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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

New Nobel book comes out swinging

Geir Lundestad didn’t leave his post as longtime director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute quietly last winter, and now he’s stirring up more fuss with the publication of the book he warned he’d be writing. The book’s launch comes just a few weeks before the Norwegian Nobel Committee is due to announce the next winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad (right), shown here with committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland, calls the decisions to avoid the Peace Prize ceremony "provincial." PHOTO: NRK screen grab/
Former Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad (right), was always right behind Thorbjørn Jagland during Nobel Peace Prize announcements. Now he’s bashing his former boss in a new book, written after he retired from his post last winter. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/

Norwegian media outlets have obtained copies of the book early and could report on Wednesday that Lundestad, among other things, claims that former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre tried to dissuade the committee from awarding the Peace Prize in 2010 to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao. That conflicts with statements made by current Nobel Committee chairman Kaci Kullmann Five, who has said her former political colleagues never tried to influence the committee.

Lundestad writes, however, that Støre tried on at least two occasions to get his former Labour Party colleague Thorbjørn Jagland, who served as chairman of the committee, to reconsider any prize to Liu. Lundestad claims Støre worried that such a prize would halt negotiations between Norway and China on a free trade agreement, damage Norwegian business interests in China and that dialogue with China over human rights would cease (all of which happened). “Never before in my time (at the Nobel Institute) had a member of government (Støre) so directly delivered opinions to the committee,” Lundestad writes. Støre, who now serves as a Member of Parliament and leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, denies he tried to influence the party. State broadcaster NRK described the conversations between Støre and Jagland as almost coincidental, with the two men said to have run into each other and exchanged some views.

Tough aganst Jagland
Lundestad also fires salvos at Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister, and writes that he didn’t think the committee should have elected Jagland as its leader when he assumed a seat on the committee in 2009. Nor should Jagland ever have been appointed by the Labour Party to be its representative on the committee, in Lundestad’s opinion. He would have preferred to see former UN envoy Jan Egeland or the Labour Party’s Olav Akselsen get the seat, both of whom he claims were candidates.

Jagland, who was replaced as chairman earlier this year by one of the Conservative Party’s representatives on the committee, Kaci Kullmann-Five, still sits on the Nobel Committee as well as heading the Council of Europe. Lundestad was charged for 25 years with representing, and often defending, both the Nobel Institute and the peace prize committee, but that didn’t stop him from calling its former chairman “extremely absent-minded” and characterizing his tenure as prime minister as “unsuccessful.” Jagland also was described as a relatively poor public speaker who was uncertain about how he should formulate himself.

Geir Lundestad and his publisher, Kagge Forlag, were getting lots of publicity from Norwegian media on the eve of Lundestad's book launch on Thursday. PHOTO: Kagge Forlag
Geir Lundestad and his publisher, Kagge Forlag, were getting lots of publicity from Norwegian media on the eve of Lundestad’s book launch on Thursday. The book costs NOK 399 (USD 48) and its title roughly translates to “The secretary of peace.” PHOTO: Kagge Forlag

“I became steadily more strongly convinced that former Norwegian prime ministers and foreign ministers shouldn’t sit on the Nobel Committee,” Lundestad writes. He has said that before, not least in parting shots shared with Norwegian media when he retired just before Christmas last year. In his book, however, he comes with some new revelations that seem to contradict statements he’s made earlier. He admits that he initially supported Jagland’s election as chairman, only deciding later that it was a mistake. Lundestad also writes that he was skeptical to the committee’s decision to award the 2009 Peace Prize to newly elected US President Barack Obama. He publicly has vigorously defended that controversial prize, which even Obama himself has joked about.

Lundestad, who headed the Nobel Institute from 1990 until the end of last year, wrote that another former prime minister from Jagland’s own Labour party, Gro Harlem Brundtland, warned him about Jagland. She allegedly cautioned that Jagland treated staff around him badly and that Lundestad could be reduced to being a sort of errand boy. He writes that never happened, but said he was surprised that Jagland mostly relied on him to write his speeches.

Other committee members also allegedly grew irritated that Jagland would tip off media, not about who was about to win the Peace Prize but in which direction a choice might go. Jagland denied that, and made Lundestad his scapegoat, according to Lundestad’s book.

Kagge Forlag, which has published Lundestad’s book, bills it as offering unique insight into the process and people behind the Nobel Peace Prize. Kagge notes that Lundestad was part of all discussions over Peace Prize candidates and that he met all the winners, from the Dalai Lama to Obama and, most recently, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. The book also reveals, according to Kagge, why the winners won the prize and what it was like to meet them.

During his tenure, Lundestad vigorously promoted the Peace Prize’s position and fame, through the Nobel concerts and establishment of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Some may question why Lundestad has now chosen to publicly criticize Nobel players like Jagland in the book entitled Fredens sekretær (roughly translated: The secretary of peace). Jagland himself has so far refused to comment on the book, even though he defended himself last winter. His wife and press spokesperson Hanne Grotjord told, among other Norwegian media outlets, Norwegian Broadcasting and newspaper Aftenposten that he wouldn’t respond to the criticism in Lundestad’s book out of consideration to the integrity of the Nobel Committee. Berglund



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