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How to win the Nobel Peace Prize: visit Norway

October 4, 2005

By Alister Doyle

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) – A tip for anyone aspiring to win
the Nobel Peace Prize — visit Norway.

In a curious mix of coincidence, luck and lobbying, many
laureates since the award was set up in 1901 have been to the
Nordic nation before the prize decision. The 2005 winner will
be announced on Friday from a field of 199 candidates.

“It may be that the members of the committee feel more
tempted when they have met someone, heard them talk and been
impressed,” said Stein Toennesson, head of the International
Peace Research Institute in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

“The committee sees the world from a Norwegian viewpoint,
but not to the extent that they try to realize Norwegian
national interests,” he said.

Since 1990 alone, about half the laureates have either
visited Norway, won another Norwegian prize beforehand or had
some other strong prior link to Norway, the home of what many
see as the world’s top accolade.

For 2005, several candidates have won favorable coverage in
the Norwegian media, including former Finnish President Martti
Ahtisaari, a bookmakers’ favorite for brokering a peace deal in
Indonesia between Aceh rebels and the government.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and former senator Sam Nunn are
also tipped for their work to dismantle Soviet-era nuclear
arms. A Norwegian newspaper commented earlier this year that
their work “ought to be worth a peace prize.”

Irish rock star Bono, also favored with fellow musician Bob
Geldof for campaigning against poverty, played a concert with
his band U2 in Oslo in August.

NRK public television recently showed Geldof meeting
Development Minister Hilde Frafjord Johnson in New York. She
even tried singing one of his old hits: “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

QUESTIONS ABOUT COMMITTEE

The success of past candidates with some link to Norway
raises questions about whether the secretive five-member
Norwegian committee has an Olympian detachment or whether its
world view is heavily colored by what happens at home —
raising risks of subtle lobbying.

A chance visit to Oslo seems to do wonders to bring a
little known candidate onto the committee’s radar. Blatant
lobbying often fails — supporters of one unidentified
candidate in 1991 in vain submitted 40 boxes crammed full of
petitions.

Among coincidental pre-prize visitors, Kenyan
environmentalist Wangari Maathai won last year after she had
been in Norway in mid-2004 to receive another prize.

Similarly, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003 two
years after she had been to Norway to collect a Norwegian human
rights award, the Rafto prize. Four Rafto winners have gone on
to win the Nobel Peace Prize since 1990.

“We have made some good choices,” Rafto prize jury chairman
Arne Liljedahl Lynngaard said. “We can sometimes be a test
balloon; the Nobel committee can see how our prize is accepted
by the media and by politicians worldwide,” he added.

Among non-Rafto winners, American Jody Williams and her
International Campaign to Ban Landmines won the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1997 — months after negotiating a U.N. treaty in
Oslo.

The head of the Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, denied
that the committee was unduly influenced by events in Norway.
The $1.3 million prize was set up by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish
philanthropist and the inventor of dynamite.

“We follow the will of Alfred Nobel,” Mjoes said, noting
that it was stipulated that the prize should go to those who
have done most for fraternity between nations, for abolishing
or reducing armies or for holding or promoting peace
congresses.

Backers say a Norwegian perspective may be part of the
award’s success. On the northern fringe of Europe, Norway’s
small 4.6 million population has a liberal outlook on world
affairs, uncluttered by big foreign policy interests.

Still, others say committee members sometimes lack
expertise. Members are appointed by parties in parliament to
six-year terms and are meant to be independent.

“It’s a problem. The members of the committee are
politicians, not experts on international affairs — they
naturally have a national outlook,” said Janne Haaland Matlary,
a professor of political science at Oslo University.

DOES LOBBYING PAY?

Irwin Abrams, a professor emeritus of Antioch University,
Ohio, and a leading world expert on the prize, said lobbying
and visits by hopefuls were nothing new. It was harder to say
whether they worked.

Norman Angell, a British peace campaigner who won the 1933
prize, would have been disqualified if the committee had
learned of his behind-the-scenes lobbying including drafting a
nomination for himself in defiance of the rules, he said.

By contrast, Father Dominique Pire, a little known Belgian
priest who won in 1958 for aiding refugees, gave a speech in
Oslo shortly before the prize. He impressed the committee and
probably tipped the balance in his favor, Abrams said.

But visits can backfire.

“If Mother Teresa (who won in 1979) had visited earlier and
given a speech against abortion, which so annoyed Oslo
feminists when she did get the prize, would she have been given
the prize?” he asked.

Lobbying has not always alienated the committee. Successful
campaigns were mounted for winners like Carl von Ossietzky, a
jailed anti-Nazi writer and pacifist who won the 1935 prize.




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