iron Curtain was not only about preventing others from looking inside but also from living in its own austere cocoon, its grey uniform people riding bicycles, including its top leaders. Yet, it had a say in most international affairs.

More importantly, the Chinese dragon’s tongue leaped out and left dribbles of its imprint everywhere. The changed China was a greater threat. It still is. It is not about China’s foreign policy that is as worrying to the West as its almost complete hold over the large consumer market, where the new warfare is fought. It is also a tacit player in the jugglery between the West and Pakistan. Even the head of the Nobel Committee was forced to say, “This is not a prize against China. This is a prize honouring people in China.”

Now, this is lame. No one honours the ordinary people. The “parallel political movement” that the Committee is dreaming about does not necessarily include all people. Authoritarian regimes have to sometimes fake democracy. China succeeded spectacularly during the Olympics. A foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said: “I would like to say to those at the Nobel committee, they are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

The fact is that quite a few countries did boycott the award ceremony. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Serbia, Iraq , Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Venezuela, the Philippines, Egypt, Sudan, Ukraine, Cuba and Morocco.

Of these countries how many have had to kowtow to, or get physically bludgeoned by, China in their foreign policy and how many to the US? Should that not be a revelation? It does not take much to understand that the Nobel Peace Prize is a traditional handmaiden of the few western powers. Will a dissident Briton or American receive it?

It is nobody’s case here that China has a clean record, but everyone realises that the Peace Prize is all about political puppetry. Liu’s poetry will now become more accessible. His literary oeuvre will be tested and analysed. However, the idea of peace needs to be examined.

Dissidence is controlled violence. It protests against it, but has to sometimes employ ‘unpeaceful’ means. All freedom struggles have been tinged with such anger. There is no thaw within the establishment or as a counter-movement. Peace does not reign.

When you are at war with the establishment it is violence; whenyou are at war with certain forces ? be they poverty or pugnacity ? you are not at peace. The Mother Teresa module does not work, unless dying in peace is something to celebrate at international fora, nor does the Obama module for bringing about change, because change, like certain bodily functions, happens.

There is also something disingenuous about non-violence. Absence of violence is not peace because it accepts pain as its reward. The same applies to exile. It is a romantic notion, a candle in the wind. The waxy remnants of dissent on table tops with spilt ink while the streets continue to buzz with the altered world of neon lights become a quaint memory.

Liu has, of course, taken up the cause of workers, migrant labourers and spoken out against the regime. In all these years, his imprisonment has not been highlighted. The Chinese did not bother about him; they were so uncaring that they did not even use him as an example. How would it matter to a generation well in their adulthood to think about someone who was a black hand? Perhaps in this new age, he might have become a video game if China did not have so many strictures over the internet. But, for the west he has become someone to be dusted and feted.

It is not the Chinese people they are concerned about. It is the China that today does not merely sell fake Cavallis but has the Cavallis getting China to make their labels.

Liu is the West’s resonse to the violence within them ? the violence of being taken over in the bazaars. Peace is just another ruse for something left to gain.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based author-columnist. She can be reached at


Farzana Versey can be reached at Cross Connections

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