Selection of peace candidates a tricky matter

12th October 2008, Comments 0 comments

Speculation before the announcement Friday had centered on dissidents in China and activists in Russia.

Oslo -- The selection of a Nobel peace laureate often generates controversy and questions as to why an individual was selected over another.

The 2008 peace laureate, veteran Finnish mediator and former president Martti Ahtisaari, was seen as a traditional choice but also generated some doubts.

Speculation before the announcement Friday had centered on dissidents in China and activists in Russia. Some media reports even suggested China would not view kindly the possible choice of a dissident.

Ole Danbolt Mjos, chairman of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, was asked Friday if the committee members had avoided controversy by picking a "safe" candidate.

Mjos said the committee has in the past "dared" to make selections that have not always been appreciated by rulers, mentioning German peace activist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, Russian dissident Andrei Sacharov in 1975, the Dalai Lama in 1989 and Iran's Shirin Ebadi in 2003 as examples.

"This means that the Norwegian Nobel Committee does dare everything, both in the past and for the future," Mjos told reporters in Oslo.

The committee -- appointed by the Norwegian parliament -- has in recent years also been criticized for moving towards a wider peace concept.

Examples of that trend include the 2004 selection of Kenyan human rights activist and environmentalist Wangari Maathai and the 2006 choice of Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh who spearheaded the Grameen Movement in micro-credit were part of that wider concept.

The 2007 peace prize, shared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former American Vice President Al Gore for their work on climate change, also drew fire.

Mjos in 2007 said the choice of Gore was not a barb aimed at US President George W. Bush.

"A peace prize is never criticism of anyone, a peace prize is a positive message and support to all peace campaigners in the world," he said then.

A Norwegian critic of the committee is Fredrik Heffermehl, honorary chairman of the Norwegian Peace Committee that is an umbrella group of some 20 organizations.

Heffermehl has argued that the committee is not true to the intentions of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the Nobel prizes first awarded 1901.

The selection of Ahtisaari was another "wrong choice," Heffermehl told news agency NTB, who in a recent book has said less than half of the selections since 1948 were not in accordance with Nobel's will.

The Nobel committee citation said that Ahtisaari's efforts "have contributed to a more peaceful and to 'fraternity between nations' in Alfred Nobel's spirit."

The choice of Ahtisaari honored an "outstanding mediator," Mjos said, noting his "untiring" efforts.

While Ahtisaari has been widely praised for his role in Namibia's independence in 1990 and the 2005 peace deal in the Indonesian province of Aceh, his efforts in finding a solution to the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo angered Belgrade and Serbia's traditional ally, Moscow.

"I can't understand why Ahtisaari was awarded with the Nobel Prize or other prizes," Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitri Rogosin, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Lennart Simonsson/DPA/Expatica

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