Two hundred and thirty-one people and organisations were nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, widely heralded as one of the most prestigious honours in global politics.
Among them was Svetlana Gannushkina, a veteran Russian human rights activist whose tireless work for displaced people including many thousands of Chechens, has made her an enemy of Vladimir Putin’s autocratic regime.
Across the Belarusian border Ales Belyatsky, laureate of the 2012 Lech Walesa Award, was in the running for his work supporting political prisoners under the Lukashenko dictatorship. Belyatsky is currently serving a four and a half year sentence himself, following a show-trial condemned around the world.
Among the Arab Spring activists nominated was Lina Ben Mhenni, whose blog during the Tunisian revolution was in many situations the only source of information being relayed to the outside world. This of course came at great risk to her own life.
Everyone will have their own view on who the Prize should have gone too. Perhaps Malala Yousafzai, the fourteen year old girl who took a stand against the Pakistani Taliban by demanding education for women and was barbarically shot in the head as a result. Or maybe it should have been awarded en-masse to the young Somali reporters working in one of the world’s most dangerous territories to shine a spotlight on its strife.
Another option for a collective award would have been those involved in Burma’s historic and seismic reform process; including Aung San Suu Kyi, President Thein Sein, and significant foreign players such as Hilary Clinton and William Hague.
Yet the five-person committee responsible for selecting this year’s laureate did not regard any of these as worthy candidates. Rather they selected a regional body better known for its economic crisis than its contribution to world peace: the European Union.
The rationale: that there has not been a major European conflict since the early forerunners of the EU were formed in the wake of World War II, holds some weight. But whether this is actually because of the EU’s existence is very questionable. Furthermore, the body did little to prevent or halt ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo as the East of Europe disintegrated into conflict during the 1990s. Rather it was the UN, NATO and individual states who stepped into the breach as the Brussels bureaucrats floundered helplessly at the side-lines.
Yet such a bizarre and unjustified choice is not without recent precedent. In 2009 Barak Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, his nomination coming after just twelve days in office. Shambolically his award came at the expense of Morgan Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwean Prime Minister who has done more than almost any other to advance human rights and democracy in his country; and Hu Jia, the then political-prisoner who selflessly stood up for rule of law in China.
There is a genuine danger that if such inane choices of laureate continue, the Nobel Peace Prize will be increasingly devalued. Whilst the vast majority of recipients are those who have made a genuine difference, usually at great personal sacrifice, it would be a tragic day when the shabby figures of Obama and the EU characterise the award above the inspirational forms of Suu Kyi and Ramos-Horta.