The Norwegian Nobel Committee, charged with awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, does not appear pleased with a new book that offers a behind-the-scenes look at their secretive work. On Monday the committee charged the book’s author, their former secretary, with breaking his confidentiality oath.
The five-member committee, appointed by the Norwegian Parliament under the terms of benefactor Alfred Nobel’s will, has been huddling this month as they go about their final vetting for this year’s Peace Prize, to be announced October 9. They clearly have also been discussing the new book written by Geir Lundestad, who served as committee secretary and director of the Nobel Institute for 25 years until his retirement last December.
The book is full of Lundestad’s own characterizations of former and present committee members, various accounts of external pressure put on the committee and the Norwegian Nobel Institute and anecdotes about his meetings with winners and prize negotiations. Lundestad also writes about conflicts with the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, which manages the funding for all the Nobel prizes, and how he and the Norwegian committee tried to get the foundation to loosen up the secrecy surrounding the prizes. They were unsuccessful.
After initially declining comment on the book, the Norwegian committee ended up issuing a brief statement on Monday that Lundestad has broken the committee’s vow of silence in several places in his new book. They won’t say where. Lundestad reportedly signed the confidentiality oath in 2014.
The committee’s press release reads that “as a former employee, Geir Lundestad is bound by this oath regardless that he believes himself that the rule should have been changed in the direction of more openness.”
Lundestad told newspaper Dagbladet that he disagreed with the committee’s statement and would send out his own statement on Tuesday.
The committee itself, and the Nobel Institute, must abide by a so-called “50-year secrecy rule” that prevents access to all information regarding any given year’s candidates, nominees and deliberations around those nominated for 50 years.
Committee leader Kaci Kullmann Five, a former government minister and head of Norway’s Conservative Party declined further comment on the committee’s statement Monday. In a text message to Dagbladet, Five wrote that its reluctance to elaborate was based on “respect for the confidentiality oath the committee has signed.”
Lundestad, described by several commentators in the past week as having an inflated opinion of himself and the authority he had, has also been criticized by others for taking it upon himself to reveal so much about how the committee works. Lundestad has said, though, that he wanted to give an insider’s account of the Peace Prize and told Dagbladet “there are other demands for openness now than earlier,” when the secrecy rule was established.
“But I can’t tell absolutely everything,” he said. “There are certain clauses in the Nobel statutes that I generally respect.”