The 21 years that Aung San Suu Kyi has had to wait before collecting her Nobel Peace Prize must serve as a reminder of the suffering other dissidents continue to endure, said Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestad.
“We hadn’t thought it would take that long,” the 67-year- old said in a June 13 phone interview from Oslo. The historian took up his position in 1990, the year before the Myanmar opposition leader was awarded the prize for her struggle for democracy and human rights in her home country.
Suu Kyi, 66, left Myanmar two days ago for her first visit to Europe in 24 years, and will tomorrow give the acceptance speech at Oslo City Hall. She was detained by Myanmar’s military junta after winning elections in 1990 and was unable to travel to collect her prize, which was accepted by her son, Alexander.
“It made an enormous impression on me when she got the prize and wasn’t able to come,” Lundestad. “I remember well when her son Alexander gave the acceptance speech on behalf of his mother. Not many eyes stayed dry.”
Annual prizes for peace work, physics, chemistry, medicine, and literature were established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite who died in 1896, and they were first awarded in 1901. The peace prize is handed out in Oslo and the others in Stockholm, including one for economics that was established by Sweden’s central bank. Past laureates include U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama and Mother Teresa.
Suu Kyi will spend four days in Norway, meeting with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and King Harald and attending conferences on peace work.
While the visit will be a celebration, Suu Kyi’s story will remind the world of the 2010 laureate, jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who also was unable to attend his ceremony.
“They both hold a strong, moral position, and they have been imprisoned for a long time,” Lundestad said. “But conditions are much tougher for him,” Lundestad said, referring to Suu Kyi’s 15 years of house arrest. Lundestad wouldn’t speculate on when Liu would be able to travel to Oslo. “It’s impossible to say if it will take him less than the 21 years it took her. We can’t do more than hope.”
While the Nobel Committee is independent of the government, Liu’s award has strained relations between Norway and China and hampered trade. Former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was denied a visa to China this week, a decision “clearly” related to the prize, he said.
Bondevik, who now runs the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, said it was important to highlight the need for political and civil rights by choosing a Chinese dissident for the prize. He said the Nobel had worked as a protection for Suu Kyi and that he hoped it would do the same for Liu.
“No regimes are the same,” Bondevik said in an interview yesterday at the inauguration of the Aung San Suu Kyi World Freedom Fund in Oslo. “We can’t know. But you have to take some risks in awarding the prize.”
Lundestad said the committee had “no exaggerated ideas” of what the prize can achieve as other impetus is also needed for change. This was the case in Myanmar, where the opposition was able to take part in by-elections in April, in which Suu Kyi was elected to parliament, he said.
“Those reforms are sensational and very interesting, but a lot remains to be done,” Lundestad said.
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