History professor Francis Sejersted, a longtime leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, died during the night after a lengthy illness. He was involved in the selection of 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners during his long term on the board, including some of the most controversial and historic.
Sejersted, who also served as chairman of Norway’s Fritt Ord foundation, which champions the right to freedom of expression, led the Nobel Committee for half of his 18-year tenure that ran from 1982 through 1999. As chairman, he announced some of the prize’s most hotly debated winners including former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders at the time, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, in 1994. That prize prompted one of the committee members, the conservative politician Kåre Kristiansen from the Christian Democrats, to resign.
Just the year before, Sejersted had announcedf another controversial prize, to both Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa, and to Aung San Suu Kyi before that, at a time when the Burmese promoter of democracy wasn’t nearly as well-known globally as she is now.
Sejersted had a commanding presence and elegant delivery, but consistently delivered his speeches only in Norwegian despite the international nature of his audience. In addition to his professorial, Nobel and Fritt Ord roles, he also was often called upon to lead various state commissions and committees. He was appointed to the Nobel Committee by the Conservative Party, as among its representatives on the committee that must reflect the makeup in Norway’s Parliament, according to the will of Nobel benefactor Alfred Nobel.
He came from a family of officers, lawyers and high-ranking bureaucrats and was also known for his own deep sense of self-confidence. He opted for a career in academia and as a professor specialized in economic and social history.
The leader of the Oslo city government, Stian Berger Røsland, also from the Conservative Party, was among those mourning the loss of Sjersted on Tuesday. Røsland said that Norway had lost “a wise and important voice in local, national and international social debate.” Sejersted was 79.