Looking Ahead to the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

by Scott London

The winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, October 12th. Speculation about who will win is heating up, as it does every year at this time. But the field seems to be wide open this time around, without any clear favorites or front-runners.

There were 231 nominations this year, according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, of which 42 are organizations. The nominees are kept secret, but that doesn’t stop nominators from going public with their choices.

We know from news reports and press releases that various heads of state have been nominated, for example, among them President Bill Clinton, former Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl, and former Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.

What is less widely known is that these nominations don’t carry any real weight since they could be made by anyone qualified to nominate. In the end, the decision will be made behind closed doors by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian parliament. What they will decide is anyone’s guess.

Among the other nominees this year are Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina and Memorial, the organization she founded working to document historical injustice and violence. This is the third year in a row that Gannushkina has been tipped as a strong contender for the Peace Prize and it would be well-deserved.

Also nominated are Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), a radio station, and its chief editor, Aleksei Venediktov. Echo of Moscow has been an important source of independent news and reporting at a time when the Russian government has been cracking down on the free press. (Aleksei Venediktov was profiled in an excellent piece in the New Yorker some years ago.)

A prize to either Memorial or Ekho Moskvy would be well-deserved — and noteworthy too, because in the 111-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize no award has ever been given to a journalist or news organization (with the possible exception of the 1935 prize to Carl Von Ossietzky).

In recent years, the Nobel Committee has significantly broadened the scope of what it considers peace work by giving awards to social entrepreneurs and environmentalists, among others. While it has been criticized for deviating from Nobel’s original intentions for the Peace Prize — a subject I explore at some length in this review, and elsewhere — I think the Norwegian committee is right in acknowledging that there are many pathways to peace and fraternity among nations.

My personal preference among recent nominees is the noted peace scholar and researcher Gene Sharp. He is perhaps the world’s leading expert on nonviolent revolution and has been described as the “Machiavelli of nonviolence.” His work, which combines historical analysis and political theory, shows that nonviolent grassroots action — of the kind that we have seen in many parts of the Arab world over the last year or two — can be a peaceful means of creating political change.

A Nobel Peace Prize to Gene Sharp would be the first of its kind to a scholar and researcher working for peace.

This year, Sharp was the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” That award was created in 1980 by Swedish journalist and philanthropist Jakob Von Uexkull and represents what many regard as a more grassroots peace prize for our times — one given to the kind of activists working for social and political change from the ground up, often in remote parts of the world, far from the media spotlight.

I met Jakob Von Uexkull some years ago to talk about the prize he created. He told me that when he created the prize, he never expected to give it to those also being considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. But when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded its prize to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004 — someone who had received the Right Livelihood Award 20 years earlier — it was as if Von Uexkull’s prize had come of age in a very real sense.

If Gene Sharp were to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, after already winning the Right Livelihood Award earlier this year, it would be a richly-deserved grand slam.

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