And the Nobel Goes to…

FP handicaps the Peace Prize shortlist, and betting on Bono isn't a bad idea.

For long-suffering activists, diplomatic high priests, and hopeful peaceniks, this Friday is the Super Bowl of cease-fire, the Grammys of getting along, and the Oscars of understanding — all wrapped up in one. Yes, it’s Nobel season in Norway.

Last year’s laurel (and a cool $1.4 million) controversially went to U.S. President Barack Obama for his idealism and efforts to re-engage the international community — and partly because he wasn’t George W. Bush. But though his acceptance speech was a masterpiece, his efforts over the past 12 months haven’t quite lived up to the hype: War is still raging in Afghanistan, Gitmo’s still open for business, and peace between Israel and Palestine seems a distant dream.

So who’s on the docket for this year’s gong? A record 237 groups and individuals were nominated for the 2010 award. FP has helped whittle down the list, so you can finally win that office pool. (A little hint: don’t put your money on underdog Tony Blair. Given his current popularity and the tumult of the Iraq Inquiry, the 100-1 odds he’s getting right now are probably optimistic.)

From worst to first, here’s FP‘s shortlist, with the latest odds from Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

Bill Clinton

For: Being the world’s leading ex-president

Odds: 25-1

Coming in as the dark horse, a win for Clinton would not be as unlikely as it may seem considering the body of work he has overseen since leaving office in 2001. His foundation has become world-renowned for its efforts on HIV/AIDS, climate change, sustainable development, and public health. He has tirelessly raised funds for the 2004 Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina,  and Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake relief efforts. And the Clinton Global Initiative conference has become an annual who’s who of the world’s do-gooders. That said, it’s probably not his year: An award to Clinton the year after Obama took home the prize isn’t in keeping with the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s penchant for spreading the wealth. He could probably use the money, though: Chelsea’s wedding cost a bundle.

Sima Samar

For: Upholding the rights of Afghan women

Odds: 18-1

A women’s rights activist and favorite of veteran Nobel-watcher Kristian Berg Harpviken to win the prize this year, Samar has become noteworthy for her chairing of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and as the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Sudan. A 2004 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award recipient and the former Afghan minister of women’s affairs, Samar has been heavily involved in the rebuilding of her country in the face of widespread opposition — and death threats — from religious conservatives for her questioning of conservative dogma and support for women’s rights. A win for Samar would make her the first Afghan to take home the prize.

Svetlana Gannushkina, Memorial Human Rights Center

For: Campaigning for human rights in Putin’s Russia

Odds: 16-1

Little known outside Russia, Gannushkina has certainly not gone unnoticed by the Kremlin. She had championed the cause of human rights, particularly for refugees and internally displaced people across Russia and its neighboring states. The mathematician by training has worked to support rights for a wide variety of migrants, including foreign workers in Russia, Chechen civilians, and North Korean loggers in far eastern Russia — none of whom are particularly popular in Moscow. Her award-winning work with Memorial, particularly its focus on accounting for the crimes committed during Russia’s Soviet past, has not sat well with Russian nationalists: Gannushkina’s co-workers have been murdered and she has been threatened herself. Still, she continues to tirelessly fight for justice in Putin’s Russia.


The Special Court for Sierra Leone

For: Ushering justice in a war-torn country

Odds: 16-1

This unique court of law was set up in 2002 to address the widespread violence and crimes against humanity that occurred during Sierra Leone’s horrible civil war, which raged from 1991 to 2002 and killed an estimated 200,000 people — while spilling over to neighboring states. When not making news involving testimony from supermodels, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has quietly yet relatively successfully prosecuted a dark chapter of this small African country’s history, holding war criminals accountable for grotesque forms of torture and widespread rape. And unlike the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is a hybrid of Sierra Leonean and international law — the first ever of its kind.

The Internet

For: Connecting the masses

Odds: 14-1

Fine, it sounds a little hokey. But Time magazine made “you” the person of the year in 2006, in large part due to Wikipedia, YouTube, and MySpace. And, yes, organizations can receive the award: UNICEF in 1965, Doctors Without Borders in 1999, and the International Committee of the Red Cross three times — more than any other individual or group. But why does the Internet merit a Nobel? Wired magazine in Italy is backing th
e web for its role in allowing citizen reporting on Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and for spreading the free flow of information among opposition groups and oppressed populations. It’s a compelling case. But who would actually receive the award on behalf of the Internet? Probably not Facebook’s reclusive Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps Tim Berners-Lee, Vinton Cerf, and Larry Roberts — the trio largely acknowledged as the creators? At least Al Gore won’t be stepping up to claim the prize: He’s already got one.


