The Nobel Prize system was named after Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist who invented dynamite and other more powerful explosives.
Before his death in 1896, Nobel had bequeathed a portion of his great wealth to reward academic, cultural and scientific achievements.
Since 1901, they have been awarded 589 times to 923 individuals and organizations for their achievements in fields ranging from medicine, literature and economics to physics, chemistry, physiology and peace.
The financial allocation accompanying each prize is considered a just reward for each winner and, over time, other similar international prizes have been initiated, especially in Europe and North America, for achievers in fields such as music, technology, environmental protection and human rights.
However, in a growing number of cases, the prizes for peace and human rights have become so overtly politicized that it's impossible not to notice how ignoble they have become.
Opposing State Power
Physicist Andrei Sakharov, for instance, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, not for his scientific achievement as developer of the Soviet Union's equalizing hydrogen bomb, but "for his opposition to abuse of state power and his work for human rights" – in other words, for his opposition to the Soviet state.
In 1983, the Peace Prize went to Poland's Lech Walesa for his opposition to the Polish government. The 1989 Prize went to the Dalai Lama for his opposition to the Chinese government in favor of secession for Tibet. In 1990, it went to Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in dismantling the Soviet Union. In 1991, it went to Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi for her opposition to the military government.
The Nobel Peace Prize has also gone to many deserving people, including the joint award to South Africa's Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk in 1993 "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid system." In 1994, it went to Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for signing an elusive Peace Accord.
In 2008, the Peace Prize was awarded to US President Barack Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen diplomacy between peoples," and in less than one year as leader of a country involved in seven wars at the time, he was the first to express surprise that he had even qualified.
In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobao, a Chinese citizen well-known for his strong opposition to the Chinese government (and the first national resident in China to be so awarded) "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
In 2016, it went to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos "for his resolute efforts to bring the country's more than 50-year-long civil war to an end." But the FARC guerrilla group – without which that celebrated peace was impossible – was entirely excluded.
The European Union (EU) has been doing the same with its Human Rights Prize, increasingly awarding it to opposition politicians.
Rewarding the Opposition
The EU's Human Rights Commission awarded its 2017 Andrei Sakharov Prize to "Venezuela's National Assembly and all political prisoners." Opposition Leader Julio Borges, who collected the prize in Brussels, leads a group of three opposition parties called the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), whose sole priority is the removal and replacement of President Nicolas Maduro and his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).
The MUD won the majority of seats in the last elections for the National Assembly, but effectively delegitimized itself by trying to use its majority to block all the president's executive decisions and lead a series of violent opposition street protests that left 100 dead, including a 21-year-old set alight during an opposition rally because he "looked like" a Maduro supporter.
The MUD soon lost favour with the electorate and hasn't won any subsequent national vote. It was outvoted by the PSUV in a national referendum held after the opposition sought votes – at home and abroad – opposing a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) proposed by the government to allow mass organizations to nominate representatives to fill the governance gap left by the opposition-controlled body.
The Borges-led alliance strangely boycotted the December 10 municipal and local government elections held nationally, claiming the National Electoral Council is a rigged body stealing elections for the PSUV. But the MUD wants to participate in this year's presidential elections, which are supervised by the same body.
Borges and the MUD again showed their hands in early January, when – ahead of yet another round of government-opposition dialogue in the Dominican Republic – a leading negotiator for the opposition resigned in disgust, accusing the MUD and its leader of engaging in deliberate stalling tactics to prevent any possibility of an accord between the two sides.
The EU, for its part, is applying the same approach (of embracing opposition elements and flowering them with 'human rights' prizes) with regards to Russia. On December 23, opposition figure Alexei Navalny demanded that he be allowed to register as a candidate in the March 2018 presidential elections, claiming he alone could beat President Vladimir Putin.
Already legally prohibited from registering because of his earlier conviction in a fraud case, the so-called "anti-corruption campaigner" insisted the law should be ignored in his case. Then, after the electoral commission refused, he released a pre-recorded speech calling for a national boycott of the poll.
Here, again, the EU embraced his cause and immediately issued a statement calling on the Russian government to allow Navalny to register, totally ignoring Russian election law and instead seeking to impose its own demands on a sovereign state that’s not even a member of its country club.
If precedent can be relied upon, it should therefore surprise no one if Russia's Alexei Navalny is selected for the 2018 EU Human Rights Prize.
Earl Bousquet is a Saint Lucia-based veteran Caribbean journalist.