Nobel Peace Prize: Does winning make a difference?
Nobel Peace Prize: Does winning make a difference?
October 2, 2004 8:20pm
Associated Press WorldStream
OSLO, Norway_Each October, when the Nobel Peace Prize winner is announced, it can bring sudden fame to a campaigner for a hitherto obscure cause or greater dignity and respect to men or women already famous for their work.
The process will be repeated Friday when year's winner is picked from a record 194 nominees. Among the favorites are the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei; former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix; and U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and former Senator Sam Nunn, who backed a program to curb weapons of mass destruction.
The prize is often used to encourage efforts toward peace, human rights or democracy, and can be used to indirectly criticize governments _ in 2002, peace prize committee member Gunnar Berge said the prize to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter should "be interpreted as a criticism" of the Bush administration's move to invade Iraq.
But in the end, does the decision by five little-known Norwegians make any difference?
"That's the great question," said Irwin Abrams, one of the world's leading experts on the prize. He said sometimes the impact is clear, other times it's harder to see.
Many of past 15 Nobel Peace Prizes _ created by Alfred Nobel, the Swede who invented dynamite, and first awarded in 1901 _ seem to have honored peace efforts that then foundered, with few clear successes.
"It's not a magic wand that creates peace," said Geir Lundestad, the non-voting secretary of the awards committee. "It's a loudspeaker and microphone for the laureates, especially those who are lesser known. It's a door opener."
The peace processes in the Middle East, honored in 1994, and Northern Ireland, in 1998, are in tatters. Fifteen years after his 1989 prize, Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama remains in exile. Guatemalan Indian Rigoberta Menchu, honored in 1992, largely faded from sight following allegations of inaccuracy in the autobiography that helped garner the prize.
But ex-President Carter said the prize was very important.
"The Nobel Peace Prize was very helpful to me personally and to The Carter Center and it's humanitarian projects in many nations around the world," Carter told the AP by e-mail. "Most of our work is among the poorest, most neglected, and needy people in about 65 nations, and had received very little public attention. The prize brought much-needed recognition."
Lundestad, the committee secretary, said examples of successful recent efforts were in East Timor and South Africa.
In 1996, the prize went to East Timor independence and democracy activities Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo Jose Ramos-Horta. East Timor did gain independence from Indonesia in 1999.
"The East Timor people give us credit for their independence. Maybe too much credit," said Lundestad. "Ramos-Hotra told me that no one (in foreign governments) would even see them before the prize. He said he was sleeping in railroad stations because they had no money. After the prize, they got in anywhere."
The Dalai Lama also has said that prize made it possible for him to meet top world leaders to argue for Tibet's freedom from China.
Along with fame comes wealth, too, since the prize includes a 10 million kronor (?1.1 million, US$1.3 million) cash award.
The committee, appointed by Norway's parliament, seldom gives up in highlighting a cause. It sometimes takes several Nobels before seeing any change, such as the 24-year push for an end to South Africa's apartheid regime.
African National Congress President John Lutuli's 1960 prize followed by the 1984 prize to black South Africa Bishop Desmond Tutu, and finally, by the 1994 prize to ANC leader Nelson Mandela and then-South African President F.W de Klerk at a time when their efforts to end apartheid risked turning into a bloodbath.
"South Africa was a good outcome," said Lundestad. "But we can't say it was because of the peace prize because it was just one of many factors."
For the committee, two of the most heartbreaking and controversial prizes are been for the Middle East.
The 1978 prize honored peace efforts by Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Three years later, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists, in part because of the peace with Israel. And in 1982, Begin ordered an invasion of Lebanon; an estimated 16,000 people died in the invasion and subsequent Israeli occupation.
Then in 1994, Israelis Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres shared the prize with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over a peace accord secretly negotiated in Oslo. Rabin was murdered by an Israeli extremist in 1995, and thousand have died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since peace efforts collapsed in 2000.
Not the prize does not have effects even when the cause it honors does not move forward. Democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 laureate, remains under house arrest in Myanmar, also called Burma, but the prize may have prevented the military regime from simply eliminating a troublesome opponent.
"Sure, you could just say 'OK, she's still under house arrest' ... but it put the strong spotlight on Burma," said Dan Smith, a London-based peace researcher and activist.
The Northern Ireland peace process, which the committee sought to nurture with the 1998 prize to the Catholic leader John Hume and Protestant David Trimble, is in deep trouble. But Abrams, the peace prize expert, pointed to an earlier prize to Irish peace actvisits to stress that lack of immediate success does not have to mean the prize does no good.
"In 1977, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan (Maguire) received the prize for their effort to bring together the Protestants and Catholics, but this failed," he said. "The prize made a difference for these prize winners, and elsewhere through them, but it did not bring peace to Northern Ireland."
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