Peace committee 'ignoring Nobel's wishes'

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Fredrik Heffermehl and his book, The Nobel Peace Prize - The Vision that Vanished (Photo: Leopard Förlag).
10:27 CEST+02:00
On the eve of the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, The Local catches up with Norwegian lawyer and Nobel historian Fredrik S. Heffermehl, who claims the Norwegian Nobel Committee isn't following Alfred Nobel's wishes.

For years, Heffermehl has been writing books and penning opinion pieces in the Norwegian media arguing that the country's Nobel Committee, in charge of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize each year, is failing to follow the last will and testament of the Swedish industrialist whose fortune served as the basis for the prize.

Nobel's will states that the prize should be given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

But in awarding the prize to politicians such as Barack Obama, Henry Kissinger or even Al Gore, whose work is with the environment and not peace and disarmament, the committee has failed to adhere to the will of the deceased benefactor, Heffermehl argues.

In the run up to this year’s peace prize announcement, set to take place on Friday in Oslo, The Local checked in with Heffermehl to hear his thoughts on the problem.

The Local: What is wrong with the current selection process for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Fredrik Heffermehl: In the beginning, the Norwegian politicians, whose job it is to select the Nobel Committee, were eager to find the right peace-minded individuals working for a global peace order, which is what Nobel wanted to support.

But sometime after 1948, in the wake of the Second World War, this eagerness dissipated. Today, the Committee is very different and I would say consists of Norwegian politicians who accept a world system of competing military forces, the direct opposite of the core purpose of Nobel's Peace Prize: to support a new system and efforts for global cooperation on demilitarization of international affairs – the global peace order that Nobel described in his will.

I have been saying for more than five years in books and articles that Nobel’s will and purpose must be respected. But the Nobel Committee does not want to enter into this discussion.

TL: Why is that, do you think?

FH: The military sector in Norway was and is a strong sector and the reality today is that a majority of politicians favouring a strong military defence are in control of a prize which was initially meant for their opponents.

TL: What happens now?

FH: Well, they can’t ignore Nobel forever. In fact it has been the shock of my life to see such blatant disrespect of someone’s last will and testament. I have had support from some very high-ranking people in Norway, but this is in private; no one dares to come out and say it in public. It says something about the political climate that no one wants to stick their neck out.

TL: What has the Stockholm County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen) – tasked with ensuring that foundations created by wills such as Nobel's follow their statutes – done?

FH: They were also reluctant to stick their neck out. It took four years to get them to act. I knew that they would have to agree with my point. It is elementary really. The whole purpose of a testament is that the testator’s will has to be followed and cannot be changed after his death. The authority would have to confirm my view. I put pressure on them but they tried to evade the question for years.

It even had to be taken to the administrative court, but I am very happy with the outcome. A decision was passed that confirmed entirely that the prizes must comply with the purpose described by the testator.

But the authority was very diplomatic, its decision did not criticize anything that has happened in the past, it only gave directions for the future.

TL: What needs to be done about it, in your opinion?

FH: There really has never been a proper discussion. They are reluctant to answer these questions because if they enter into the discussion they will be forced to select members for the committee who are actually in favour of a global peace order – as Nobel was.

After the Swedish decision the Norwegian politicians must reconsider the situation and determine what the purpose of the prize really is and whether they are qualified and willing to continue selecting the five-member Nobel Committees.

They must ask themselves the following questions: "Should we, can we still have this role?"; "How have the committees fulfilled the mandate in the past?"; and "Is it possible for Norway's Parliament to be loyal to Nobel and can official Norway continue to select the trustees of a private Swedish foundation in the future – to implement a peace vision that Parliament is directly opposed to?"

TL: So, who do you think will win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize?

FH: To be honest, I feel less interested every year – the prizes have less and less to do with Nobel. The politicians are using Nobel’s name to promote their own ideas, they do not understand that Nobel saw the costly and dangerous threat to human survival that would develop if the world failed to curb militarism. His desire for a global peace order is a much more urgent, mandatory need today than when he wrote his will.

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