Nobel season arrives amid war, nuclear fears and hunger

This year’s Nobel season is approaching as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered decades of almost unbroken peace in Europe and heightened the risks of a nuclear disaster.

Secret Nobel committees never hint at who will win the prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economics, or peace. Everyone guesses who could win the prizes announced from Monday.

Yet there is no shortage of pressing causes that deserve the attention that comes with winning the world’s most prestigious award: wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia, disruptions in energy and food supplies, rising inequality, the climate crisis, the continued fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Science awards recognize complex achievements beyond most comprehension. But recipients of the Peace and Literature Prizes are often known to a global audience, and the choices — or perceived omissions — have sometimes drawn emotional reactions.

Members of the European Parliament have called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to be recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize committee this year for their resistance to the Russian invasion.

While the desire is understandable, the choice is unlikely because the Nobel committee has a history of honoring people who end conflicts, not wartime leaders, said Dan Smith, director of the Institute. Stockholm International Peace Research Center.

Smith thinks the most likely peace prize nominees would be groups or individuals fighting climate change or the International Atomic Energy Agency, a past recipient.

Honoring the IAEA again would recognize its efforts to prevent a radioactive disaster at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at the heart of the fighting in Ukraine, and its work in the fight against nuclear proliferation, Smith said.

“It’s a really difficult time in the history of the world and there’s not a lot of peace going on,” he said.

Promoting peace is not always rewarded with a Nobel Prize. The Indian Mohandas Gandhi, an eminent symbol of non-violence in the 20th century, has never been so honoured.

But former President Barack Obama was in 2009, drawing criticism from those who said he hadn’t been president long enough to make a Nobel-worthy impact.

In some cases, laureates have not practiced the values ​​enshrined in the Peace Prize.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. A year later, a largely ethnic conflict erupted in the Tigray region. Some accuse Abiy of stoking tensions, which have culminated in widespread atrocities. Critics have called for his Nobel Prize to be revoked.

Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi won the peace prize in 1991 while under house arrest for her opposition to military rule. Decades later, she was seen as having failed in her leadership role to end the army’s atrocities against the country’s predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority.

The Nobel committee has sometimes not awarded a peace prize at all. It discontinued them during World War I except to honor the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1917. It did not distribute any from 1939 to 1943 due to World War II. In 1948, the year of Gandhi’s death, the Norwegian Nobel Committee did not award any prizes, citing the lack of a suitable living candidate.

Nor does the price of peace always confer protection.

Last year, journalists Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia were honored “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian governments.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin cracked down on independent media even further, including Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most renowned independent newspaper. Muratov himself was attacked on a Russian train by an assailant who poured red paint on him, injuring his eyes.

The Philippine government this year ordered the closure of Ressa’s news agency, Rappler.

The literature prize, meanwhile, has been notoriously unpredictable.

Few had bet on last year’s winner, Zanzibar-born British writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose books explore the personal and societal impacts of colonialism and migration.

Gurnah was only the sixth African-born Nobel laureate in literature, and the prize has long been criticized for being too focused on European and North American writers. It is also dominated by men, with only 16 women among its 118 winners.

The list of possible winners includes literary giants from around the world: Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Japanese Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Jon Fosse, Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid and French Annie Ernaux.

A clear candidate is Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born writer and free speech advocate who spent years in hiding after Iranian clerical leaders called for his death over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. . Rushdie, 75, was stabbed and seriously injured at a festival in New York State on August 12.

Gurnah’s 2021 and American Poet Louise Glück’s 2020 awards have helped the literature prize emerge from years of controversy and scandal.

In 2018, the prize was postponed after allegations of sexual abuse rocked the Swedish Academy, which appoints the Nobel literature committee, and sparked an exodus of members. The academy has reorganized but faced more criticism for awarding the 2019 literature prize to Austrian Peter Handke, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes.

Some scientists hope the physiology or medicine prize will honor colleagues who were instrumental in developing the mRNA technology that went into COVID-19 vaccines, which saved millions of lives across the world. world.

“When we think of Nobel Prizes, we think of paradigm shifting things, and in a way I see mRNA vaccines and their success with COVID-19 as a turning point for us,” said Deborah Fuller, professor of microbiology at the University. from Washington.

This year’s Nobel Prize announcements begin on Monday with the prize in physiology or medicine, followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and likely, although the date has not been confirmed, literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 7 and the Economics Prize on October 10.

The prizes feature a cash reward of 10 million Swedish krona ($880,000) and will be presented on December 10.


Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jill Lawless in London and Laura Ungar in Louisville, Kentucky contributed.

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