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Monday, October 12, 2009


Dear (s) 

The Nobel Awards captured headlines everywhere and here is something which is not commonly seen on papers.  More so on the Nobel Peace Prize  which is  worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.4 million) and that  will be handed over in Oslo on Dec. 10.  Incidentally with so much clamouring, do you remember the winner last Year ?

 In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses." Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, he said the peace prize should be given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Sweden and Norway were united under the same crown at the time of Nobel's death. The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel's guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 89 times to 119 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2008 – 96 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations.  The list of organisational recipients include some who have received it more than once - the Red Cross  in 1917, 1944 and 1963,  the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  in 1954 and 1981;  that means 96 individuals and 20 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Of the 96 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 12 are women. The first  woman to win was Bertha von Suttner.

Though there cannot be any comparisons – when  Ramakrishnan Venkatraman, the Tamil Nadu-born Indian  won the Nobel Prize for chemistry becoming the  fourth in the list of Indian-born scientists (the first three being C V Raman, S Chandrasekhar, and Har Gobind Khorana) the first glimpse that hit the headlines was ‘TN-born American bags Nobel, with humility’ —  In portraying it, he said  “Don’t look at the Nobel Prize as the recognition of your excellence. Your work is more valuable; more profound” .   Perhaps words of a noble man discounting the value of the prize in constrast to many who flaunt their award at their compatriots compatriots and build an awesome brand for the Prize and for themselves.

That was slightly deviant from the topic - The nobel peace prize is no stranger to controversy.    In 2009, a record 205 nominations were received.  The Committee keeps the nominations secret and asks that nominators do the same. Over time many individuals have become known as "Nobel Peace Prize Nominees", but this designation has no official standing. Nominations from 1901 to 1955, however, have been released in a database.Though he never won, in 1939 the nomination for the peace prize was Adolf Hitler, nominated by a  member of the Swedish Parliament. Others include  Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.  But it should be seen in the light that  nomination requires only support from one qualified person, and hence  all nominations do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Nobel committee itself.  Obama has exalted admiring Gandhi and some of Gandhi’s professed followers – Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi had been conferred with the coveted award.  But not  Mohandas Karamchand.  The omission has been particularly widely discussed including public statements by various   members of the Nobel Committee. The Committee has confirmed that Gandhi was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, a few days before he was murdered in January 1948. The omission has  also been publicly regretted by later members of the Nobel Committee. In 1948, the year of Gandhi's death, the Nobel Committee declined to award a prize on the ground that "there was no suitable living candidate" that year.  When Dalai Lama was awarded the prize in 1989, the Chairman of the Committee had said that this was in part a tribute to the memory of Gandhi. One cannot but think that the Nobel committee in those days was influenced by imperialists in denying him the peace prize as he was a big threat to imperialism. Many believe that Winston Churchill was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he was actually awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature. In fact, Churchill was nominated both for the Literature and for the Nobel Peace Prize.

With this background, and going by the guiding principles, the Committee stunned observers with its choice especially with the citation for his work in Nuclear weapons elimination and international diplomacy.  The chairman of the Committee Thorbjorn Jagland said it had considered what Obama had done during the year - and that the prize was not for what Obama might do in the future, for instance in Afghanistan and Obama becomes the 90th winner of the award. It is a plain fact that Obama has only served nine months of his presidency, the deadline for nomination was Feb 1 and Obama was sworn in on Jan 20th.  

Speculation before the 2009 prize announcement had centred on Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, freed Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt as well as dissidents in China.  The first ever winners were Jan Henry Dunant of Switzerland  and Frederic Passy of France.  Dunant was the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Frederic was the founder and President of  French Peace Society. 

In a statesmanly manner, Obama has  responded to his selection stating “ I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations. To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace”

If you still remember the Q in the first para : The 2008 winner was  Martti Ahtisaari, born on June 23, 1937 in the city of Viipuri, then still part of Finland.  The former president of Finland was a UN special envoy at the Kosovo status process negotiations and awarded for his role in resolving international conflicts.

With regards

S Sampathkumar


  1. Read with interest, many were new facts to me. Could not digest that there could be politics in awards of such high stature also.


  2. Gandhi did not deserve a peace award but Yaseer Arafat got this.


  3. Kalaimamani awardla irunthu, international award varaikkum - ellathukkum - award kodupavangalai theriyanum pole. - Prakash

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