The Norwegian Nobel Committee has a fairly hard act to follow, after awarding last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama, but the committee’s leader promises another surprise when this year’s award is announced on Friday. Criticism continues, meanwhile, over the committee’s selection process.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five Norwegians (external link) meant to reflect the current political make-up of Norway’s Parliament. Most are former politicians and members of parliament themselves, and the current leader is a former prime minister for the Labour Party, Thorbjørn Jagland.
He got his term off to a boisterous start last year by announcing the committee’s choice of Obama, who hadn’t yet finished up his first year in the White House. While some were thrilled by the choice, calling it both bold and visionary, others were highly critical and claimed that it cheapened the value of the prize. They felt Obama simply hadn’t proved himself yet, and didn’t deserve the prize.
Obama himself acknowledged the criticism while Jagland steadfastly defended the choice. The committee Jagland now leads, however, has been criticized for years for allegedly straying from the intentions of the prestigious prize’s benefactor, the late Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who set up the Nobel prizes through his will.
‘In name only’
“Today the prize is in Nobel’s name only,” claims Oslo lawyer and author Fredrik S Heffermehl. He frequently writes letters to the editor of Norwegian newspapers, and issued a statement this week once again criticizing the Norwegian Nobel Committee for “ardently” refusing “to heed protests that they are failing to respect their legal mandate.”
Heffermehl says he has spent the past three years studying Nobel’s will and the development of the Peace Prize, and has published a new book (external link) that he calls “the first legal analysis ever of the content of Nobel’s will.” He worries that this year’s choice will “be another disappointment to the champions of peace and disarmament that Nobel intended to support.”
The annual guessing game over this year’s winner has been well underway, with local web sites inviting readers to vote on their own choices and odds makers placing bets on the Nobel prizes, the rest of which are awarded in Sweden.
The most often-named of this year’s 237 candidates for the Peace Prize is jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, age 55, who Oslo newspaper VG reported may not even be told if he wins. He’s considered the most well-known opponent of the Chinese government who has spent many years in jail as a result of his efforts to reform the communist regime. Chinese authorities consider him a threat to the nation’s stability.
Other recurring candidates include Rebiya Kadeer, who has fought for the rights of the Uyghur muslim minority in the Xinjiang province of northwestern China; Afghan human rights champion Sima Samar; the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma; Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannusjkina; and Morgan Tsvangirai, who has challenged Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe.
Other less-conventional nominees, according to newspaper Aftenposten, include the Internet (represented by three of its founders including Vint Cerf) and the European Union (EU). Jagland, who now heads the Council of Europe, has called the EU one of the greatest peace projects in modern times, and the committee’s secretary Geir Lundestad suggested in a broadcast interview this week that the EU is among the most overlooked candidates in memory. That set off more criticism, especially from Norway’s anti-EU lobby, and was branded as a choice that would be far too blatantly political, not to mention ironic since Norwegian voters have twice refused to join the EU.