Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Beijing: Vladimir Putin, man of peace?
Mr. Putin, the former and future President of Russia who is currently doing an internship as the country’s prime minister, has been called many things. Supporters have written pop songs about wanting “a man like Putin” in their lives, while his detractors think the precise opposite of the former KGB agent accused of demolishing Russian democracy and restoring parts of the old Soviet system.
One imagines that even Vladimir Vladimirovich himself would have been surprised by Tuesday’s news that he had been named this year’s winner of something called the Confucius Peace Prize. Mr. Putin is, after all, a man who shot to power by crushing the Chechen separatist movement with brute military force, famously vowing to hunt down the “terrorists” behind a series of mysterious Moscow bombings and to kill them “in the outhouse” if necessary.
Mr. Putin beat out a field that also included South African President Jacob Zuma, whom many see as tainted by allegations of rape and corruption, and Gyaltsen Norbu, the Tibetan whom Beijing controversially named the Panchen Lama after the 6-year-old boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the real 11th Panchen Lama disappeared in China in 1995. Other nominees reportedly included Bill Gates and Kofi Annan.
The inaugural Confucius Peace Prize was awarded last year in response to the somewhat more reputable Nobel Peace Prize being given to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is currently sitting in jail for his role in drafting a pro-democracy manifesto known as Charter 08.
That first Confucius prize went to Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician who said he’d never heard of the award, and who didn’t bother to pick it up. The prize – a glass statuette – was instead received at a Beijing ceremony by a baffled young girl (pictured) with no apparent connection to Mr. Lien.
“China is a symbol of peace…. With over one billion people, it should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace,” the prize committee explained on its website at the time.
Nobel Peace Prize host Norway, meanwhile, was dismissed as “only a small country with scarce land area and population” thereby unqualified “to represent the viewpoint of most people.”
This year’s prize will be again handed out on Dec. 9, one day before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.
The award has evidently embarrassed China’s Ministry of Culture, which once backed the Confucius Prize, but earlier this year disavowed it and set out to establish its own Confucius World Peace Prize. That trophy is also scheduled to be handed out on Dec. 9, though a winner has yet to be named.
The announcement of Mr. Putin’s award was only briefly available on Chinese news websites Tuesday before those webpages disappeared. The choice was considered a jaw-dropping one by those who saw the news before it was censored.
“This prize is insulting to Confucius,” was one commonly expressed sentiment on the popular sina.com web portal, where the news was briefly available.
“If it goes on for another two years, Ahmadinejad will be the next winner, and then will be [Hugo] Chavez and Kim II [Kim Jong-il]. What a pity that Gaddafi died too early, otherwise he would have had a turn too,” wrote another commentator.
Gaddafi may indeed have had a chance. One of the reasons the Hong Kong-based China International Peace Research Centre said it chose Mr. Putin was his push to prevent NATO from intervening in Libya’s civil war. Though Russia decided against using its United Nations Security Council veto to prevent military action – and Moscow later switched its support to the rebels when it became clear that Gaddafi’s regime was nearing an end – Mr. Putin’s efforts were deemed “outstanding in keeping world peace.”
Meanwhile, Liu Xiaobo remains in a prison in northeast China. He has another nine years to go on his sentence.