Political Maneuvers and The Peace Prize

Oftentimes students and professors alike wonder what, in fifty years, curricula will document as important aspects of history from the beginning of the new millennium. As far as 2013 goes, it seems as if the focus will rest not on the surmounting national debt, not on the war on terror, but on the crisis in Syria.

Last week, this prediction became even more valid as the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a group currently working toward removing Syria’s supply of chemical weapons. By awarding the Peace Prize to an organization associated with such a ubiquitous issue, the Norwegian Nobel Committee further solidifies the Syrian crisis as one that rests on the world’s shoulders, but overall it is an underwhelming selection, considering the other more brazen contenders this year.

Among those speculated to have rivaled the OPCW were several human rights activists, including Doctor Denis Mukegwe from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who works to treat victims of gang-rape and torture as a result of the civil war; Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gannushkina, and Lilya Shibanova, three Russian women working against Vladimir Putin’s anti-homosexuality legislation; and Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl from Pakistan who survived a Taliban assassination attempt due to her efforts to encourage education for girls in her country.

Any one of these candidates would have been a much more ground-breaking recipient of this award so richly engrained with history and icons, ranging from Nelson Mandela to Theodore Roosevelt. By neglecting to award the Peace Prize to an individual involved with a more controversial, less talked-about issue, the Norwegian Nobel Committee takes another step at intrinsically politicizing the award. On a macro level, it is a safe choice to acknowledge a group fighting for a cause upon which, for the most part, the international community agrees on.

Of course, this is not at all to disrespect or belittle the OPCW’s efforts and achievements since its inception 15 years ago. Its work has led to the elimination of 80 percent of the world’s chemical weapons, an astounding feat to be sure. The OPCW is instrumental in upholding a sense of world order, including the chemical weapons in Syria. They represent an international solution to an international problem; not the United States fixing the situation, not an individual leader making matters better or worse, but a diplomatic, non-partisan group deciding to take action against a wrongdoing in order to make it right as smoothly and peacefully as possible. In these terms, the OPCW encapsulates everything the Nobel Peace Prize values.

However, people like Dr. Mukegwe, the ladies from Russia, and Yousafzai represent causes and issues shadowed by the Syrian crisis, yet issues that need the “Western” world’s attention. These individuals are true heroes, personally and humbly fighting to make society more tolerant and safer, but they are dark horses of sorts, not receiving the same attention as the efforts related to Syria. The world’s focus is centered on the Middle East, yet there are also a myriad of crises being ignored at the moment.

Instead of highlighting one of these valiant individuals, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded a less controversial, more clearly appreciated group for the sake of not wanting to push any buttons.

Looking on a more optimistic side, simply by being possible candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, these heroes are gaining more worldwide attention and respect. Hopefully this publicity they have received the last few weeks will lead to more support and acknowledgment of their efforts. Even though they did not win, they are still no longer in the shadows, slowly stepping into the global spotlight themselves. And who knows, it is quite possible that one of these candidates will win next year, as the international issues continue to shift and evolve.


Savannah Peykani is a first year English major. She can be reached at speykani@uci.edu.