Officials of a Norwegian academy devoted to literature and freedom of expression are considering handing over their already-announced annual prize to Edward Snowden this year in an unusual ceremony at the far northern border between Norway and Russia. That’s because the Norwegian government, under pressure from Snowden’s US homeland, won’t guarantee that Snowden wouldn’t be arrested if he sets foot on Norwegian soil.
Snowden, viewed as both a traitor in the US and a whistleblowing hero in much of the rest of the world, won this year’s “Bjørnson Prize” by the Norwegian Academy for Literature and Freedom of Expression, founded by author Knut Ødegaard in 2003. Also known as the Bjørnson Academy, it aims to further the work of Norwegian literary hero and human rights champion Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
The prize to Snowden has itself been viewed as both controversial and a means of drawing attention to both Snowden and the academy. The young American has been in exile in Russia since the US put out warrants for his arrest on treason charges, following his disclosure of massive surveillance and spying on both ordinary citizens and top international figures by the US’ National Security Agency (NSA).
The academy wanted Snowden to be able to receive his prize at its annual prize ceremony, to be held this year in Bjørnson’s hometown of Molde in central Norway on Saturday September 5. An academy seminar tied to the prizewinner is also scheduled in connection with a literary festival in honour of Bjørnson, who wrote the lyrics to Norway’s national anthem, but Norwegian government officials have claimed they will not and cannot offer Snowden immunity. The US government has asked Norway to arrest Snowden, since he’s officially branded as a fugitive, and Norwegian officials claim their extradition treaty with the US would oblige them to do so.
That has set off debate within Norway between legal and foreign policy experts and Snowden supporters, and academy officials haven’t given up hopes of actually getting Snowden to Norway and ensuring his immunity. Prelimary plans for the awards ceremony nonetheless call for Snowden to be interviewed by Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten’s correspondent in Moscow, followed by a speech by at a ceremony in Molde by Luke Harding, foreign correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the news about Snowden’s revelations from his work at NSA. That in turn is to be followed by panel discussions on surveillance and privacy issues.
Plans A, B and C
On Friday, however, academy officials confirmed that they’re also evaluating whether to meet Snowden at the border crossing between Norway and Russia that’s just east of the Norwegian city of Kirkenes. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that they would set the prize right on the borderline, for Snowden to walk over and pick it up on the Russian side of the line. Handing over a prize in such a way “would undeniably be special,” according to academy president Hege Newth Nouri, and it would avoid any direct contact over the border, since that’s not allowed.
Nouri also noted that such a ceremony “would be quite embarrassing for Norway,” and leave the country with another “empty chair” for winners of prizes who aren’t allowed to receive them. That was a direct reference to Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo where winners under arrest or other forms of restrictions, most recently Liu Xiaobo in China, weren’t able to travel to Norway. Snowden, meanwhile, has also been nominated for a Peace Prize himself.
Nouri said her “Plan A” is still for Snowden to come to Oslo next weekend. “Plan B” is the border ceremony and “Plan C” is the program in Moscow and Molde outlined out its own website. She noted that “we can also award him the prize in Moscow, but we’re still working to get him here (to Norway).”
Snowden’s own attorney has advised against traveling to Norway because of the risk of arrest. Nouri claims Snowden’s security remains, for the academy, paramount.