Nobel Peace Prize stays true to its history of controversy – The Manila Times
THE stark contrast between the feat of Hidilyn Diaz in winning a historic gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics and the selection of Maria Ressa as one of this year's recipients of the Nobel Prize for Peace is inescapable.
When Hidilyn heroically won the weightlifting gold in her weight class and made history by winning the first gold of the Philippines in the quadrennial games, this nation of 110 million collectively felt as though they had all been lifted and honored.
When Maria Ressa was chosen on Friday to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, very few Filipinos felt they were being honored as well; some even thought it was a slap in the face. Few identified with Ressa because there is no showing anywhere that she is a Filipino by birth or citizenship, or that she cares one whit about our country.
At an early age, Ressa took American citizenship and she carries to this day a US passport. Given that she is a journalist and has worked in the country for some time, there is oddly no record at any time that she ever regarded the Philippines as her homeland, or Filipinos as her compatriots. We are alien to each other for all intents and purposes.
The indifferent reception is no surprise because the Nobel selection of Ressa is a calculated effrontery by the Nobel committee against our country and our government, and most especially against President Rodrigo Duterte. It is the culmination of a long campaign to promote Ressa as a hero of press freedom by Western media and some sectors of the international community, and to depict Duterte as an authoritarian leader.
Guardian of free expression
In announcing the award on October 8 in Oslo, the Nobel prize committee said:
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms. Ressa and Mr. Muratov received the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions.
Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public.”
These are wonderful sentiments, of course, but hidden from view is the fact that over the years the award has strayed from its original spirit of honoring past achievements, towards serving new political goals.
Politics behind Nobel Peace Prize
Mili Mitra, in an article in the Brown Political Review in 2016, “Not so noble, the politics behind the Nobel Peace Prize,” contends that the prize risks losing its legitimacy. He wrote:
“The most significant international prize for peacemaking and activism lies in the hands of just five Norwegians — and the committee is not known for its transparency.
The Nobel Peace Prize is no stranger to controversy. The award, limited to only three recipients a year, is by nature subjective, but even so, its recipients have often seemed questionable. One such provocative choice was Henry Kissinger, who won the prize in 1973. Kissinger was selected as a joint winner with North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho for brokering a ceasefire in the Vietnam War. This seemed a dubious choice, particularly as the US was still involved in carpet-bombing neighboring Cambodia. Kissinger is now one of the most polarizing figures in 20th century history, evoking conflicts and American interventionism rather than peace…
Although the Nobel Prize is steeped in years of contention, the political motivations behind the selection of recipients have become increasingly evident over time. This became especially clear with the selection of Barack Obama in 2009. Obama had barely been in office for a year when he was awarded the prize; in fact, his nomination came a mere 12 days into his term.
The Peace Prize has evolved in other ways since it was first conceived in 1895. According to the prize's official website, it is primarily awarded for work in four categories: arms control and disarmament, peace negotiations, democracy and human rights, and work to create a more peaceful world. While most recipients have obviously fallen into one of these categories, it seems as if the Nobel Committee has expanded its scope since the turn of the millennium.
The expansion was most visible in 2004, when the Peace Prize was awarded to Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai. Maathai, who was known for her dedicated work on environmental conservation and women's rights, hardly fits into the definition of the prize, which emphasized “the fraternity between nations.” This event heralded a marked expansion from the initial four categories to honor any work that seemed to benefit humankind. Specifically, the award seems to have added a fifth category, fighting climate change and environmental degradation. Aside from Maathai, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the award in 2007 for their environmental work.”
Regrets over picking Obama
Significantly, the former secretary of the Nobel committee has written that he regrets giving President Barack Obama the award in 2009.
In his memoir released in 2015, Geir Lundestad, revealed remorse over the decision to give President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
“… the committee didn't achieve what it had hoped for,” he wrote, according to the Associated Press. Furthermore, Lundestad wrote in his memoir, “Even many of Obama's supporters believed that the prize was a mistake.”
But Obama's award is just one of many controversies surrounding the prize. It has faced criticism over winners since the awards program was founded in 1901. The Nobel Peace Prize was developed at the bequest of the Swedish chemist, engineer and the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, who left much of his fortune for the establishment of the Nobel prizes.
Mr. Nobel ensured that the committee would be affected by politics when he stipulated in his will that the members of the Norwegian peace-prize-granting group be appointed by the country's parliament.
Today, the committee mirrors the political makeup of Norway's government, as the Christian Science Monitor has reported, with two people appointed by the Labor Party, two from the Conservative Party and one from the Progress Party. This has caused continuous debate about its independence.
A shadow over the prize
The New York Times, in an article by Shashank Bengali published on Oct. 8, 2021, reported that some of the Nobel committee's selections have created controversies that have cast a shadow over the award.
“In 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia was honored for his 'efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation,' especially his initiative to resolve a long-running border conflict with Eritrea.
Two years later, Abiy has faced condemnation from human rights groups for unleashing a brutal military offensive in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.
Other selections have also generated criticism. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the prize in 1973 for his efforts to negotiate an end to the war in Vietnam, despite his alleged involvement in the devastating US bombing campaign in Cambodia. Aung San Suu Kyi was given the award in 1991 for her opposition to military rule in Myanmar; two decades later, she is better known as the elected leader who defended the army's brutal offensive against Rohingya Muslims, and who was ousted in a coup earlier this year.
The controversies have dogged the committee, which according to Nobel rules cannot withdraw a prize once it is given. Some commentators have called for the committee, which is made up of five members appointed by Norway's Parliament, and often include retired politicians, to resign and for international experts to take their place.”
First Nobel for journalism
The award to Ressa will be similarly weighed and provoke some questioning.
Few journalists have been awarded the Nobel prize, unless you count Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre as journalists (which they were at some time in their lives).
There are certainly great figures also in the annals of journalism, writers and thinkers like Walter Lippman and George Orwell. But the Nobel never thought of singling out the profession for honor until now.
That the distinction should fall first on Ressa, who has hardly written anything sterling as proof of her journalism, is weird. Harvard, I think, had the right idea in creating the “Ig Nobel Awards” and presenting them every year like the Norwegian committee.
Better satire and parody than a solemn lecture on journalism by Ressa.