Three years after awarding the world's most recognized international peace prize to Barack Obama, the sitting president of the United States--who at the time was commanding the operations of two foreign wars and overseeing the largest military and intelligence apparatus in the history of the world--the Nobel Committee's announcement in Oslo on Friday that it was awarding the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was met with befuddlement by many.
Thorbjorn Jagland, head of the Nobel committee, cited the EU's role in stabilizing Europe following the Second World War and its role as a "unifying" force over decades. Though he acknowledged the economic turmoil sweeping the continent in recent years, Jagland said the committee wished to "focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilising part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace."
The Norway Peace Committee, however, took grave issue with the decision and went so far as to call on Jagland to resign for supporting and defending the award. The NPC said a statement :
Granting the EU the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 indicates its highly political dimension, awarding it to a project that for the past year has proven to represent the opposite of peace. The EU suffers from an extensive democratic deficit, with violations of human rights along increasing social inequality. Awarding the prize to the EU illustrates how the Norwegian Nobel Committee repeatedly appoints recipients that are irrelevant and who only serves to consolidate an already well-established societal power structure.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision does not comply with Alfred Nobel's mission statement, which sets out to reward peace activists' efforts throughout the preceding year. To the contrary, the award promotes the Norwegian Nobel Committee's own interests and political visions. This shows that Thorbjorn Jagland's earlier assurance that Alfred Nobel's will shall be respected is mere rhetoric.
The Norwegian Peace Council regards the bestowment of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 to the EU as a further confirmation of how the composition of the Norwegian Nobel Committee is overly political. We demand that the Norwegian Parliament considers the appointment of a new committee that includes competent peace activists and peace researchers with a much greater focus on international peace issues. The Norwegian Peace Council argues that the head of the Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, should resign.
Tariq Ali, political commentator and editor at the New Left Review in Europe, told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman that his initial response was to burst to "burst out laughing."
"The Nobel Committee never fails to amuse and dissapoint," he said.
Petros Constantinou, a municipal councilor in Greece who runs a prominent anti-racism group in Athens, in an interview with The Guardian 's Helena Smith called the decision "ridiculous and provocative."
"To give the prize to an institution of war and racism is ridiculous," he said. "It provokes democratic and anti-racist sentiment. With its partner NATO, the EU has invaded countries in the Middle East, not to mention Afghanistan. Its actions have created huge streams of refugees which then flood into countries like Greece and when they get here they not only encounter racism but hostile EU [border] agencies like Frontex."
To gain reaction from those who may have found the Nobel decision perplexing given the outsized and contentious role the EU has played in forcing devastating economic policies on struggling member nations, The New York Times also went to the Greek street for perspective:
"I think it's unfair," said Stavros Polychronopoulos, 60, a retired lawyer, as he stood on Friday in central Syntagma Square, where residue from tear gas fired by the police during demonstrations on Tuesday to protest a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, still clung to the sidewalks.
"The leader of the E.U. is Germany, which is in an economic war with southern Europe," Mr. Polychronopoulos said. "I consider this war equal to a real war. They don't help peace."
Three years of austerity imposed by Greece's foreign lenders in exchange for rescue funding have seen Greece's overall economy shrink by 25 percent. Unemployment is now at 25 percent, rising to 50 percent for young people.
"Is this a joke?" asked Chrisoula Panagiotidi, 36, a Greek beautician who lost her job three days ago in an interview with Reuters . "It's the last thing I would expect. It mocks us and what we are going through right now. All it will do is infuriate people here."
And Francisco Gonzalez, also via Reuters , expressed bafflement. "I don't see the logic in the EU getting this prize right now. They can't even agree among themselves," the 62-year-old businessman said.
A piece in Germany's Deutsche Welle , Critics Warn of Watering Down Nobel Peace Prize , explores the question of whether or not the Nobel committee has lost its way or betrayed the original intent of the prize:
Nobel Peace Prize laureates have included statesmen, international organisations, peace movements and human rights advocates. And now the EU. Critics say the prize often fails to adhere to Nobel's original intentions.
Henry Kissinger and the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Willy Brandt and Mother Teresa are Nobel Peace laureates. So are Mohamed elBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency, Al Gore and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Others may deserve the prestigious international award but were never chosen. Quite a few awards, such as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for US president Barack Obama, have been the subject of intense controversy. This year's decision to award the prize to the European Union is regarded by some as equally questionable.
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