The award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize illustrates a fundamental point in the efforts to further democratic change; namely that democracy isn’t simply something that can be adopted by a nation’s political establishment. Rather, it must develop from a popular blossoming of democratic consciousness.
This kind of mentality has many sides to it. One of these is the importance of having an active and healthy civil society with strong organizations that are willing to lead the way and help embed the political processes in the population. It’s been an inspiration to meet this year’s prize winners; individuals who, despite having substantially conflicting interests, are united in recognizing that democratic solutions are the one and only means of achieving success in the long-term.
For many years now the President of the Storting has been asked to say a few words during the Nobel banquet in the evening. This tradition is one that I’ve had great pleasure and privilege in continuing. The speech itself isn’t broadcast on TV, but since I’ve had a few questions about its content, I’ve chosen to reproduce the entire text here for anyone interested in reading it.
Speech at the Nobel Banquet 2015
Jasmine blossoms from the shoots of the year before. It grows slowly as it stretches upwards. With its fragrance and its exquisite white petals, it takes its time to bloom. Jasmine is the national symbol of Tunisia and the most beautiful of all the summer night’s flowers.
It’s a sad truth, but that which is lovely is often just as fragile. Left to its own devices, it can soon fall apart. To preserve its beauty, jasmine needs care and attention. But it is worth the effort.
The young Tunisian poet Abu l-Qasim Al-Shabbi was like a fresh shoot on a jasmine bush. Yet he never got to experience the flower in full bloom. He died in 1934 at the tender age of 25. Perhaps he was dreaming of what was to come when he wrote:
If one day, a people desire to live,
then fate will answer their call
And their night will then begin to fade,
and their chains break and fall.
Al-Shabbi wished for revolution. It didn’t happen during his lifetime. It took a further 77 years before he became the voice of the people, when they rose up against tyranny during what was the start of the Arab Spring. So the jasmine came into bloom when the time was ripe. The upheaval that occurred was the fruit of a generation’s dreams about freedom, safety and a harmonious life.
But Tunisia’s jasmine has proved to be more delicate than its citizens had predicted. Today, the children of the Jasmine Revolution are going through what many others in search of democracy have done before them. Democracy cannot simply be signed and sealed. It must mature and ripen. Democracy must come from beneath.
For our two nations, the year 2014 was significant for very special but different reasons. For Tunisia, it was the birth year of the constitution. Here in Norway we celebrated the bicentenary of our constitution. Yet two centuries ago my own country was a long way away from being anything like an efficient democracy. It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are today. And several times on that road we’ve had to defend our democracy and its development for all its Worth.
Al-Shabbi was not alone in dreaming of the best for himself and his descendants. All people in all nations have such dreams. Yet at the same time we are social individuals who build complex societies in which each and every one must both contribute and leave space for others’ contributions.
It’s within this dynamic that we must search for solutions. This is where democracy and the separation of powers finds its raison d’être – a system that allows as many people as possible to be heard; a system in which no individual has the power of oppression.
This insight is nothing new. As far back as the 14th Century, the legendary Tunisian philosopher Ibn Khaldun was propounding the theory that societal change is brought about by social laws that have popular support.
As we are gathered here for this lavish meal, it’s somehow appropriate that food was one of the things that provided Khaldun with inspiration. The production of food is a joint effort; one that requires the constructive contribution of all concerned. It starts with hunger. And continues with gathering, harvesting, hunting and fishing. Not alone, but jointly. Some skin, some slice and some cook. Some have sown, some have milked and some have taken the food to market.
This is the essence of human coexistence and progress: the ability to work together to accomplish the tasks that lie Ahead.
And it’s the same when a society is built. The ideas and values that gradually evolve in the people are the ones that determine the changes that can take place – not single episodes or special interests alone.
Khaldun’s teachings call to mind a lesson that nations all over the world have learnt through history: It’s easier to topple a tyranny than to build a Democracy.
It was when the Jasmine Revolution was in danger of crumbling, when parliament couldn’t work together, that the Dialogue Quartet took the lead. It was when their country needed them most that the prize winners showed the capacity to grasp the opportunities at hand.
Even when a situation seems at its lowest ebb, there is always something to build on. That is the hope that accompanies this year’s Peace Prize.
Just as we share a delicious meal – in an atmosphere of warmth and friendship – so I am sure that we all share the hope and wish that the prize winners’ work for democracy in Tunisia will bear fruit. The Tunisian people planted a jasmine in the hope that it would grow and one day blossom. The prize winners saved it from withering. We have seen that fresh green buds have started to emerge. Now it’s time for the plant to be nurtured; for the shoots to grow strong and yield beautiful flowers.
I’m assuming that our distinguished hosts have neither caught their own octopus, skinned the deer, nor picked the chestnuts for this occasion. Which actually makes it even more likely that the banquet we are sharing – such a magnificent backdrop to the many dialogues here this evening – is the product of just the human interplay that Ibn Khaldun wrote about.
And with these words, I would like to propose a toast to this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winners, and to thank our hosts for providing us with a feast to remember.