This is the Nobel Prize where the folks in Sweden hand the baton over to the folks in Norway to select the winner, and it is also where things can often take a sudden left-hand turn into the utterly bizarre or outright absurd, but I would add, not because it is Norway, but rather because of how the choice is made.
What exactly am I getting at?
Well, the actual award has not exactly been … (how shall I put this?) … spot on the mark each and every time. Let me illustrate that with some of the previous awards …
- 1973 Henry A. Kissinger and Lê Ðức Thọ for a Vietnam ceasefire : The problem was that when the award was announced, both sides were still carpet bombing each other. At least Lê Ðức Thọ had the decency to decline the award, and the fact that Kissinger accepted says a great deal about his personal lack of any integrity. Two Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned to protest this award.
- 1979 Mother Teresa : She who claimed to have the interests of the poor in mind, but actually used all the money she gathered to promote fanatical Catholicism and simply dumped the poor she was supposed to help into some truly appalling conditions. She announced during her acceptance speech that the number one cause of a lack of peace in the world was “abortion”. Indeed yes, it clearly has been all those abortions in Syria and Iraq that has challenged the region.
- 1989 Dalai Lama : OK, criticism of him might be like trying to shoot Bambi, the issue here is that this appears to have simply been a way to annoy China and was given to score political points.
- 1994 Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin for making peace between Israel and Palestine : Well that has really worked out well since then. At the time one of the five Norwegian Nobel Committee members denounced Arafat as a terrorist and quit in disgust.
- 2009 Barack Obama : Awarded basically because he was not as crazy as his predecessor. Even Obama himself was a bit mystified about it.
- 2013 The entire European Union : In one respect, I get it because the various European states have a long history of going to war with each other, and have ceased doing so since the formation of the EU, and so now all they do is distribute a rather unequal form of financial chaos. I still find giving an award to an entire economic block on the sole basis that they have not ripped out each others throats to be a tad odd.
What makes it even weirder are not just those they have chosen, but also those they have not selected. For example Mahatma Gandhi never won. That specific non-award has been publicly regretted, Geir Lundestad, Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2006 said, “The greatest omission in our 106-year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question”
So how do they select a winner?
You might of course now begin to wonder how they reach such decisions. Well it works like this – they invite “qualified” people to make nominations, and so this is clearly an award that is the opinion of specific individuals whose selection is also an opinion. The worthy are those you might indeed suspect, and includes members of various national assemblies and governments, the international court of justice, University professors of history, social sciences, philosophy, law, and theology, university presidents, and directors of peace research and international affairs institutes.
Clearly the problem here with this specific award is that the process is fatally flawed because it will inevitably be quite political.
As for the actual mechanics, well they get roughly 200-250 nominations by about February. The committee then makes a short list and so the process of whittling it all down to just one proceeds via a process that involves reports and debate, until finally by unanimous decision then select one in mid September. The word “unanimous” there is what I suspect makes being a member of that committee quite challenging.
And the 2015 winner is ….
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 is to be awarded to the …
Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet
… for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 is to be awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013 when the democratization process was in danger of collapsing as a result of political assassinations and widespread social unrest. It established an alternative, peaceful political process at a time when the country was on the brink of civil war. It was thus instrumental in enabling Tunisia, in the space of a few years, to establish a constitutional system of government guaranteeing fundamental rights for the entire population, irrespective of gender, political conviction or religious belief.
The National Dialogue Quartet has comprised four key organizations in Tunisian civil society: the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT, Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA, Union Tunisienne de l’Industrie, du Commerce et de l’Artisanat), the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH, La Ligue Tunisienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme), and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers (Ordre National des Avocats de Tunisie). These organizations represent different sectors and values in Tunisian society: working life and welfare, principles of the rule of law and human rights. On this basis, the Quartet exercised its role as a mediator and driving force to advance peaceful democratic development in Tunisia with great moral authority. The Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 is awarded to this Quartet, not to the four individual organizations as such.
The Arab Spring originated in Tunisia in 2010-2011, but quickly spread to a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In many of these countries, the struggle for democracy and fundamental rights has come to a standstill or suffered setbacks. Tunisia, however, has seen a democratic transition based on a vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights.
An essential factor for the culmination of the revolution in Tunisia in peaceful, democratic elections last autumn was the effort made by the Quartet to support the work of the constituent assembly and to secure approval of the constitutional process among the Tunisian population at large. The Quartet paved the way for a peaceful dialogue between the citizens, the political parties and the authorities and helped to find consensus-based solutions to a wide range of challenges across political and religious divides. The broad-based national dialogue that the Quartet succeeded in establishing countered the spread of violence in Tunisia and its function is therefore comparable to that of the peace congresses to which Alfred Nobel refers in his will.
The course that events have taken in Tunisia since the fall of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime in January 2011 is unique and remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, it shows that Islamist and secular political movements can work together to achieve significant results in the country’s best interests. The example of Tunisia thus underscores the value of dialogue and a sense of national belonging in a region marked by conflict. Secondly, the transition in Tunisia shows that civil society institutions and organizations can play a crucial role in a country’s democratization, and that such a process, even under difficult circumstances, can lead to free elections and the peaceful transfer of power. The National Dialogue Quartet must be given much of the credit for this achievement and for ensuring that the benefits of the Jasmine Revolution have not been lost.
Tunisia faces significant political, economic and security challenges. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that this year’s prize will contribute towards safeguarding democracy in Tunisia and be an inspiration to all those who seek to promote peace and democracy in the Middle East, North Africa and the rest of the world. More than anything, the prize is intended as an encouragement to the Tunisian people, who despite major challenges have laid the groundwork for a national fraternity which the Committee hopes will serve as an example to be followed by other countries.
Oslo, 10 October 2015
My Initial Reaction?
I think they got this one right.