A few days ago, the Chinese authorities sent an official diplomatic note to many countries around the world and called them not to attend the award ceremony in Oslo. Nineteen countries – including Russia, Serbia and Ukraine – chose to skip the Nobel peace prize event.
In one of his first statements after the media broadcast the government’s official decision, Vuk Jeremic, Serbia's minister of foreign affairs, gave a brief explanation of some of the reasons for making it:
All our decisions, like the decisions of all others governments, concern national interests and the priorities of the state.
Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said:
This is Serbia's tactical move aimed at maintenance of strategic relations with China.
NGOs, political parties, mainstream and citizen media discussed the government’s attitude, demanding that minister Jeremic submit resignation.
Boycotting this year’s ceremony of the Nobel peace prize award, the Republic of Serbia confirmed once again that it is very far from the truthful fight for human rights and all the values that characterize a modern, European, democratic society.
After the horrible things of the 1990s, we are supposed to show that we are the first ones who will support those people whose rights are endangered and who risk their lives for world peace. […] Serbia needs the politics of respect for human rights, not the politics that makes that one bridge* more important than one human life. […]
* Author’s note: The Chinese government gave a cheap loan to Serbia in order to build a bridge in Belgrade, the so-called “Chinese bridge.”
In an editorial, E-novine wrote:
[…] From the list of countries that are boycotting the Nobel peace prize ceremony, it’s clear that we are talking here about the non-democratic regimes which, like China, have problems with their own dissidents, or about countries that are under strong influence of Beijing. […]
With this petition, we, the undersigned human rights defenders and democracy activists, speak in the name of thousands and thousands of citizens of Serbia, eager to see their country firmly committed to European course and the highest values of the contemporary world.
Hence, we, the undersigned, strongly disapprove our government’s decision to place Serbia in the circle of democratically disputable countries the representatives of which will boycott the ceremony of The Nobel Peace Prize bestowal on Liu Xiaobo, the man whose years-long, consistent and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China earned him the respect of the civilized world.
With this petition we wish the Nobel Committee and the world public to know that really many citizens of Serbia would not back this latest, shameful decision by their government, that they strongly oppose its “political barters” so characteristic for the nationalistic Serbia before and after the wars of 1990s, and that because of these wars’ and other bloody traces of autocratic rules and “greater-nation” policies – subjugating individual rights to “national interests” – they raise their voice against any form of servility to the country that, in the 21st century, commits a human rights activist to prison and holds his family and colleagues under house arrest to prevent them from traveling to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace award on his behalf.
Blic, a Belgrade daily, published an article titled “Government for the boycott, Tadic against it,” emphasizing a discord among the high-ranking state officials on the issue and citing a statement by the spokeswoman of European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuehle:
It is expected from a country aspiring to join the EU to share the EU values.
The disputed decision divided not only President Tadic and minister Jeremic, but also readers who left more than 250 comments on the article, mainly discussing its foreign policy consequences.
Below are some of the comments:
[…] Therefore, none of the European countries decided to boycott the ceremony, only Serbia and its “pro-European” ministers. […] Awful, can we know what the national politics is?
Just one question: what kind of benefit do we have from that? When we become a member of the EU, then we will vote like others, but what kind of obligation do we now have toward them? They make pressure on us to renounce Kosovo, don’t allow us to integrate in the EU, they bombed us and haven’t paid any war reparation. […]
Honestly, I don’t know what is better for us: to go or not to go [to Oslo]. […] But, China didn’t recognize Kosovo, while the EU did.
In his guest post on Srecko Sekeljic’s B92 blog, Milos Bogicevic wrote:
[…] The question is whether some future generations will proudly emphasize the fact that Serbia, on the Human Rights Day 2010, boycotted the Nobel peace prize award, or whether they will be ashamed of it. Maybe we should be ashamed already today.
On Thursday evening, December 9, one day before the award ceremony, Serbia's Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic seized the initiative and decided to travel to Oslo as an independent representative of the Republic of Serbia, having realized that the Serbian government was not going to change its official decision. Then, due to public pressure, PM Cvetkovic asked Jankovic on behalf of the government to give his personal congratulations to the Nobel Committee and Liu Xiaobo.