Thursday, October 8, 2009
On the Nobel Peace Prize
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.
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…