So You Want To Win the Nobel Peace Prize

On Oct. 13, the Norwegian Nobel Committee will announce this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. As stated in Alfred Nobel’s will, the peace prize is intended to honor the person or persons who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Aw, Chatterbox, you’re thinking. That could never be me. But you’re wrong! It could–if only you’d get off your duff and campaign for it!

When Elie Wiesel won the Nobel in 1986, the New Republic ran an article by Slate’sJacob Weisberg calling it the culmination of a crass campaign conducted by Wiesel’s friends, including his then-boss, Boston University President John Silber. Today such campaigning is not considered crass at all and is conducted out in the open and without shame. One of this year’s nominees, for example, is the famous anti-fascist Greek composer, Mikis Theodorakis, who announced his retirement earlier this year. How did Theodorakis’ candidacy become known? At a farewell concert Theodorakis gave in northern Greece that was attended by 4,000 people, including Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who has lent his support to the campaign. At the concert, Greek author Giorgos Skourtis delivered the nominating speech and presented the names of 200 celebrities who favored giving Theodorakis the prize. Theodorakis’s Web page is keeping fans up-to-date about the campaign’s progress.

Theodorakis, who was jailed by the junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, is a plausible Nobel Peace Prize candidate compared to many others who have tried to snag it. Possibly the most ludicrous campaign occurred in 1990, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce drafted a letter saying the chamber “richly deserves international recognition for its bold and visionary leadership in the cause of human freedom, which is a prerequisite to world peace.” (Although the chamber failed to persuade Rep. Lee Hamilton to submit a nomination, it convinced Sen. Richard Lugar to put a word in.) The departing president of the scandal-plagued International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is also said to have campaigned energetically for the prize, though he has denied accusations that he had the IOC hire a public-relations firm to try to win it for him. (Press references to Samaranch’s Nobel aspirations invariably point out that he formerly worked in Spain’s Franco government and still insists on being addressed as “your excellency.”)

Like so many things, Nobel Peace Prize campaigning has been streamlined with the advent of the World Wide Web. Earlier this year, a political scientist at a prominent university forwarded to Slate an anonymous e-mail he’d received from “a concerned Internet surfer” (apparently a member of something called the Free Vietnam Alliance) urging him to nominate a dissident Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Do. The e-mail provided links to information about Do and to a letter that had already been signed by 29 members of the House of Representatives, which “[y]ou can use … as a sample from which you can type your nomination on your university’s letterhead.” Struck by the e-mail’s curiously impersonal tone, the political scientist guessed that his name had been plucked from a faculty listing on his university’s Web site.

Who will win this year’s prize? Well, a group of Serbian war veterans attempted to nominate Slobodan Milosevic (for his “political sagacity and courage”). Fortunately, they were turned down on procedural grounds: Only certain categories of people–legislators; past laureates; university professors in the fields of law, political science, history, and philosophy; and a few others–may submit peace prize nominations. (Now that Milosevic has a less demanding work schedule, he can focus on dotting those “i”s and crossing those “t”s for next year!) Bill Clinton is the Susan Lucci of the Nobel Peace Prize–he gets nominated every year but never wins. Given today’s developments in the Middle East, it seems unlikely we’ll see him in Oslo this December. George Mitchell has been nominated for his efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland, and the prize would surely be a valued trophy at Vernor, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson, and Hand, the Washington law firm where Mitchell represents the tobacco industry. But Protestant leader David Trimble and Catholic leader John Hume already won the peace prize two years ago. The odds-on favorite to win the 2000 prize is Kim Dae-jung, president of South Korea. Although there’s no evidence that Kim (a deserving candidate) is actively campaigning for the prize, today’s Korea Herald reports that his government is in a slight tizzy about possible domestic political repercussions should the award end up going instead to, say, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. That bitch!

[Update, 10/13: Kim Dae-jung was just announced the winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.]