Norway’s Parliamentary President avoids Dalai Lama

The President of Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget), Olemic Thommessen, on a recent visit to South Africa. PHOTO: Hetty Zantman/Stortinget
The President of Norway’s Parliament (Stortinget), Olemic Thommessen, on a recent visit to South Africa. PHOTO: Hetty Zantman/Stortinget

DHARAMSALA, April 15: Norway’s Parliamentary President and a long-time supporter of Tibet, Olemic Thommessen said he would not meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he travels to Oslo next month to mark 25 years since he was awarded the coveted Nobel Peace Prize, reported April 9.

He has said meeting the Tibetan leader was not in Norway’s best interest because it has become important for him as the country’s top politician to mend relations with China which has remained frozen since Chinese dissident and human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

“I will not rekindle the current difficult situation. That we’re not in dialogue now is also a human rights issue. We must continually evaluate what is in Norway’s interest. Such an evaluation indicates that, as the country’s highest-ranked politician, I shouldn’t meet him now,” the reported quoted Thommessen as having told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), referring to the current and ongoing diplomatic freeze between the two countries.

The report noted that until last autumn, Thommessen of the Conservative Party (Høyre) headed the Parliament’s Tibet committee and has been a vocal supporter of defending human rights and condemning abuse in China.

Together with the current Conservative Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, Thommessen raised the issue of Tibet in Parliament in 2008 and demanded the Norwegian government to engage more strongly with the human rights issue in China, and keep pressure on the authorities in the wake of the Beijing Olympics.

Thommessen raised the issue again in 2009 following troubling reports of human rights abuses from Amnesty International and in 2012,  he took part in the Tibet committee’s flame relay, raising awareness of more than 100 Tibetan monks and nuns who’d set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest against Chinese oppression.

Recalling the Tibetan Nobel laureate’s visit to Norway in 2005 when he was received by the then Prime Minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik and the top politician who was holding Thommessen’s position at the time, Jørgen Kosmo, the reported noted that Norway’s leading politicians avoided responding to the invitation to meet the Tibetan leader this year.

Prime Minister Solberg’s office and Progress Party

(Fremskrittspartiet, FrP) leader and Finance Minister Siv Jensen had said it was up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Utenriksdepartementet) to answer for the government, when asked by foreign press on  April 7.

The report also noted that current Foreign Minister, Børge Brende, who met the Dalai Lama as the head of the Tibet committee in 2000 and Bondevik, head of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights, had not yet responded and declared their position.

Olav Gunnar Ballo, another former leader of the Tibet committee, said it’s a shame Norway’s leading politicians haven’t come out in support of the Dalai Lama, and it’s cowardly that appeasing China now seems to take precedence over human rights issues that were so actively brandished in the past.

Politicians who will meet with the Dalai Lama include the Liberal (Venstre) leader Trine Skei Grande, the only party leader to accept the invitation so far. Liberal Ketil Kjenseth, who now heads the Tibet committee, will host a reception for the Dalai Lama open to other politicians willing to meet him. The Sami Parliamentary President will also meet the Tibetan leader, as will Thorbjørn Jagland and the rest of the Nobel Committee.

The report noted that Norway has supported Tibet since it was occupied by China in 1951, and there’s been general political agreement over raising abuse and human rights issues with Chinese authorities through international diplomatic channels. However, as China becomes a more important trading partner for Norway, the economic impact of good relations has become more significant.




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