Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Nobel’s Peace Prize—a sad joke


Like between many neighbouring countries, there is a long standing rivalry between Sweden and Norway, be it in sports or elsewhere. One of the most notable signs is the “Norway joke” (in Sweden) and its counter-part the “Sweden joke” (in Norway)—basically any joke poking fun of the other country or its citizens, typically in an unfair way, typically with the exact same jokes being used on both sides of the border (with just the nationality altered).

The greatest Norway joke there is, however, is both fair and impossible to apply to Sweden: Nobel’s Peace Prize.

The list of winners include some absolutely absurd names. In fact, some winners were rewarded with the prize merely for stopping the evil behaviour they had consistently engaged in for decades... Certainly, a majority of the winners (at least in the last few decades) have not been compatible with Nobel’s wille.

Even as a Swede, I am positively ashamed about the idiotic choices made by the Norwegian Peace Prize committee. Worse, I have repeatedly caught myself subconsciously thinking of this prize as an insult or “negative prize” akin to the Razziesw. After the just announced (time of writing 10-10-2009) award to Barack Obama, the Peace Prize has lost its last shred of credibility with me.


While the other Nobel Prizes are awarded by Swedish institutions, the Peace Prize landed in Norway. This is explained by Sweden and Norway being in a personal union from 1814 to 1905.


Today, 2009-12-02, I a met by the news of Obama sending another 30000 troopse to Afghanistan—less than two months after the Nobel announcement and a week before the award ceremony. It appears that Obama is just as keen on taking up the white man’s burdenw as Bush was.

(My own opinions about the Bushian policing were mildly positive, and I do not rule out the possibility that the decision, in and by it self, was correct; however, it does make the award look even more foolish than before.)

Examples of some past winners

1978 Anwar Sadat

Sadat started the unprovoked Yom Kippur warw in 1973, thus ending the tenuous peace with Israel that had existed since 1970. Worse, the timing can only considered perfidious: Yom Kippur is a holy day of rest in the Jewish religion, and no advance warning with a declaration of war was sent. Additionally, in 1973 Yom Kippur fell during the Muslim Ramadan, which gives the attack an air of unholiness.

1993 Nelson Mandela / F.W. de Klerk

This award was disputable on several counts, most notably that it had very little to do with peace, and everything with the (only tangentially related) ending of Apharteid. Secondly, while de Klerk was instrumental in this ending (for which he deserves praise), South Africa did not do anything positive for the world, but just ceased doing something negative. Consider, by analogy, if a criminal was made citizen of the year for becoming law-abiding...

As for Mandela—he actually did very little, and it is highly disputable if he deserved a co-credit (even under the dubious assumption that de Klerk deserved the prize). True: He did fight for freedom and justice. True: He spent a large part of his life in jail with a disputable justification. True: He was an important symbol for many South Africans. However, when push comes to shove, he was not the one effecting the changes, and the prize was more or less dropped in his lap for being a (passive) symbol. Add in to this that his shirt was far from clean in some regards, and that both he, himself, and the ANC used violence in a way that was far from peaceful.

1994 Yasser Arafat/Shimon Peres/Yitzhak Rabin

Arafat was one of the worst terrorists and war- and hate-mongers of the twentieth century. (And I strongly suspect that Peres and Rabin will have a few spots too, if scrutinized more closely than I have taken the time to do.) Importantly, it is likely that the true winners were the PLO and Israel, with the individuals being mere representatives, which makes the prize harder yet to justify. The same applies to some degree to the 1993 winners.

2007 IPCC/Al Gore

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was given the Peace Prize for their work on—climate. It is conceivable that this work is highly worthy of recognition; however, the Peace Prize is entirely unsuitable. Consider, by analogy, giving Sean Penn the Academy Award for best Director “for his wonderful portrayal of the title character in Milk”.

2009 Barack Obama

While he has (to my knowledge) not done anything “evil”, he has also achieved very little “good” so far. As far as war and peace are concerned, he has more or less kept the status quo in Iraq—and escalated the warfare in Afghanistan. Notably, he has also not made any greater changes to US foreign policy, compared to Bush, that could justify his winning the award, even under the premise that Bush was evil (a premise that I consider dubious; in particular, when compared to a few people mentioned above).

As I gather from Swedish newspaper, even Obama was highly surprised at the news. It further strikes me as odd that three prominent Democrats have been given the award during the presidency of Bush and the following year. I fear that the prize committee is abusing its mandate to try push its own political agenda, instead of awarding those truly worthy in the spirit of Alfred Nobel.

Obama may or may not deserve the prize at the end of his tenure as president. However, he does not, absolutely not, under any circumstance, deserve it here and now. In fact, there are dozens of current national leaders that are more deserving—and thousand of others that do not happen to be heads of state, prime ministers, or similar.

Other winners, nominees, and non-winners

Looking at a list of all winnersw many other names can be found that are unsuitable, controversial, or otherwise poorly chosen—although few will be as indisputably poor as those mentioned above. Questions like “Does he deserve a peace prize?”, “Does he have a reasonably clean vest?”, “Is there no-one more deserving?”, and the like, seem to never be considered in depth.

Equally worthy of criticism is the list of non-winners: How can Gandhi have not won, when e.g. Mandela did? Where is Schindler and Wallenberg?

Interestingly, past nominees have included Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini: The two former being two of the most evil and hated humans to ever walk this earth, with the lives of millions of people upon their respective conscience; the third, a belligerent dictator on par with Saddam Hussein (and far worse than Bush could realistically be accused of being, even by a Democrat).

Addendum on internal division and other issues

After the original writing, I have heard reported from a variety of sources (typically referencing “Verdens Gang” or other Norwegian newspapers) that three members of the five-headed committee were originally very strongly opposed to the suggestion of Obama, and that the former (Norwegian) Labour prime-minister Thorbjørn Jaglandw, together with a fellow party-member, forced his view on the committee as a whole.

It can also be revealing to read the original press release issued by the committee:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."

Oslo, October 9, 2009


My opinion: There is far too much talk about “vision” and hoped for future events; much of the press release is hyperbolic and exaggerated, or clearly reflect the subjective opinions of the individuals (rather than fact and “accepted knowledge”); and, reading between the lines, there is a very clear “unlike Bush” message, which strengthens my suspicion (cf. above) that the committee uses the Peace Prize as tool to accomplish its own agenda—notably, to criticize Bush and his foreign policy.

In fact, the last paragraph makes the following of an own agenda near explicit: Clearly, the committee has not understood that they are to award the prize based on the criteria and ideals Alfred Nobel required—not its own wishes. (I note that even the claim of “108 years” is highly disputable rhetoric: I doubt that the committee has had the same agenda through-out that time.)

I invite the reader to compare the above quote with the 2008 press releasee, which is much less laudatory, but instead points to actual accomplishments and efforts over a period of “the past twenty years”.


Incidentally, this also demonstrates a claim that I often make: A book with beautiful covers is usually lacking in worth-while content; and true value is often found put beneath plainer covers.