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War overshadows upcoming Peace Prize

It’s been a long time since the Norwegian Nobel Committee needed to choose a Peace Prize winner in the midst of war in Europe. Its members must announce a new Nobel Laureate on Friday however, and top candidates include leaders of the opposition to the regimes in both Russia and Belarus.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has prompted many demonstrations in Oslo, like this one marching past the Norwegian Nobel Institute. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has been huddling inside their historic building adjacent to the Royal Palace, to decide this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. PHOTO: Møst

There’s been some speculation over whether the Norwegian committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize year after year might abstain this year, because of the war that’s also creeping closer to Norway where oil fields and pipelines are new targets. The thought was quickly rejected by a Peace Prize expert at a meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo, where the prize is always awarded.

“That would be out of the question,” said Asle Sveen, an educator and historian who formerly worked at the Norwegian Nobel Institute and co-wrote a book on the Peace Prize’s first 100 years. Sveen noted that the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm insists on awarding a Peace Prize every year, even though it has been suspended sporadically, especially around World War I and in all the years of Norway’s occupation during World War II.

Henrik Urdal, leader of the Oslo-based peace research institute PRIO, also noted that awarding a Peace Prize this year may be more important than ever. Urdal also thinks the five-member Nobel Committee, formed to reflect the political make-up of the Norwegian Parliament under the terms of prize benefactor Alfred Nobel, (external link) is likely to award a winner from Europe, where conflict levels are high.

Nobel Peace Prize experts Asle Sveen (left) and Henrik Urdal shared their thoughts on prize candidates with foreign correspondents in Oslo. PHOTO: Berglund

Urdal stressed that his “short list” of Peace Prize candidates is not a result of speculation but rather who he thinks is most worthy. Nor is he even sure his candidates are on the list of those nominated, which the committee keeps secret even though those nominating (including former winners, heads of state, members of national assemblies and governments, high-ranking academics and International Court justices) often make their individual choices public.

As head of PRIO, Urdal can also nominate but says he never does as a matter of principle tied to his work. The Nobel Committee itself has reported that there are 343 candiates for the prize this year, of which 251 are individuals and 92 are organizations.

Only one common choice
Both he and Sveen, who annually list their choices, settled on only one possible joint award, to the exiled opposition politician in Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and the jailed leader of the opposition in Russia, Alexei Navalny. They’re among the few confirmed as candidates since Norwegian MPs nominating them revealed their own choices. Tikhanovskaya seems best positioned, for her ongoing fight for democracy in Belarus and for playing a leading role in non-violently challenging Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. She thus challenges Putin as well, because of Putin’s support for Lukashenko.

Navalny is a more controversial choice, but he fights for democracy and against Putin’s regime in Russia and opposes the war in Ukraine, now from a Russian prison cell. He survived poisoning and earlier established the Anti-Corruption Foundation that investigates high-ranking Russian government officials. He remains, according to Urdal, “an important standard bearer, not only for the importance of regime accountability but for the ongoing struggle for peaceful change of government in authoritarian countries.”

Urdal’s other candidates include:

*** the International Court of Justice in The Hague, as a “mechanism for peaceful resolution of conflicts between states” and promoting multilateral solutions to international problems,

*** Harsh Mander if India and his campaign Karwan-e-Mohabbat, for efforts to promote religious tolerance and challenge religious extremism,

***Ilham Tohti, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law, for their pro-democracy efforts and challenges to human rights violation in China and its claimed territories, and

***The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) and CANVAS, the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, both of which work “to mobilize research and education in the service of preventing violence and conflict.”

Sveen and his colleagues in the Nobeliana group also have chosen four other candidates for the Peace Prize:

***Climate activist Greta Thunberg and/or David Attenborough, for their work to protect nature and the environment and halt climate change,

***The Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mother of Russia, a human rights organization that works for democracy and recently protested the mobilozation of Russian men to fight in Ukraine,

***Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, currently in prison and joined by many others after uprisings against the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police,”

***Hajer Sharief of Libya, leader of the organization “Together we build it,” for her efforts to stabilize Libya’s government and bring peace to the country after years of conflict.

Both Urdal and Sveen expect there’s been a lot of disagreement among Norwegian Nobel Committee members because of their different political standpoints. There’s reportedly also more sensitivity towards how the prize no longer can “save the lives” of winners but actually engdanger them. Last year’s winners, journalists from Russia and the Philippines, have seen their work halted or threatened by legal proceedings.

Both Urdal and Sveen agree, though, that the Peace Prize usually brings up issues of importance and attracts major international attention. In some cases it has prodded along peace processes, like in Colombia, and in others led to ridicule, as in the prize to newly elected US President Barack Obama. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday (October 7) and, as always, awarded in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Berglund



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