2012 Nobel Prize: Peace

The Nobel peace prize is one that sets my skeptical alarm bells ringing.

The science based Nobel Prizes (Medicine, Physics and Chemistry) leave us all standing in awe of both the discoveries and the discoverers, all those laureates are truly applaud worthy, and year after year it remains a consistent pattern. The Literature prize may indeed leave many asking “Who?” (nobody really knew who Mo Yan was prior to yesterday), but dig into the works of the various winning authors and it is indeed justifiable and so in each and every case most would acknowledge that all who have been bestowed with a literary award did indeed truly merit it.  Well, perhaps a few might quibble about one or two, for example the award of the 2004 Literature Prize to Elfriede Jelinek was challenged. One member of the selection committee resigned in protest because he felt that Mr Jelinek’s works were “a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure.“. But generally, most years no such quibbling prevails for literature.

The peace prize is different, it often leaves many wondering “Really!”

First, as a bit of background, it shifts nationality. While the various Swedish Academy’s select science and literature prizes, it is a Norwegian Nobel Committee that bestows (inflicts) the peace prize upon us. The remit from Mr Nobel within his will was, that a Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses“. So within the context of that remit we have had the following “Really!” moments …

  • 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 bombing each other. At least Lê Ðức Thọ had the decency to decline the award.
  • 1994 Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin for making peace between Israel and Palestine : Well that has really worked out well since then for them all.
  • 2009  Barack Obama : Awarded perhaps because he was not as crazy as his predecessor. Even Obama himself was a bit mystified about it.
  • 1989 Dalai Lama : OK, criticism of him might be like trying to shoot Bambi (it will not make you popular), the issue here is that this appears to have simply been a way to annoy China and was given to score political points.
  • 1979 Mother Teresa : Yep, a complete religious nut received it. She who claimed to have the interests of the poor in mind, but 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. Weirdness prevails with this one, she announced during her acceptance speech that the number one cause of a lack of peace in the world was “abortion”. Basically, she was a complete fraud.

Not all are like this, some I can indeed understand, for example Jimmy Carter (one of the few elected to that office who was truly into peace keeping and humanitarian efforts in a big way), but generally a lot of what has been going on with this award is an expression of the political views of the selection committee, and damn all to do with the intent of Mr Nobel.

So what has happened this year, is it going to be another “Really!” moment? Sadly yes …

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 is to be awarded to the European Union (EU).

Yes indeed …. “Really!”. Here is how they explain it …

The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.

In the inter-war years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made several awards to persons who were seeking reconciliation between Germany and France. Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality. The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe. Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.

In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership. The fall of the Berlin Wall made EU membership possible for several Central and Eastern European countries, thereby opening a new era in European history. The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically-based national conflicts have been settled.

The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro, and the granting of candidate status to Serbia all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans. In the past decade, the possibility of EU membership for Turkey has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country.

The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.

The work of the EU represents “fraternity between nations”, and amounts to a form of the “peace congresses” to which Alfred Nobel refers as criteria for the Peace Prize in his 1895 will.

They have quite frankly lost the plot with this one. I’m not decrying the aspirations and success of the EU, but rather the fact that Nobel specifically wanted the prize given to a living breathing human, not a faceless institution. This is indeed more of the same mindset as some previous awards, it is a political statement of support, in this case for the EU in a time of crises.

As you look down the list of previous winners, you can indeed spot names that cause you to nod and think to yourself, “Yep, good choice”, for example John Hume, David Trimble (Northern Ireland), Nelson Mandela, Frederik Willem de Klerk (South Africa), Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, and Martin Luther King Jr., but the number of “Really!” moments causes my skepticism to kick in when attempting to digest this “peace” award. Unlike the other Nobel awards, this one is just too hit and miss and way too political at times.

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