Norwegian protesters say EU Nobel Peace Prize win devalues award

More than 50 organizations plan to march in Oslo on Sunday to protest of the Nobel Committee's award of the 2012 Peace Prize to the EU at a time of debt crisis.

Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix Norway/AP/File
Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland announces the European Union as the recipients of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo two months ago. Many Norwegians are critical of the EU receiving the award, and a protest march is planned for the day before the award ceremony.

Since the decision this October to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, many have questioned its worthiness, given the current social and economic turmoil there. Among the critics who will be booing loudest at the award this coming week will be the Norwegians themselves – including some in government.

The Norwegian Peace Council, which oversees several Norwegian peace organizations, plans a protest march against the prize on Dec. 9, the day before European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, accept the medal and diploma in Oslo City Hall.

The protest “Nobel Peace Prize Initiative for 2012” will include not only the Norwegian organization "No to EU," but also members of Norway’s ruling Center and Socialist Left parties, the national trade union LO Oslo, and Save the Children Youth. More than 50 organizations plan to march from the central Oslo square at Youngstorget that evening, bearing torches and the banner “Not a Peace Prize For Our Time.” Among the international participants, three former Peace Prize laureates plan to attend along with Dimitris Kostelas of the Greek opposition party Syriza, who will give the closing speech in front of Parliament.

“We expect more than 1,000 people to march,” says Hedda Langemyr, the Norwegian Peace Council director. “[The EU] is not a worthy prize winner.”

Heming Olaussen, leader of No to EU, stresses the protest is not a protest against EU membership, even though 3 out of 4 Norwegians currently oppose joining. Rather, it marks the organization’s objection to the worthiness of the EU as a prize winner, citing the EU’s current armament profile, the social and economic unrest amidst the growing youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, its aggressive trade policy toward poor developing countries in Latin America, and efforts to prevent African refuges from coming into “rich Europe.”

“This is a provocation to the vast number of Norwegians,” Mr. Olaussen told a meeting of international journalists. “We got 500 new members in two days after the [Peace Prize] announcement.”

“I agree it would have been more logical at another point in time, but that does not preclude it from having it now,” replies Janós Herman, EU ambassador to Norway. He cited the EU’s record in gradually enlarging the “zone of peace,” the large amount of resources it has provided in humanitarian aid around the world, its fight against climate change, and peace-keeping operations among the reasons why the EU deserves the prize.

“We don’t think the economic crisis is the product of the EU,” he adds. “We don’t accept the copyright for that.”

Nobel controversies

The award to the EU is not the first time the prize has attracted controversy, nor the first that has set the Nobel Committee at odds with the Norwegian government, from which it is independent.

The Norwegian Peace Council also organized a protest march in 2009, when several thousand marched in Oslo against the Nobel Peace Prize award to US President Obama because of the US engagement in two military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Geir Lundestad, the Norwegian Nobel Committee secretary, one of the most notable peace prize dilemmas was in 1936, when German pacifist Carl Von Ossietzky's controversial nomination and win prompted Norwegian Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht to resign as leader of the Nobel Committee and Norwegian King Haakon to skip the prize ceremony on Mr. Koht's advice. Another case was the resignation of Christian Democrat Kåre Kristiansen from the Nobel Committee over the awarding of the 1994 prize to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres.

Political award?

This year’s award, however, poses a particular problem for the government Center Party, which helped sway Norwegians twice to vote down EU membership during the 1972 and 1994 referendums. The party’s key government ministers have signaled they would prioritize other appointments the day of the ceremony, although there is pressure now for them to show at Oslo City Hall to avoid the Peace Prize being seen as a political award.

Critics have pointed out how the Chinese government viewed the attendance of Norwegian officials at the 2010 award to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as political support for the decision, souring Sino-Norwegian relations. (Read more about which countries refused to attend the award ceremony last year)

Despite the protests and absentees, the EU will have many well-wishers that day, many of them high-profiled. Among the hundreds expected to fill the seats of Oslo City Hall will include at least 18 top leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Later that night, the European Movement in Norway will arrange the traditional torch-lit procession in honor of the laureates, who will wave from the balcony of the Grand Hotel. Christian Pollock Fjellstad, the European Movement political adviser, says it has ordered a thousand torches, but expects even more to attend.

Ambassador Herman will be among the well wishers that day. But he acknowledges that relations between Norway and the EU are mildly strained after the Norwegian government recently imposed a number of tolls against EU cheeses, such as Dutch Gouda. Herman contends that the protectionist measure goes against the intention of the EEA agreement to work toward market liberalization, and says the two sides are in dialogue in the hopes that the toll will be revoked.

“I won’t be saying cheese for the camera,” he quips.

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