By Marc Preel, with Pierre-Henry Deshayes in Oslo
This week the world will celebrate peace and mankind’s do-gooders when the winners of the Nobel prizes are revealed in a string of daily announcements—as war rages in Ukraine.
Not since World War II has a conflict been waged between two countries so close to Stockholm and Oslo, where the prestigious awards for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace have been announced since 1901, and the newer Economics Prize since 1969.
The highlight of the week’s announcements, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was scheduled to be revealed on October 7 in Oslo and would hold special significance this year, experts say.
“Most likely is a prize in support of some of those institutions that collect information on war crimes,” Swedish professor Peter Wallensteen, an expert on international affairs, told AFP.
That could bode well for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or the sleuths at Netherlands-based investigative journalism group Bellingcat.
The deadline for Peace Prize nominations was on January 31, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee can propose their own choices at their first meeting of the year, held at the end of February after the invasion.
The list of nominations is secret, but it is known that the names of 343 individuals or organizations have been submitted this year.
“Some people think that not handing out a prize at all would be the strongest statement on the state of global affairs”, Wallensteen said.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee could decide to not award the Peace Prize if it deems there is no worthy recipient. The last time that happened was 50 years ago.
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny would also be an anti-Putin choice, as would Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Last year, another thorn in Putin’s side, journalist Dmitry Muratov, was honored together with his Philippine colleague Maria Ressa in the name of freedom of information.
Other possible contenders this year, experts say, are anti-corruption group Transparency International and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, with other environmental activists such as Nisreen Elsaim of Sudan, Chibeze Ezekiel of Ghana and tireless British campaigner David Attenborough also potentially in the running.
While the world is currently facing a “security crisis” in both Ukraine and Taiwan, it may nonetheless “be time for the committee to turn towards the environmental crisis”, suggested Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Typically less political is the Literature Prize—but could this year’s laureate also carry an anti-Kremlin message?
Russian author and outspoken Putin critic Lyudmila Ulitskaya, cited as a possible winner in recent years, could get the nod given the current political context, literary critics interviewed by AFP said.
American writer Joan Didion, British author Hilary Mantel and Spain’s Javier Marias have all previously been mentioned as possible winners but they all died over the past year and they won’t succeed last year’s laureate, Tanzania’s Abdulrazak Gurnah.
The Swedish Academy, which selects the literature winner, has often chosen to put the spotlight on little-known authors.
After two successive awards in this vein—in 2020 it went to US poet Louise Gluck—it remains to be seen whether it will choose a more mainstream writer this year.
US novelist Joyce Carol Oates, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, as well as Michel Houellebecq and Annie Ernaux of France are popular authors often mentioned as possible winners.
“It’s harder than ever to guess given last year’s laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah… No one in the entire world except the Academy’s members had thought of him”, Jonas Thente, literary critic for Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, told AFP.
He and others said possible winners could include Hungary’s Laszlo Krasznahorkai, US writers Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo, and Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse.
The Nobel season has opened with the announcement on Monday of the Medicine Prize, followed by Physics on Tuesday and Chemistry on Wednesday.
Literature follows on Thursday and Peace on Friday, with the Economics Prize — the only one not created in Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel’s will—winding up the season on October 10.
Breast cancer treatments, advances in prenatal biopsies and mRNA vaccines are seen as possible fields in contention for the Medicine Prize.
Revolutionary uses for light in the field of physics and the pioneers of “bioorthogonal” chemistry—which focuses on reactions in a living system that do not upset its biochemistry—are seen as potential winners in those disciplines.
Each prize comes with a cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor ($878,000), to be shared if there are several laureates in a discipline.