Who Will Win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize?

by Scott London

The winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and, as always, there is a lot of speculation about who will get it. After the Norwegian Nobel Committee surprised everyone last year by giving the prize to President Obama, many are wondering whether the five-member board will choose a more traditional peace laureate this year — a champion of human rights, perhaps, or a statesman with a well-established record of international peacemaking. But I’m not so sure.

Last year, I placed my bet on several Chinese dissidents I felt deserved the prize, most notably the jailed pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. Hu Jia, Sun Wenguang, Chen Guangcheng, and Gao Zhisheng also struck me as worthy candidates. 2009 was a fitting year for such a prize, I felt, since it was the 50th anniversary of the completion of China’s occupation of Tibet and the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Besides, the peace prize had never yet been given to someone from China.

This year, I again feel that those risking their life for the cause of greater human rights in China are eminently deserving of the award. And in fact, several high-profile individuals, including former Czech president Vaclav Havel, have stepped forward in support of Liu Xiaobo recently.

It would make for a risky choice on the part of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, as China has made it clear that such a move on the Nobel Committee’s part would seriously damage relations between Beijing and Oslo. But, as we know, the committee has not shied away from that kind of controversy in the past.

But such a prize would seem, at least to me, less timely this year. There are also other worthy candidates. The committee will pick from a record 237 nominees (199 individuals and 38 organizations). The names on the list are a well-kept secret, but nominators sometimes make a point of going public with their recommendations.

We know that this year’s nominees include Svetlana Gannushkina and Memorial, a prominent rights group she works with in Russia. The list also includes former Illinois Governor George Ryan, Brazilian human rights champion Abdias Nascimento, Guyana’s president Bharrat Jagdeo, Father Roy Bourgeois and School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), and Canada’s David Matas and David Kilgour, a lawyer and former MP who have campaigned for the Falun Gong and called attention to human rights abuses in China.

In addition, the Internet and Esperanto have both been nominated this year. Needless to say, it would be a long-shot if either of them were to win the award, even if it were possible — and I’m not sure it is — to make a reasonable case for why they deserve it.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, went on record last month saying that the 2010 prize promises to be an “exciting” one, and another “surprise choice.” He also said that the committee tends to think a little differently than many Nobel experts and journalists.

It’s partly for this reason that I believe the winner of this year’s award will be someone few people will have heard of. It may be a person working for peace in some unconventional way — a peace researcher such as Gene Sharp or Paul Collier, for example, or an investigative journalist like Malahat Nasibova.

Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the committee and director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, has said for years that peacemaking takes many forms and that the traditional categories need to be expanded, and I agree with that. In the early days, the peace prize went primarily to statesmen, mediators, international lawyers, and leaders of the organized peace movement. The Nobel Committee’s selection criteria have broadened over the years to include great humanitarians and human rights activitists.

But there are other types of efforts that also bear directly on the question of international peace and freedom — as we saw in 2004 and 2007 when the prize went to champions of environmental sustainability, and in 2006 when it was given to a “banker to the poor.”

I think — and I hope — that we’ll see the definition for what constitutes important peace work expanded still further in 2010.