Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg wasn’t the only one reacting positively to news on Friday that two hard-working advocates of education for children had won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Solberg, however, was likely among the happiest.
“This is one of my heartfelt issues,” Solberg said. It’s customary for Norway’s prime minister to comment on the winner of the Peace Prize, not in the form of a speech but simply by answering questions posed by local journalists. That normally occurs outside the Royal Palace following the weekly Council of State with King Harald, but this year the weather in Oslo was so bad on Friday, with pouring rain most of the morning, that Solberg opted for a meeting with the press inside the prime minister’s residence.
The Norwegian premier almost always congratulates the winner and praises the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision, despite some controversial winners in recent years. This year’s winners, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India, both fall into the “non-controversial category,” marking the second year in a row that the current committee opted for “safe” choices as opposed to US President Barack Obama in 2009, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010 and the European Union (EU) in 2012. Not many people oppose advocates of education for children and efforts to ban child labour.
Yousafzai, age 17, and Satyarthi, age 60, are champions of both trying to keep children in school and keep them from being exploited, commercially or otherwise. “We want to congratulate the prizewinners, and I think it’s a well-deserved issue to win a prize for,” Solberg said. “Education for girls has been one of my most important political issues and it’s a major issue for the government.”
Even though the Norwegian government has distanced itself from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, to help stress the committee’s independence and autonomy, Solberg is keen to support all efforts to highlight the need for education and prevent child labour. Her conservative government’s biggest priority in terms of foreign aid will involve funding for education, which Solberg said will double over the next three years.
Reaction to the prize from opposition politicians in the Norwegian Parliament was also positive, with Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party claiming it will direct world attention on the rights of children and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party saying it was “wonderful” that children themselves can win a Peace Prize for their cause. Jonas Gahr Støre of the Labour Party said the prize “gave another new dimension” to the definition of peace.
International reaction to the prize was also positive, with the government in Pakistan calling Malala “the pride of the nation,” even though some fundamentalist Muslims are skeptical of her campaign. The Indian Embassy in Oslo was celebrating, and some peace researchers said the prize may ease tensions between India and Pakistan, with each country claiming a Peace Prize winner. The Vatican, officials at the United Nations and several organizations including Amnesty International were among those sending their congratulations and hailing the winners.