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Nobel Peace Prize: Could a Russian win this year?

Several Russian contenders are among the favorites for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, to be awarded Friday. But a Russian winner could make for sour relations between Norway and Russia.

By Correspondent / October 9, 2012


Two years ago, the Nobel Peace Prize soured relations between Norway and China after the Norwegian Nobel Committee named a Chinese dissident the 2010 winner. And Norway could be set for a similar diplomatic tiff – this time with Russia – when the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on Friday.

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Memorial, the Russian organization focusing on human rights, democracy, and reconciliation through historical documentation, is a top contender according to Kristian Berg Harpviken, director at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, and Norwegian Nobel historian Asle Sveen.

Memorial is also the sixth top pick according to online betting site Paddy Power, whose odds are often a gauge to the prize's frontrunners.

Mr. Harpviken says the prize could be shared with Memorial founding member Svetlana Gannushkina, whereas Mr. Sveen suggests it may also go to Belarus dissident Ales Bialiatski, who is currently in prison, and Russian human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexejeva.

Stirring a backlash?

A Russian prize could lead to a political backlash similar to the uproar after the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2010 gave the prize to imprisoned Chinese human rights dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Chinese officials rebuked Norway for challenging its justice system and retaliated with political snubs, most visibly through delays in bilateral free trade talks and canceled high-level meetings. There also were concerns that China’s new fish regulations were imposed to damper Norwegian seafood exports to China, which fell dramatically after the award.

A Russian winner could have similar results. “This will provoke the [Russian] government,” says Sveen. “Suddenly there will be something wrong with the fish.”

Russia is Norway’s second largest seafood market at 5 billion kr ($873 million), mostly trout, salmon, and herring exports. But Harpviken does not believe a Russian reaction would be as severe as the Chinese, both because of the “different political cultures” and the fact that “Russia has more to lose than the Chinese.” However, it could provoke an “even harder clampdown” on civil society.

Their Russian and Belarus picks have been officially nominated as candidates by members of the Norwegian Parliament, another signal that speaks in their favor because of the historical precedence in candidates having a “Norwegian connection,” either in the nomination process or a link to Norway, says Sveen.

It would also be a topical choice. The recent Belarus and Russian elections were both criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for voting irregularities, and three members of Russian punk-rock girl band Pussy Riot were imprisoned following their protest performance this year.

Still, an award critical of Russia’s human rights record could irk the Russians, particularly given Thorbjørn Jagland’s dual role as chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and secretary general of the Council of Europe, of which Russia is a member. Critics have pointed to Mr. Jagland’s positions as a possible hindrance in the committee giving the award to Russian civil society activists. But Harpviken disagrees.


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