As war broke out between the people who award the Nobel Peace Prize and their former secretary, work has continued towards selection of a winner among this year’s candidates. Speculation was already flying this week, but overshadowed by the battle going on at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.
It has pitted the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee against their former high-profile and outspoken secretary Geir Lundestad. He retired late last year, but instead of departing quietly, he immediately started dropping comments about the people he’d worked with for 25 years, and announced he’d be writing a book.
Its launch last week grabbed Lundestad all the publicity he seemed to crave but not even he may have been prepared for the torrent of critical reaction. It culminated Thursday, when former Nobel committee leader Thorbjørn Jagland fired back at Lundestad and then said he thought Lundestad had damaged both the Peace Prize and the committee’s reputation.
“When you have a former secretary writing that he thinks the current leader of the committee is weak, that her predecessor (himself) was an idiot and his predecessor didn’t understand a thing about foreign policy, it doesn’t exactly enhance the committee’s international reputation,” Jagland said on state broadcaster NRK’s nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen Thursday.
Now, after more than a week of salvos back and forth, there may be a ceasefire in the Nobel war of words. That may allow the committee to get back to the work of settling on a Peace Prize winner and putting the finishing touches on the announcement set for October 9.
Pope Francis rises high in the speculation
It will be the first time the committee’s new leader, Kaci Kullmann Five, and the committee’s new secretary, Olav Njølstad, will be stepping into the Peace Prize’s media glare. As a former head of Norway’s Conservative Party and a former government minister, though, Five is no novice and has said she’s looking forward to the challenge.
While she won’t breathe a word about the committee’s deliberations, Peace Prize watchers have been actively speculating on who will win this year. Pope Francis is a top candidate, given all his exhortations and peace-making efforts since he assumed his position, and would likely be a popular choice. Norwegian news bureau NTB reported that the bookmakers are betting on Dr Denis Mukwege, the Congolese doctor who has helped rape victims for years. He’s been nominated for the Peace Prize many times.
Others, including the head of Norway’s peace research institute PRIO Kristian Harpviken and some bookmakers, favour the Catholic priest Mussie Zerai and the organization Agenzia Habeshia for their work helping boat refugees in Italy. The Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta and its editor, Dmitry Muratov are also top candidates, and have been in the past, for their brave coverage of human rights abuses and advocates.
“It’s almost unforgiveable that the Nobel Committee hasn’t taken hold of the enormously demanding human rights situation in Russia,” Bjørn Engesland, head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, told NTB. “A prize would be a correct recognition and important support to a steadily more pressure milieu.” Specific candidates, he said, include Ludmila Aleksejeva of the Russian Helsinki Committee, Svetlana Gannusjkina of the human rights group Memorial and lawyer Pavel Tsjikov from the organization Agora, who won the Rafto Prize last year.
Rallying around disarmament
Speculation also has fallen on American whistleblower Edward Snowden and Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger who’s been sentenced to prison and 1,000 lashes for having allegedly “offended Islam.” John Peder Egenæs of Amnesty said a prize to Badawi would “put a much stronger spotlight on the terrible human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, a theme which all too often slides under the radar.”
One group that’s been particularly critical of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s choices over the years, Lay Down Your Arms, has published its own list of “true Nobel candidates” on its online project Nobel Peace Prize Watch (external link). The list includes nominees that the group feels better meet the intentions of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel when he wrote in his will that the prize should benefit the “champions of peace” who, the group believes, include those who work for a demilitarized world and disarmament, and “for law to replace power in international politics.” Among them are Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times; author and disarmament activist David Swanson, Snowden and various international anti-nuclear campaigns.