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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

the Norwegian explorer who invented Nansen Passport ~ Nobel laureate

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 98 times to 131 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2017, 104 individuals and 27 organizations. Since the International Committee of the Red Cross has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three times (in 1917, 1944 and 1963), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two times (in 1954 and 1981), there are 24 individual organizations which have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  

There are many interesting individuals one of whom is featured in Google Doodle of the day on what would have been his 156th birthday ~ I am not for celebrating birthdays of those who have passed away, yet, there are always interesting things to be known about achievers, whom in our context sadly is more tinted to be of tinseldom, politics  and Cricket !  ~ this post is on a legendary adventurer who explored the world’s unknown terrain and broke new ground as an international humanitarian, besides being a Scientist

He passed his university entrance examination, the examen atrium in 1880;  decided to study zoology, claiming later that he chose the subject because he thought it offered the chance of a life in the open air. He began his studies at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania early in 1881.   The idea of an expedition across the Greenland icecap grew in his mind throughout his Bergen years. In 1887, after the submission of his doctoral thesis, he finally began organising this project. Before then, the two most significant penetrations of the Greenland interior had been those of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld in 1883, and Robert Peary in 1886. Both had set out from Disko Bay on the western coast, and had travelled about 160 kilometres (100 mi) eastward before turning back.  By contrast, this man  proposed to travel from east to west, ending rather than beginning his trek at Disko Bay.  On 3 June 1888 his party was picked up from the north-western Icelandic port of Ísafjörður.  A week later the Greenland coast was sighted, but progress was hindered by thick pack ice. The expedition left Jason "in good spirits and with the highest hopes of a fortunate result", according to Jason's captain. There followed days of extreme frustration for the party as, prevented by weather and sea conditions from reaching the shore, they drifted southwards with the ice.

Fridtjof Nansen (October 10, 1861-May 13, 1930) was born at Store Frøen, near Oslo. His father, a prosperous lawyer, was a religious man with a clear conception of personal duty and moral principle; his mother was a strongminded, athletic woman who introduced her children to outdoor life and encouraged them to develop physical skills. And Nansen's athletic prowess was to prove of the utmost importance to his career. He became expert in skating, tumbling, and swimming, but it was his expertise in skiing that was to play such a large role in his life.

In school Nansen excelled in the sciences and in drawing and, upon entering the University of Oslo in 1881, decided to major in zoology. Obtaining the post of zoological curator at the Bergen Museum later, Nansen spent the next six years in intensive scientific study. For a long time Nansen had been evolving a plan to cross Greenland, whose interior had never been explored. He decided to cross from the uninhabited east to the inhabited west; in other words, once his party was put ashore, there could be no retreat. The party of six survived temperatures of -45° C, climbed to 9,000 feet above sea level, mastered dangerous ice, exhaustion, and privation to emerge on the west coast early in October of 1888 after a trip of about two months, bringing with them important information about the interior.

In the next four years, Nansen served as curator of the Zootomical Institute at the University of Oslo, published several articles, two books, The First Crossing of Greenland (1890) and Eskimo Life (1891), and planned a scientific and exploratory foray into the Arctic.  The voyage was a high adventure but it was also a scientific expedition. Nansen interrupted his research in 1905 to urge the independence of Norway from Sweden and, after the dissolution of the Union, served as his country's minister to Great Britain until May of 1908. In the next few years he led several oceanographic expeditions into polar regions, but once the world was plunged into war in 1914 and exploration was halted, he became increasingly interested in international political affairs.

For almost a year in 1917-1918, as the head of a Norwegian delegation in Washington, D. C., Nansen negotiated an agreement for a relaxation of the Allied blockade to permit shipments of essential food. In 1919, he became president of the Norwegian Union for the League of Nations and at the Peace Conference in Paris was an influential lobbyist for the adoption of the League Covenant and for recognition of the rights of small nations. From 1920 until his death he was a delegate to the League from Norway.
In the spring of 1920, the League of Nations asked Nansen to undertake the task of repatriating the prisoners of war, many of them held in Russia. Moving with his customary boldness and ingenuity, and despite restricted funds, Nansen repatriated 450,000 prisoners in the next year and a half. In June, 1921, the Council of the League, spurred by the International Red Cross and other organizations, instituted its High Commission for Refugees and asked Nansen to administer it. For the stateless refugees under his care Nansen invented the «Nansen Passport», a document of identification which was eventually recognized by fifty-two governments.

In 1922 at the request of the Greek government and with the approval of the League of Nations, Nansen tried to solve the problem of the Greek refugees who poured into their native land from their homes in Asia Minor after the Greek army had been defeated by the Turks. Nansen arranged an exchange of about 1,250,000 Greeks living on Turkish soil for about 500,000 Turks living in Greece, with appropriate indemnification and provisions for giving them the opportunity for a new start in life.  Nansen's fifth great humanitarian effort, at the invitation of the League in 1925, was to save the remnants of the Armenian people from extinction.

Nansen died on May 13, 1930, In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the "Nansen passport" for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
10th Oct 2017.

Pic credit : regions.

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