Awards: Nobel Peace Prize in Time of War

Nobel Peace Prize in Times of War

Oslo City Hall, venue of last year's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.  The prize is awarded in Norway

Oslo City Hall, venue of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. The prize is awarded in Norway, the other awards are presented in Sweden. That’s what Alfred Nobel wanted. photo

© Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/dpa

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is much closer to Europeans than other conflicts on earth. Is there a way past Ukraine in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement?

It’s not peaceful on earth right now. Crises and conflicts dominate the world, above all the Russian war of aggression against the Ukraine and its consequences for the energy supply. In such a tense phase, the Norwegian Nobel Committee will announce in Oslo on Friday who it will award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

There are actually always armed conflicts somewhere on the planet, currently also in Ethiopia of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner. But the war in the middle of Europe seems much closer to the Germans and many Europeans. The Ukraine war is without a doubt casting its shadow on this year’s Nobel prize-Announcement.

In view of the current world situation, is an award even possible? “We’ll see,” says the director of the Nobel Institute, Olav Njølstad, with the usual reticence in the Nobel cosmos before announcements. Only so much: “We received more than 300 nominations, some of which of course nominated really worthy candidates.” Because in one part of the world War prevail, this does not automatically mean that other outstanding personalities and organizations are not considered for the award.

Traditional secret

This year there are a total of 251 candidates and 92 organizations for the Nobel Peace Prize been nominated. That’s the second-highest total number of nominees ever. Who is among them is traditionally kept secret for 50 years.

Many expect the award to go to Ukraine. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj was recently seen by betting shops far ahead. However, it must be noted that nominations for the award could only be submitted until January 31 – Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The Nobel Committee has previously given the prize to peacebuilders who were still in conflict at the time, most recently to then-Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in around 2016. “This is the latest example of an award given to someone who was actually involved in an unresolved military conflict,” Njølstad notes. The 1994 award given to then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli politicians Shimon Peres and Izchak Rabin for efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict also fell into this category.

Sipri has doubts

At the Stockholm peace research institute Sipri, there are doubts that this year’s Nobel Prize will be awarded to someone from Ukraine, which is currently in the middle of a war. War is currently being waged, not peace made, says Sipri director Dan Smith. However, he qualifies that the award could very well go to humanitarian actors in Ukraine. That would also fit with how the Nobel Committee had proceeded in the two world wars: At that time, no Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded for years – except twice to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“My one thought as to who might get the peace award specifically in relation to the Ukraine war would be the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Smith says. He is thinking of the use of the agency (IAEA), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, around the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which has been heavily contested for weeks and is occupied by Russians. And for another reason, Smith stresses: “We really need a spotlight on the risk of nuclear proliferation, the collapse of nuclear arms control, the risk of a new nuclear arms race and the threats to use nuclear weapons.”

Tichanovskaya and Navalny among the candidates?

Elsewhere, the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya and the imprisoned Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny are also traded as candidates. Henrik Urdal, head of the Oslo Peace Research Institute Prio, has her at the top of his short list of favourites. “Both Tichanovskaya and Navalny are vocal critics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he writes. A Nobel Prize for the two would be seen as a clear protest against Russia’s actions and Belarus’ aid – and as support for democratic alternatives to Presidents Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee had already honored a Putin opponent in 2021. Dmitri Muratov, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Novaya Gazeta”, which is critical of the Kremlin, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Filipino journalist Maria Ressa. Just a month ago, a district court in Moscow revoked the newspaper’s license at the request of the media supervisory authority Roskomnadzor.

In addition to the IAEA, Sipri director Smith has another candidate in his quiver – or rather, several candidates. “It would make sense to recognize movements that fight climate change, for example.” He is thinking of climate movements such as Fridays for Future and, but also of activists from different regions of the world who could receive the prize together. He would also include Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. “She did a tremendous job.”

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