Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Nobel committee wasted an opportunity in its Peace Prize

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
U.S. economist Lloyd Shapley smiles outside his home in Los Angeles after being notified that he won the 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics on Monday, October 15. He and Alvin Roth share the award for their work in market design and matching theory. U.S. economist Lloyd Shapley smiles outside his home in Los Angeles after being notified that he won the 2012 Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics on Monday, October 15. He and Alvin Roth share the award for their work in market design and matching theory.
HIDE CAPTION
Economics, Lloyd Shapley
Economics, Alvin Roth
Peace, European Union
Literature, Mo Yan
Chemistry, Robert Lefkowitz
Chemistry, Brian Kobilka
Physics, Serge Haroche
Physics, David Wineland
Medicine, Shinya Yamanaka
Biology, John Gurdon
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the European Union
  • Frida Ghitis: What a sadly missed opportunity
  • She says the committee passed on chance to put global spotlight on person or cause
  • Ghitis: Peace Prize can make a difference; this time it was supremely uninspired

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- So many tyrants to resist, so many heroes to support, but the Nobel Committee decided to ignore all of that and grant the Nobel Peace Prize this year to a large bureaucratic political alliance, the European Union.

The committee passed up a chance to give a tangible boost to and put the valuable global spotlight on an individual, a cause or an organization that could really benefit from the award. What a sadly missed opportunity.

Peace Prize is a slap on the back for a struggling European Union

Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban for advocating girls' right to an education, is precisely the kind of person who should have inspired those making the selection. There's only one Malala, but there are countless people around the world doing heroic work every day, many risking their lives to end tyranny, hunger and illiteracy.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

I have nothing against the EU. It has accomplished important things, and the Norwegians who award the Peace Prize surely wanted to give it recognition during a time of economic turmoil and political tension in Europe.

Still, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wasted the moment.

Barroso: EU's Nobel Prize win well timed
EU President: 'We are deeply touched'

We are living through a time when competing forces are fighting for radically different visions of the future. Activists for democracy, for women's rights, for religious tolerance have faced off against state security forces, religious extremists and brutal misogynists. Zealous prosecutors, loyal to authoritarian regimes, have imprisoned artists, executed homosexuals and tortured democracy activists.

Those permitted to nominate candidates gave the panel ideas, a dazzling collection of extraordinary organizations and individuals.

The list will remain secret for half a century, but that didn't keep people from speculating about who might win.

The favorites included Sima Samar, a doctor and human rights activist who served as Afghanistan's women's affairs minister until she was forced out with death threats for challenging laws that oppress women. There's Maggie Gobran, a Coptic nun in Egypt whose Stephen's Children charity helps Christian children living in Cairo's slums.

In Nigeria, where clashes between Christians and Muslims have left hundreds dead and threaten to tear up the country, Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar are fighting for reconciliation. In Cuba, blogger Yoani Sanchez struggles for democratic reform in and out of jail, as do other dissidents languish in prison.

In Russia, where journalists who criticize the government turn up dead much too frequently, the number of courageous writers and artists standing up for reform includes many courageous figures.

The list goes on and on. And, in case anyone doubts just what a difference the Nobel Peace Prize can make, consider some of the inspired choices the Norwegian panel has made.

The military junta ruling Burma, which renamed the country Myanmar, had locked up pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party, the National League for Democracy, won the 1990 election. When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, her cause -- the plight of the Burmese people -- became the world's struggle. She was not allowed to travel to Oslo for the awards ceremony. But the Burmese people discovered that they were not alone. After many years, including more than a decade of house arrest, she was set free in 2010. She traveled to Oslo to receive the prize in person, and now it looks as though Burma stands at the threshold of freedom.

The Peace Prize of 1975 drew attention to the work of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the physicist who became, in the committee's words, "a spokesman for the conscience of mankind." He spent years in exile in Siberia, but his work helped forge the nuclear test ban and international cooperation. The award became a megaphone for his ideals.

In the past, the Nobel committee has proved daring and controversial. This time, it was supremely uninspired.

Nonviolent figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and Poland's Lech Walesa became household names because they received the prize. Their protest techniques became subjects of academic study and practical guidance around the globe. Their selection inspired last year's winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, author of "No Enemies, No Hatred," another of several Nobel winners who could not attend the awards ceremony because their governments put them in prison or banned them from traveling.

The Nobel spotlight can bring donations and needed publicity to a cause. The push for a landmines ban started making headlines after Jody Williams and her Campaign to Ban Landmines won in 1997.

True, the committee's choice always upsets some people. But it's more frequently because of boldness than blandness.

Naturally, the choice can be politically charged. After Barack Obama won in 2009, with just a few months in office, it left many scratching their heads. When told of the announcement, Walesa said, "Who, Obama? ... He hasn't had the time to do anything yet."

Obama went on to stun his hosts when he received the award. His Nobel lecture turned out to be a brilliant exposition of when war becomes a requirement for peace. It was not exactly what they expected from a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The decision reflected the committee's hopes more than Obama's achievements. The panel wanted Obama to become the president of peace. He accepted the award, but it turned out he was not a pacifist.

The choice for this year also reflects aspirational views. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, selected by Norway's parliament and made up mostly of politicians, is telling the world, specifically Europeans, that they should do whatever it takes to save the European Union. It is asking them to remember that Europe, the continent that in the 20th century perpetrated the worst wars the world has seen, has managed to stay mostly at peace for almost 70 years. The committee gives the credit to the EU. It was a retrospective award, a historical analysis.

What the committee should have done was use this chance to take sides and to speak in a way that makes a difference in favor of freedom, equality and tolerance.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT