The Norwegian Nobel Committee has made plans for a Peace Prize ceremony this year without the guest of honor. For the first time in 75 years, the chair where the laureate would have sat will be empty. Neither medal nor diploma will be handed over. The laureate will not deliver a speech. The contrast to last year’s fanfare when the prize went to President Obama couldn’t be sharper.
No one expects Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, this year’s Nobel laureate, to travel to Oslo City Hall to pick up his award on Dec. 10 in front of 1,000 guests because he remains imprisoned in China. It’s also highly unlikely that China will allow anyone to attend in his stead.
As a result, the committee has made a number of changes. In place of the laureate giving a Nobel lecture, the committee has asked Liv Ullman, one of Norway’s most famous actresses who appeared in many of Ingmar Bergman films, to read a text from one of Mr. Liu’s essays. The only reminder will be a photo of Liu at the front of the stage.
“Since he couldn’t come, we decided on a text and we wanted an actor to read this, not a dissident because it becomes seen as a separate laureate,” says Geir Lundestad, Norwegian Nobel Institute director.
The last time no one was present to collect the Nobel Peace Prize was 1935, when the award was given to German socialist Carl von Ossietzky. In other cases, representatives were sent to pick up the awards for the missing laureates: Russian human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov in 1975, Poland’s Solidarity founder Lech Walesa in 1983, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Sui Kyi in 1991.
Despite Liu's expected absence, says Mr. Lundestad, “We will have a very meaningful ceremony.”
The torchlight procession in honor of the laureate – this year arranged by Amnesty International – will parade as usual up Karl Johan, the main boulevard in Oslo, to Grand Hotel where the Nobel banquet will take place. But the hotel’s balcony doors the laureate normally would have opened to wave to well-wishers will remain shut.
“I think [his absence] will have an impact,” says Jan Egeland, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. “It could signal the beginning of the end to that kind of totally irrational brutality in a country that has made so much progress on so many fronts.”
Liu is prevented from coming because he is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” after having coauthored Charter 8 in 2008, a political manifesto that calls for increased rule of law, greater respect for human rights, and an end to one-party rule in China. His wife, who has been under house arrest since Oct. 10, and brothers will most likely also not be able to attend.
Laureates have given a Nobel lecture at the award ceremony since 1992, when the tradition first began. Those that are prevented from attending are invited to later come back and give their lecture, as is the case currently for recently released Burmese opposition leader and past Nobel laureate Ms. Suu Kyi.