The Dalai Lama arrived in Oslo on Wednesday to rainy and chilly weather but also to what he said he felt was a “warm welcome.” It followed weeks of debate in Norway over the government’s refusal to officially receive him, amidst a grassroots mustering of widespread support among the general public.
Thousands turned out to welcome the Nobel Laureate and exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, which China has forcibly controlled for decades, when he arrived at Oslo’s Grand Hotel Wednesday morning. He later stepped out on the hotel’s balcony that’s used by winners of the Nobel Peace Prize to greet the public, and he was met by cheers even before he declared he was happy to be “back in Norway” after several earlier visits since winning the Peace Prize himself in 1989.
His supporters braved cold rain to hail the Dalai Lama, as did demonstrators who claimed there was no religious freedom in Tibet. The 78-year-old man whom many refer to as “His Holiness” said he welcomed their presence as well, because he believes in democracy and that everyone must be able to express themselves.
Meeting with Bondevik
After a stop at the hotel, where Nobel Peace Prize winners traditionally stay, and a brief reunion with former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Dalai Lama was driven to the Nobel Institute where he was received by the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The committee was among those inviting him back to Norway to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Peace Prize awarded him in Oslo for his lengthy and non-violent campaign against China’s rule in Tibet.
The committee also hosted him at a luncheon, at which he was said to have requested only bread and water. Committee secretary Geir Lundestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday evening, though, that they had heard their guest was also fond of French onion soup, so they hoped to serve that to him, too.
Tibet’s spiritual leader has lived in exile in India since China’s communist military forces invaded Tibet in 1950 and seized control through annexation. Tibet appealed for help at the time from the United Nations, without receiving it. In 1951, Chinese and Tibetan authorities signed an agreement on Tibetan self-rule, but it when the Dalai Lama refused to order Tibetan soldiers to quell an uprising against China in 1959, Chinese did so themselves, sending tens of thousands of Tibetans into exile in India and Nepal, including the Dalai Lama. He established a government in exile in Dharamshala in India in 1959.
Chinese authorities were angry when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded him the Peace Prize 30 years later, and even more angry when the committee awarded another Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. China has refused to take part in top-level political discussions with Norway ever since, leading to a diplomatic freeze that the current Norwegian government tried to thaw by refusing to officially welcome the Dalai Lama this week. That in turn sparked intense political debate in Norway, with many Norwegians calling their own government leaders “cowards” for allowing themselves to be “bullied” by the Chinese.
The Dalai Lama, who’s currently on a European tour that began in Latvia earlier this week, has since said he never wants to be a burden to anyone and aims to remain non-political. His presence, though, always prompts outbursts from the Chinese who want other nations’ leaders to ignore him.
He’s hardly being ignored in Oslo, despite the government’s snub. At a meeting with Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who also heads the Council of Europe, he said he wasn’t disappointed that he wouldn’t also be meeting with Norway’s current government. “I’m here to talk about human values,” said the man whom none of the government ministers would receive.
After Wednesday’s lunch he was also meeting with locally influential Norwegian journalists in the afternoon and also would be making various public appearances around town. On Thursday he was speaking at the University of Oslo’s student union Chateau Neuf in the morning and meeting with students in the afternoon. He also would have a meeting with the president of the Sami Parliament, Buddhist monks and representatives of the Norwegian Church and the Catholic Church in Norway.
On Friday he would be meeting with Members of Parliament at the Parliament Building, visiting the Nobel Peace Center and meeting with high school students in the morning, followed by a public meeting at Folketeatret in Oslo, during which he would speak on “Cultivating Compassion in Everyday Life.”