Thursday, October 8, 2009

On the Nobel Peace Prize

Every year at October 10th the world press’s cameras are tuned in for about ten minutes on a yellow building across from the American embassy in the unlikeliest city of them all – Oslo. The attraction – a white-haired man holding a sheet of paper that he is reading in unsteady English – might seem unlikely too. What each of the members of the press are there for, however, is the hope that he or she might be the first one to hear (and forward) the secret the white-haired man is about to reveal. “This year’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is…”

The Nobel Peace Prize is – as secretary to the committee (and notable historian) Geir Lundestad never tires of retelling – “the world’s most prestigious prize”, according to the Oxford dictionary. In its 108 year long history it has been awarded not yearly, but almost. The committee’s decisions have been debated, disliked, scorned, ridiculed and praised. While they will never admit that they have awarded the prize wrongly (though there are some obvious candidates to this label), the committee does admit it is not flawless – its biggest mistake being not to include Mahatma Gandhi in the distinguished group of laureates. The debate on whether or not the Nobel Peace Prize is political will probably never stop (there are examples when it clearly has been – perhaps most notably in its early years where it appears to have been used to establish diplomatic contacts for the young nation Norway), but this is possibly also a part of the reason why the prize remains relevant. Some of the more recent decisions of the committee have been controversial because they are not strictly speaking firmly tied to peace – recent laureates have included individuals and organizations fighting to end poverty and promote human rights and the environment. Whether this means that the committee is adapting to a changing world and a changing concept of peace, or whether the committee simply has long since parted from the intentions founded in Alfred Nobel’s will, remains to be concluded.

Nobel’s will is, incidentally, what causes the somewhat peculiar division of the prizes (there are more than one Nobel Prize, after all, even if this might be difficult to remember. When someone is speaking of the Nobel Prize they are usually referring to the Peace Prize, aren’t they?). The main bulk of the prizes, those of literature, medicine, chemistry and physics (plus the add-on – economics, which isn’t technically a Nobel prize because it was only established in 1968 in memory of Alfred Nobel, but not as a result of his last will. The cash award for this prize is paid by the Swedish Central Bank. Yes, I walk around with all this information in my head…) are awarded in Sweden. The Grand Slam, however, is – and has always been – Norwegian. The theories on why Nobel chose to hand the responsibility of the most prestigious of them all to the Norwegians are many, but since we will never know the answer, I shall not go into details on this here. However, let me be the first to say so – Norwegians LOVE that we outshine Sweden on this one occasion each year.

Let the cameras be directed at Oslo each October 10th (by the way, if you are wondering if the distress of different time zones have confused me completely, you’re right – but that’s not why I am posting this on October 8, even though the prize is supposed to be announced on October 10. This year the prize apparently is announced one day early, presumably since October 10 is a Saturday, and Norwegians don’t work on Saturdays). Let the cameras return in December for the actual ceremony, and let this be the only thing that could make world stars like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith come to Oslo (each year it is almost as exciting guessing who will be the hosts of the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert as who will be the laureate). Let this be the time of year when Norway can claim that it is a peace-loving nation, and that we are important too. It may be only 10 minutes, but in those brief moments you can watch Norway live whether you live in Addis Abeba or on the Solomon Islands.

Setting Norway’s importance aside, though, addressing the importance of the prize might be touching a sore spot. After all, it is a timely question to ask whether the prize still holds any relevance today. I’m inclined to say yes. Even though not even I am naïve enough to believe the Nobel Peace Prize will be able to actually create peace, I do think the recognition and respect the laureates receive is significant. Once you’ve been a Nobel Prize laureate, people listen to you. And even though most of the laureates have a lot to say, they often need help to reach the right people with their messages. The Nobel Prize can do this.

Being in the US rather than Norway makes it unlikely that I’ll follow the announcement live – it will after all be 5 a.m. here (11 a.m. CET) – but I will wake up eager to see the news on Friday morning. And I will keep my cell phone on, next to the bed. Just in case someone calls five to five to congratulate me…


Not Hannah said...

I loved learning all of this. Excellent! It tickles me pink that you're so excited.

Watery Tart said...

I love the identity that a whole country can feel (and that it centers around peace). I am also glad you are in my life to keep me aware of world events. (I tend to exist in a bubble these days)

Cruella Collett said...

Not Hannah (then who?) - I'm glad that all the silly knowledge I've gathered over the years (admittedly, a lot of it while writing my bachelor thesis on the Peace Prize) finally came in handy! And I'm glad my excitement was showing through - I really am quite fond of the Nobel Prize (even though said thesis almost destroyed our relationship forever).

Tami - it's my pleasure to poke your bubble every now and then ;)

M.J. Nicholls said...

The Nobel Prize for Literature usually turns me OFF a book (i.e. Herman Hesse) but I'm sure that's merely my narrow-minded prejudiceseseses.

Go Oslo!

PS. I didn't draw a giraffe yesterday. Tomorrow. Honest!

Cruella Collett said...

Mark - it's not just your narrow-minded prejudiceseseses (hihi), or if so, it is mine too. And I feel like I have the right to have an opinion on the matter since I did go through a brief phase where I intended to read as many Nobel Prize winners as possible and discovered they were all crap. Or at least impossible to understand. Which I consider crap.

(Yay for giraffe tomorrow!)

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