Human Rights Watch has called his record “abysmal.” He kidnaps and beats journalists, steals foreign-aid money, and tortures and kills political opponents. He demonizes gays and whites. But, as we’ve seenpreviously on this website, Robert Mugabe has his share of admirers in the U.S. Current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took part in a 2002 reception in his honor – this at a time when Mugabe, in one reporter’s words, “was already well into his campaign of terror and murder in Zimbabwe.” So did current New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron, a former Black Panther who actually organized the 2002 Mugabe tribute and who today still views Mugabe as a “shining example of an African leader.”
Now it’s clear that Mugabe has fans on the other side of the globe, too. In October, he was selected as this year’s winner of Confucius Peace Prize, which was cooked up five years ago as China’s answer to the Nobel Peace Prize after that distinction went to dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. The latter is still in prison in his homeland, being punished for the crime writing a pro-freedom manifesto.
Now, no prize is 100% reliable. The Nobel Peace Prize itself is well known for its highly spotty record. In his admirable history of the prizes, Jay Nordlinger notes that Betty Williams, who won in 1976, is no peacenik when it comes to George W. Bush, whom she’s expressed a desire to kill. Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Rigoberta Menchú, and Nelson Mandela were all fans of Castro; laureates Emily Greene Balch, Arthur Henderson, Linus Pauling, Séan MacBride, and (again) Mandela all praised the Soviet Union.
But the Confucius Prize, which purportedly exists to “promote world peace from an Eastern perspective,” makes the Norwegian Nobel committee look almost like a pantheon of infallible geniuses.
In 2011, the trophy went to none other than Vladimir Putin. As one observer, an ethnographer, documentary filmmaker, and writer named Jin Ge, noted, this award came along at precisely the moment when massive crowds were gathering in Moscow to protest against Putin. Why was Putin chosen to receive the peace prize? The Chinese explained: they admired his support for Muammar Qaddafi, his criticism of Western intervention in Libya, and his “iron wrist” response to Chechen independence activists.
“You might wonder,” wrote Jin Ge, “how ‘Iron Wrist,’ Putin, Qaddafi, and Peace fit together.” Jin explained: in the view of Communist Chinese officials, “War only happens between countries, violence against your own people does not count. To protect ‘sovereignty,’ killing is justified. Human suffering is a small prize to pay to achieve the goal of harmony, stability and unity.” As for Qaddafi: “Putin, Qaddafi and Confucius are in the same camp because they are perceived as anti-West. Since the West (together with Japan) is conceived as the archenemy of China, anything opposite of what they interpret as Western is good. If the West criticizes Putin and Qaddafi, then these two guys must be good.”
With these kind of criteria, who else has won the Confucius Peace Prize? We’ll get to that on Monday.