Seyla Benhabib and I have just joined the Advisory Board of the United Nations Democracy Fund. The latest issue of UNDEF Update, which announces this, is available here. You can subscribe by sending an email to email@example.com.
I have joined many others in nominating Liu Xiaobo for the Nobel Peace Prize. There is a news release about this at the PEN website, as well as a copy of my letter, and a list of eminent PEN members– among them A. M. Homes, Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth, Ha Jin, Adrienne Rich, and Don DeLillo – who have supported the nomination. The Chinese government’s official reaction was to tell the Nobel Prize Committee that giving Liu the Prize this would be “totally wrong.” (No argument, no elaboration.) In the letter, I say this:
Liu’s writings express the aspirations of a growing number of China’s citizens; the ideas he has articulated in his allegedly subversive writings, ideas that are commonplace in free societies around the world, are shared by a significant cross section of Chinese society. Charter 08, for example, is a testament to an expanding movement for peaceful political reform in China. This document, which Liu co-authored, is a remarkable attempt both to engage China’s leadership and to speak to the Chinese public about where China is and needs to go. It is novel in its breadth and in its list of signers—not only dissidents and human rights lawyers, but also prominent political scientists, economists, writers, artists, grassroots activists, farmers, and even government officials. More than 10,000 Chinese citizens have endorsed the document despite the fact that almost all of the original 300 signers have since been detained or harassed. In doing so they, too, exhibited exceptional courage and conviction. One of them, for example, a teacher in Yunnan province, reported that police contacted her three times asking her to renounce the Charter and proclaim the signer was some other person with the same name. She refused. To stand up for Liu Xiaobo is to stand with a growing number of men and women like her in China; to stand with all those who advocate for peaceful change in the world’s most populous nation.
Today, while much of the world was celebrating a season of goodwill, a court in Beijing sentenced the writer and activist Liu Xiaobo to eleven years in prison and two years deprivation of political rights for publishing about 225 Chinese characters over the last few years in which he asked for political change in his own country. Liu is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, four other members of which are also currently in jail for peacefully expressing their political views. They and about forty other writers, journalists and bloggers are the victims of Chinese laws and legal procedures that are in violation of international human rights treaties – from the UN Declaration of Human Rights to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which China is a signatory and of the Chinese Constitution, which promises a free press and freedom of expression. Liu’s most important offense is his promotion of Charter 08, the wonderful document asking for real democracy in China that has now been signed by some 10,000 Chinese citizens. You can find out more by going to the PEN American Center web site. We had an event on New Year’s Eve on the steps of the New York Public Library – symbol of the respect for literature in our country – to protest. Please send a letter to the Chinese government asking for his release. I explained our position on CNN.
This is the ceiling above the stage on which I gave the 2009 Leibniz lecture of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. It is also where Haydn sat to hear a performance of his “Creation” on his 76th birthday, more than two centuries ago. (Beethoven – and Hummel and Salieri – were in the audience, as were a good number of princes and princesses of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)
I was told that there would have been more students at the lecture if this hadn’t been the evening of the largest student demonstrations in Vienna in a generation. (The issue is roughly this: there are no entrance exams and no fees for Austrian universities, which means that German-speaking students from Germany, where there are sometimes both, enter the Austrian system, as they are entitled to do as citizens of the EU, in large numbers. That produces overflowing courses and, in t he case of seminars with limited enrollment, it means Austrian students may have to delay graduation while they wait in line to take a required course. The obvious solutions – exams and fees – are obviously not popular with the students. Their solution is that the government should spend more money. Given what has happened to national finances in Austria like almost everywhere else in the last year, that is not easy for the government to do. Hence the strike.) As it was the audience asked really good questions.
To Berlin to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Met many interesting people including Christian Philipp Müller, who did a marvelous performance piece about the history of the House, in connection with his installation “TOHUWABOHU,” and Rirkrit Tiravanija, who curated the party which included a “cooking-performance” of Thai food at which I participated as one of many who turned it into an “eating-performance” as intended! Bernd Scherer, the director, presided elegantly, on the banks of the Spree.
To Bergen for a meeting of the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Prize committee, under the aimiable and efficient chairmanship of the Danish legal scholar Henning Koch. ( This is a picture of the statue of Holberg near the port.) We picked this year’s finalist whose name is …. confidential for the moment. (Check the website later on in the summer for the announcement.) Everyone always warns you that it rains all the time in Bergen, but I had five days of beautiful sunny weather!
I gave a lecture on the Life of Honor in this rather impressive building in Leipzig. (It’s the town hall.) As always, I was impressed by the fact that you can give a lecture on a philosophical topic in English to a German audience without an interpreter and you still get great questions!
Today, the New School gave me an honorary degree. I was thrilled as well as honored by it, and was especially pleased that my co-honoree, Harold Koh, made such a sterling defense of international law in his commencement address.
I was honored and delighted to receive the degree of Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) from Columbia University.