About 400 people rallied outside the parliament building in Oslo on Tuesday to show their support for the Dalai Lama’s visit next week. Those gathered voiced their anger at the Norwegian government for cowing to the Chinese and refusing to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader against the wishes of the Norwegian people.
“The more they’ve closed the door, the more we’ve engaged and said we won’t find ourselves in this,” Ann Kristin Espejord, one of the rally organizers told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We cannot accept that they won’t meet the Dalai Lama. That is not the mandate we have given our elected officials, we cannot submit to force and threats.”
The Dalai Lama is due in Oslo from May 7-9 to celebrate 25 years since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s the guest of the Nobel Institute and other private groups, and the government confirmed on Friday there would be no official reception to avoid further damaging relations with China. The two countries have been in a diplomatic freeze since the Nobel committee awarded the prize to Chinese dissident Lu Xiaobo four years ago.
Espejord said the government’s position was out of line with the wishes of the people. “We want the Dalai Lama to know that he is warmly welcome in Norway, and we are proud that he’s coming,” said Espejord. “We want the world to still know that we are a free people, and we expect that our politicians now stop and think about this. We will stand up for our values. This event is to show what we want, that we will have enough backbone to stand.”
Among those gathered were Liberal (Venstre) party leader Trine Skei Grande, Greens (Miljøpartiet De Grønne) parliamentary representative Rasmus Hansson, Amnesty Norway’s general secretary Jon Peder Egenæs, the leader of the Norwegian Peace Council (Norges Fredsråd) Hedda Langemyr, as well as local actors, artists and other personalities.
“It has felt a little strange lately,” Grande told the crowd. “It has felt a little strange to be a politician in a free country which will celebrate the 200-year anniversary of its constitution. Tomorrow the parliament’s scrutiny and constitutional affairs committee (kontroll- og konstitusjonskomité) will discuss how we will incorporate human rights into the constitution – but then we rubbish them in other countries?”
Grande said the Dalai Lama would not be received “in the basement” as the Chinese media had suggested, but would be brought to parliament to meet “as many politicians as we can manage to scrape together. We will show that people are concerned about the cowardice shown.”
Attendees were encouraged to hang white ribbons on a tree, to symbol dignity and peace as a gift to the Dalai Lama. “It would be motivational for people to see that their resistance affects politicians, but I think unfortunately that they’ll stand by the decision they have taken,” said Langemyr. “We should at least give him a proper welcome next week, and I hope as many as possible come back here on Tuesday to wish the Dalai Lama welcome.”
Could the King receive the Dalai Lama?
The University of Oslo will host an appearance by the Dalai Lama during his visit. In newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday, professors Nina Witoszek and Harald Bøckman, an expert on China, wrote the Norwegian government had “fallen to its knees” without a single promise in return from China about improving relations with Norway. They said it was naive to hope Norwegian salmon and marine equipment exports could be saved simply by being nice to the Chinese.
“The Chinese government is known for not forgetting the old sins of others, and for using them to bully and intimidate their opponents when it comes to ‘Chinese interests’,” wrote Witoszek and Bøckman. “China likes to use smaller countries as a laboratory to test its power. When they meet opposition, it seems they like to portray themselves as ‘hurt’ and begin to test how far they can go. Saying ‘no’ to the Dalai Lama strengthens China’s contempt for the present weakness! And it is not only the principles that the country is founded on that are betrayed: The government loses the respect of the majority of Norwegian voters.”
The pair proposed that King Harald should receive the Dalai Lama instead. “The most appropriate, in our opinion, would be if the Dalai Lama got to meet King Harald. An impartial king who takes an impartial king. Both are known for their senses of humour and would surely have an nice time together. It would have been an original and worthwhile meeting.”
Despite the fact it’s a private visit, the Dalai Lama will be housed at the Grand Hotel in central Oslo and receive the same levels of security as if he was on an official visit, reported NRK. “The Dalai Lama and his entourage will at all times have security personnel around him, and we will arrange for a safe course of events,” said Johan Fredriksen of the Oslo Police District.
The measures are based on a threat assessment by the Norwegian Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste), and may be enhanced leading up to the visit. The Dalai Lama’s last visit in 2005 was much less politicized, and he was received by the parliamentary president and the government. He also wandered the streets, greeting people as is his habit.
“The Dalai Lama tends to stop and greet people when he goes from place to place,” said Wenche Stene, from the committee organizing the visit. She was hopeful that the heightened security would not hinder the public’s access to him. “We expect that he will also do that in Oslo.”