Morgan Tsvangirai

For: Keeping Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe from imploding

Odds: 14-1

The current prime minister of Zimbabwe is known less for his own body of work than for leading the opposition to African strongman and current president, Robert Mugabe, who has maintained a firm grip on power for over 30 years. Tsvangirai and his party, Movement for Democratic Change, have emerged as champions for the millions of disenfranchised and impoverished Zimbabweans who suffer as a result of Mugabe’s leadership — the poverty-stricken African country has been beset with jaw-dropping levels of inflation, with prices doubling about every day as industry and agriculture has virtually ceased to exist after land reform redistributed property from whites over the last decade. Tsvangirai took on Mugabe in 2008’s general election but withdrew from the presidential run off, or as he called it, “this violent, illegitimate sham of an election process,” in order to save lives — over 85 opposition supporters were killed and thousands were injured. Tsvangirai entered into a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe in early 2009 that saw the opposition leader become prime minister, but unsurprisingly, Mugabe has retained control of the country’s repressive security forces and the dire economic and human rights situation has yet to improve dramatically.

Mary Robinson

For: A long career of diplomatic reconciliation

Odds: 12-1

The first female president of Ireland has arguably made more waves internationally since she resigned from the presidency to become the U.N. high commissioner on human rights in 1997. While many lauded her actions as high commissioner, including her championing of gay rights, women’s issues, and international human rights law, her tenure was not without controversy — particularly her involvement with the United Nations’ 2001 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, that saw Israel and Zionism braded as racist. Since she left the high commissioner post, she has served as an honorary president of Oxfam International and the chair of the Council of Women World Leaders. She’s also a recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom — not bad for a girl from County Mayo.

European Union

For: Bringing peace and prosperity to a continent

Odds: 12-1

The European Union’s honeymoon period has long passed. From modest beginnings (a coal and steel treaty between France and Germany) to glorious heights (a common currency that for a time looked set to eclipse the dollar), this unprecedented economic and political experiment has been hobbled by growing pains: inability to pass binding legislation or agree on constitutional matters, and tensions between its 27 members that have definitely not abated. And member states have been hit hard by the financial crisis, which exposed a worrying inability to act as a unified body in a time of need. But peace — the European Union’s raison d’être — has largely held on the continent since Brussels came into its own over the past decade. The Nobel Peace Prize committee might be inclined to offer a show of support for this uneasy union of over half a billion people in these difficult times — but the fact that the committee is located in a country is not a member state of the European Union would be ironic.


For: Not being (only) a self-absorbed, narcissistic rock star

Odds: 4-1

With Bono quietly making a late surge up one oddsmaker’s list for the prize, adding a Nobel to the Irish rocker and philanthropist’s already impressive accolades might be slightly underwhelming considering the fact that he’s already been a Time magazine Person of the Year, won more Grammy Awards than his band has studio albums, and been given an honorary knighthood by the Queen of England. It has certainly been front-page news when Bono has appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland the past few years in championing his personal crusades for debt relief and HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa. But is the Nobel committee really ready to bestow the top honor on someone whose charity has come under fire recently for an arguably frivolous use of funds? Not to further question Bono’s good works, but U2’s last album was one of the group’s worst selling ever — not because, as he said, the world is overstuffed on a “diet of pop.” It just wasn’t that great.

Liu Xiaobo

For: Standing up for democracy and human rights in China

Odds: 4-5

The 54-year-old literary critic currently imprisoned in China for his political activism is unquestionably the front-runner for this year’s award, with both domestic and international support for his candidacy. Liu has been an outspoken critic of China’s ruling Communist Party for many years, but he rose to international prominence as a principle author of Chart
er 08
, a manifesto that received thousands of signatures in support of its call for human rights and democratic reforms in China. Modeled after Czechoslovakian dissidents’ Charter 77, Liu was immediately imprisoned upon the petition’s publication. The U.S. Congress has supported calls for Liu’s release, and an open letter from international scholars and human rights activists have certainly brought more attention to Liu’s imprisonment, but failed to sway his Chinese captors.

Beijing, unsurprisingly, has not exactly embraced the prospect of Liu becoming the first Chinese citizen to win the award — in fact, China has come out openly against it and reportedly pressured the Nobel committee, noting that his selection risks jeopardizing Sino-Norwegian trade relations. That said, he’s a good bet: Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has already paid out to punters who picked Liu to win. Do they know something we don’t? 

Jared Mondschein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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