Nobel hype has been swirling as new candidates emerge for the Peace Prize that will be announced in Oslo on Friday. This year’s announcement is also bound to reflect a variety of new forces behind the prize, and perhaps some unusual unrest at the Norwegian Nobel Institute itself.
As the Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature started being awarded in Stockholm on Monday, the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo usually grabs the most attention. Speculation over winners is at fever pitch, as Peace Prize watchers ponder how the new conservative majority on the Norwegian Nobel Committee may affect the selection.
The committee is now headed by a former head of Norway’s Conservative Party, Kaci Kullmann Five, and she’ll be the one announcing the prize on Friday. She’s also been joined on the committee by a new member, philosopher Henrik Syse, who’s the son of another Conservative Party leader and former prime minister, Jan P Syse. Five (pronounded “Fee-veh”) served as business and trade minister in Jan P Syse’s government in 1989-1990.
Along with committee member Inger Marie Ytterhorn from the conservative Progress Party, they make up the new conservative majority on the five-member committee. The committee members generally form a united front when actually selecting a winner, however, so the decision can be said to be unanimous.
The committee also has a new secretary, Olav Njølstad, who took over earlier this year after the far more outspoken Geir Lundestad retired with a bang after 25 years. Lundestad’s new book about his years as Nobel committee secretary and director of the Nobel Institute stirred controversy as he attempted to lift the veil of secrecy around the Peace Prize and made some blunt characterizations of committee members and prize winners over the years.
Now the attention in Oslo is turning to who will actually win the prize. At an annual brainstorming session with foreign correspondents in Oslo, two Nobel experts introduced some new candidates and new thoughts on the process behind the award decision. Kristian Harpviken, head of the Norway’s peace research institute PRIO, and historian Asle Sveen, who co-wrote the detailed book about the first 100 years of the Peace Prize, noted how current events can influence choices. Greatest among them now is the refugee crisis sparked mostly by the civil war in Syria.
Merkel tops lists
In addition to the earlier named favourites such as Pope Francis, Russian human rights activists, the perennial candidate Dr Denis Mukwege who has helped victims of sexual war crimes in Congo and Edward Snowden, both Sveen and Harpviken now think German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a top candidate. Harpviken noted that Merkel was initially nominated for her attempts to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Now, said Harpviken, “she has really turned the debate” over the refugee crisis. She’s exhibited strong leadership, stood her ground on principle but also shown willingness to revise the system, Harpviken said. Merkel, Sveen agreed, would be the most “sexy” choice among others involved in the refugee crisis, but his website nobeliana.com, tops with the UN refugee organization UNHCR and the Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai, who has played a key role in helping boat refugees in the Mediterranean.
While Pope Francis, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and those involved in the Colombian peace process are also among Sveen’s top candidates, both he and Harpviken (who now sets the Colombians as his number-two choice after Merkel) also cited candidates tied to the ongoing efforts to halt nuclear weapons. They and many others view those involved in the Iran nuclear agreement, especially Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry, as worthy of the prize, with Sveen also mentioning survivors of the nuclear bomb on Nagasaki 70 years ago. Sumitero Taniguchi and Setsuko Thurlow have been nominated by the International Peace Bureau Sveen noted. Other anti-nuclear candidates include the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Arms.
In terms of strategy, both Sveen and Harpviken think the timing of a prize for peace between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas would not only be excellent, but also would address geographic considerations, “which the committee takes very seriously,” Sveen said. “South America hasn’t had a Peace Prize since (Rigoberta) Menchu (Tum) in 1992.” Harpviken said such a prize would have a “positive effect” on the process in prodding it along, which is another type of consideration that the committee is known for taking into account.
Meanwhile, seven former Nobel Peace Prize winners including Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992), President Oscar Arias (1987), Leymah Gbowee (2011), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (1980), Betty Williams (1976) and Jody Williams (1997) have nominated a more “audacious” candidate, according the Tutu: The US-based PeaceJam Foundation’s co-founders Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff, for their campaigns that have involved more than a million young people in 39 countries, creating projects designed to solve the most pressing problems in their own communities. PeaceJam has also carried out more than 200 Peace Congresses for Youth, where young leaders work alongside Peace Prize laureates, Tutu wrote, calling PeaceJam “one of the most transformational programs for young people that I have ever seen.” Now, Tutu wrote in his nomination letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, PeaceJam is involved with its “One Billion Acts of Peace” campaign aimed at launching a wide variety of other projects to “inspire global citizens.” The group has also figured in recent international speculation, although neither Sveen nor Harpviken think nominations from former prize winners carry more weight than others.
Nor do they think that all the recent controversy over the former Nobel secretary Lundestad’s book will harm the prize itself. “The book takes some of the mystery away from the prize, and it can be helpful with more transparency, which is always a good thing,” Sveen said. Harpviken called the book “a mixed bag” that included “a lot of hearsay and rumours.” He worried it undermined the legitimacy of some of the winners, because of its coverage of deliberations in several cases. As to how it would actually affect the committee, both concluded it wouldn’t, with Sveen adding that he thinks “the Lundestad affair will soon be forgotten.”