Norwegian Hubris

When the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) endowed his award for peace in 1895 he had a person in mind “who shall have done the most of the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” In contrast to the awards in science, medicine and literature (and, since 1969, economics) which are presented in Stockholm, the peace price and its laureate’s lecture are traditionally presented at the annual Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway. In 1895, Sweden and Norway were still in union and Sweden was responsible for foreign politics. When formulating his will, Nobel felt that the Peace Prize might be less subject to political corruption if awarded by Norway.

The Norwegian Parliament appoints the Norwegian Nobel Committee which selects each year’s Laureate for the Peace Prize. Nominations are invited from qualified people around the world. Nominations must be submitted to the Committee by February 1. That means that  there was a deadline about 10 days after this year’s Laureate Barack Obama had been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. However, nominations by committee members can be submitted up to the date of the first committee meeting. Most probably, Barack Obama was nominated by a member of the committee. This year’s committee consists of the chairman Thorbjørn Jagland (President of the Norwegian Parliament, member since 2009, b. 1950) and four women, Kaci Kullmann Five (b. 1951), Sissel Marie Rønbeck (b. 1950), Inger-Marie Ytterhorn (b. 1941), and Ågot Valle (member since 2009, b. 1945).

This year, a record of 205 nominations have been submitted to the committee, but names of nominees are generally not revealed to the public. Among individuals whose name appeared as possible nominees was brave Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated opposition candidate in Iran’s disputed June 12 election who debunked the scandal of torture and rape of detained protesters in Iranian prisons. This initiative of activists came definitely too late when considering the strict rules for nominations. His Iranian fellow, lawyer and peace activist Shirin Ebadi made it in 2003. Her Peace Prize is one of the most precious awards ever, since her continuing work for freedom and her selfless legal assistance for political and religious dissidents in Iran has saved innumerable lives so far.

Even Barack Obama himself would probably have more welcomed a decision in favor of Chicago as the organizer of the 2016 Olympics than this grave honor, a burden for his future politics. While the rightists in the US are howling, even ridiculing Obama’s award it is clear that the Norwegian decision is based on unjustified expectations and naïve wish-full thinking. Putting the world’s tremendous problems on his agenda, which have been caused by the irresponsible foreign and domestic politics of Americas previous rulers is not worthy a Nobel Peace Prize, nor is giving, admittedly important, speeches. Credible and responsible diplomacy is a matter of course.

The award arouses the suspicion that, presently, there are no worthy alternatives (despite the record number of 205 nominees this year), accountable individuals or organizations working for peace with measurable results. If true (we don’t know Obama’s competitors though), this would in fact be very bad news in times of two not yet finished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, apparently unsolvable conflicts in the Middle East, an ongoing crisis in and about Iran, and a global economic slowdown. Will Ben Bernanke be awarded the Economic Prize this year?

I rather believe that the committee in Oslo has not done its work properly. That the Nobel Peace Price should be awarded independent of potential political influence doesn’t mean that a committee of a tiny country in the northwestern corner of Europe may become big in politics.

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