Nobel leader hangs on to Peace Prize

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Thorbjørn Jagland, the often embattled head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, firmly rejects any speculation that its awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize will revert to Swedish control. “This is a non-existent debate,” Jagland told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday.

Thorbjørn Jagland, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, continues to fend off criticism about how the Peace Prize is awarded. The award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010 was generally well-received internationally but displeased Nobel critic Fredrik Heffermehl along with the Chinese government. PHOTO: NRK/Views and News

Jagland stressed that the Nobel Peace Prize will continue to be awarded by a committee formed by the Norwegian Parliament. “That was determined by Alfred Nobel’s will, and is one of its clearest points,” Jagland told NRK.

Speculation has risen in recent weeks that responsibility for what’s often called the world’s most prestigious prize may be moved to a Swedish authority. That’s because a new Swedish law can give the board of the Swedish Nobel foundation collective responsibility for all the Nobel prizes, including the Peace Prize, which has been awarded in Oslo for more than 100 years.

“The law overrides Nobel’s will,” one of its authors, Henning Isoz, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. “The foundation can’t delegate responsibility to various committees. Then they risk being responsible in the case of disputes over decisions.”

Winners debated for years
Debate has flown in recent years over how winners of the prizes are chosen. Critics have claimed that both the Norwegian and Swedish committees that decide on Nobel Prize winners have strayed from Alfred Nobel’s mandate.

Oslo lawyer and peace activist Fredrik Heffermehl has been particularly outspoken on the issue for years, arguing that most of the prizes awarded over the past several decades fail to meet the terms of Nobel’s will, which he claims stress disarmament. Heffermehl thinks the Nobel Peace Prize is no longer awarded strictly to people who do the most work for peace and international cooperation.

Instead, he argues, the Norwegian committee has awarded the prize to human rights activists, environmentalists and others who aren’t directly engaged in disarmament and peace negotiations. Heffermehl was encouraged, even vindicated, when the Swedish regulators of foundations (Länsstyrelsen in Stockholm) decided earlier this month to start asking some questions about how Nobel’s will is interpreted. Heffermehl claims the Nobel Peace Prize has become “The Norwegian Parliament’s Peace Prize” made in the name of Alfred Nobel.

‘Clear conscience’
Jagland and Geir Lundestad, secretary of the Nobel Committee n Oslo, have long attempted to dismiss both Heffermehl and his concerns about the prize. They maintain all the Peace Prizes awarded over the years meet the requirements of Nobel’s will.

“There will always be a discussion around the Peace Prizes here in Norway,” Jagland told NRK as the committee met for the first time this year. “But there are also discussions around the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. That’s not unusual. What’s critical is that the committees are independent and that we have the job of awarding the prizes.”

Lundestad has earlier told reporters that he and other members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee “have a clear conscience” over all awards made. “We believe that we interpret Nobel’s intentions in a correct manner in a modern age,” he told NRK recently.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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