During a weekend dedicated to peace, one of the guests who’d been invited to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony set off just the opposite. Demonstrations broke out and police sent in reenforcements when Henry Kissinger, long one of the US’ most controversial top officials, also spoke at a Nobel-connected event on Sunday.
The University of Oslo’s ceremonial hall called the Aula, where the Peace Prize ceremony was held before it grew so large that it was moved to the Oslo City Hall, was still surrounded by police and commando vehicles Sunday afternoon. Inside, the now-93-year-old Kissinger had been taking part in a discussion of world peace after the most recent US election.
It wasn’t just the role he played as national security adviser to US President Richard Nixon during the Vietnam war, or his stint as US secretary of state under both Nixon and Nixon’s successor after the Watergate scandal, Gerald Ford, that set off the protests in Oslo. Demonstrators outside the Aula claimed that Kissinger also was indirectly responsible for mass murders in Latin America, the bombing of civilians in Vietnam and the military coup in Chile that toppled its elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973. Many claimed Kissinger urged and helped carry out protection of violent military dictatorships that terrified citizens in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.
“He should be brought into court,” Herman Rojas, who came to Norway as a refugee from Chile in 1978 after his family became victims of the new Chilean dicator’s persecution, told news bureau NTB. Rojas and others outside the Aula called Kissinger a “war criminal” and had called on Norway’s government to arrest him.
That didn’t happen and Kissinger, who controversially received the Nobel Peace Prize himself in 1973 for helping to end the war in Vietnam, was instead greeted by, among others, the Norwegian Nobel Committee member Thorbjørn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who now also serves as secretary general of the Council of Europe. The man whose own Nobel Peace Prize led to the resignation of two members of the Nobel committee at the time, and whose co-winner Le Duc Tho refused to accept it because the war still hadn’t ended, was also a guest of honour of the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
Norway’s Nobel Institute, which portrays itself as a champion of peace and human rights, even found itself accused of violating the right to freedom of expression by shielding Kissinger from critical questions during the session on Sunday. Kissinger, who served two Republican US presidents, and another former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, were interviewed by Olav Njølstad, the relatively new director of the Nobel Institute. The format was not open for other questions but Brezezinski came from the other side of US politics, having served US President Jimmy Carter (also a Nobel Peace Prize winner) of the Democrats.
In his remarks, Kissinger outlined four developments that can lead to greater conflicts and damage efforts for peace: A worsening of relations between the US and China, a breakdown in ties between Russia and the West, further weakness of Europe’s strategic importance and escalation of the conflicts in the Middle East. He stressed that these are issues facing the incoming US President Donald Trump, who already is causing alarm for angering China because of his recent phone conversation with the president of Taiwan. Brzezinski, meanwhile, strressed the need for full and functioning partnerships between the world’s three nuclear power, the US, Russia and China.
Several professors at the University of Oslo had also protested Kissinger’s appearance. Among then was law professor Mads Andenæs, who called the event “more than distasteful” and complained that it was “inappropriate” for the university to host it. Kissinger’s own Peace Prize “was controversial enough in its time,” Andenæs told newspaper Aftenposten. “After the prize was awarded, investigations not least by the American press have shown that he (Kissinger) is guilty of the worst crimes.”
Asked whether it wouldn’t have been a violation of freedom of expression if Kissinger wasn’t allowed to speak, and whether it would be interesting to hear what Kissinger had to say, Andenæs replied that “Kissinger has no problems being heard.”
Njølstad of the Nobel Institute defended the event and called the criticism of it “much too black-and-white.” Njølstad didn’t respond to requests for comment on Sunday but had defended the invitation to Kissinger earlier, in the university newspaper Uniforum: “I’m not very impressed by Norwegian academics who protest Kissinger being allowed to express himself on important international questions on Norwegian soil. The picture these critics draw of his contributions as a politician are also much too black-and-white.”
Benedicte Bull, another professor at the University of Oslo who leads its network for Latin American rsearch, told Uniform that there was “clear evidence” that Kissinger was one of the architects behind the military coup that toppled Chile’s legally elected president Allende, ushering in the regime of Augusto Pinochet.
“I think it’s important to open the University of Oslo for all types of voices, but Henry Kissinger is behind many questionable events both in Latin America and, not least, Indochina, that indirectly have cost many thousands of lives,” Bull told Uniforum.