The Norwegian Nobel Committee is usually made up of veteran Norwegian politicians, appointed by their parties in a gesture of appreciation for loyalty or special international interest over the years. Now Norway’s Labour Party is replacing one of its appointments on the committee, former prime minister and head of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland, with a young man half Jagland’s age who has never held political office.
Jørgen Watne Frydnes, age 36, has, however, spent the last several years rebuilding the island of Utøya after it was attacked by a Norwegian right-wing extremist on July 22, 2011. Utøya is formally owned by the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth organization AUF, which lost scores of young members and staffers during the July 22 massacre that killed 69 people. Another eight people were killed when the same Norwegian extremist bombed Norway’s government headquarters in Oslo, which was under a Labour-led coalition at the time.
“We have talked a lot about the ‘Utøya generation,’ which has had a lot of costly experience,” Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre said when announcing Frydnes’ nomination. “Jørgen (Frydnes) has something that we think is important when the Nobel Committee reviews various candidates and needs to illuminate various perspectives about creating peace.”
Frydnes is not well-known in Norway but has also worked for Leger uten Grenser (Medicines sans Frontières) and is a member of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. He has led the clean-up, razing and rebuilding of Utøya, and thinks what he’s learned from those who survived the massacre can be useful if his nomination to the Nobel Committee is confirmed by Parliament.
“I think rebuilding Utøya, building an internationally recognized center for democracy, will help a lot,” Frydnes told reporters right after Støre announced Labour’s choice to replace Jagland. Utøya, Frydnes said, “has become a place that’s meant to offer hope, based on young people engaging themselves and working together despite how much they may disagree.”
According to the will of Nobel Prize benefactor Alfred Nobel, the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee that selects the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is supposed to reflect the political make-up of the Norwegian Parliament. Labour is currently entitled to propose two members, one of whom already serves as committee leader, lawyer Berit Reiss-Andersen.
She took over for Jagland, who’s now retiring after serving two six-year terms since 2009. Norway’s Center Party, meanwhile, plans to renominate its former leader, Anne Enger, to a new six-year term, while the Conservative Party wasn’t prepared to say whether it will renominate philosopher Henrik Syse to another term as its representative. The two remaining Nobel Committee members, Reiss-Andersen and the Progress Party’s representiative Asle Toje, are not up for re-election this year.