Partisan Politics and the Nobel Prize

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Partisan Politics and the Nobel Prize

Of the six Nobel prizes, the Peace Prize is usually the most controversial, partly because the prize has been often awarded since the 1970s to people engaged in political activities . Whenever a person championing a certain political cause has won the Nobel Peace Prize, controversy has always ensued because of opposition by those advocating a different political position.

When U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt won the Peace Prize in 1906, the Nobel Prize Committee came under criticism for allegedly making a political decision. At the time, Norway had only recently gained full independence from Sweden. Under Mr. Roosevelt''s leadership, the United States was becoming increasingly powerful as a virtual guardian of Central America and as a major force exercising influence on European and even Far Eastern affairs. The committee cited his efforts in negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War in awarding the prize, but The New York Times later commented that "a broad smile illuminated the face of the globe when the prize was awarded ... to the most warlike citizen of these United States." There were also doubts about whether he had really contributed to ending the war, other than playing a symbolic role.

Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian spiritual and political leader revered as a saintly hero for advocating nonviolence in India''s independence movement, was on the list of candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize five times from 1937 to 1948, but was never named a laureate.

His failure sparked suspicions that Norway was tiptoeing around Britain so as not to invoke its wrath. For its part, the committee to this day regrets not having conferred a prize on Gandhi.

Carl von Ossietzky, a German journalist who was active in the anti-Nazi movement and was frequently jailed for his efforts, was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1935. Hitler denounced the committee''s decision as an interference in the domestic affairs of Germany and forbade Ossietzky to attend the awards ceremony.

When the committee named Henry Kissinger, then U.S. Secretary of State, and North Vietnam''s Le Duc Tho as the joint winners of the peace prize in 1973 for trying to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War, many countries said it was preposterous to honor the perpetrators of war. In light of the history of controversies surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize, it was hardly surprising that the anti-Kim Dae-jung forces in Korea were opposed when Korea''s president became this year''s winner.

President Kim Dae-jung''s award of the prize coincided, unfortunately, with a slowdown in the speed of inter-Korean rapprochement and dialogue, with increased domestic political turmoil and increasingly bitter partisan standoffs and signs of an impending economic crisis. Under the circumstances, President Kim failed to receive the congratulations befitting the honor of being awarded such a prestigious prize.

Several former parliamentary legislators even tried to lobby against awarding the prize to him, and the Nobel prize committee received some 150 letters from Seoul opposing the prize being granted to Mr. Kim, probably for the reasons noted above.

A Korean citizen became a Nobel laureate for the first time since the Nobel prize was conceived some 100 years ago. This is no ordinary honor. The prize is global recognition of Mr. Kim''s struggle for democracy and for establishing peace on the Korean peninsula. He narrowly escaped death several times as he fought to democratize Korea against the dictatorship of the Park Chung Hee administration in the 1970s and the military rule of the Chun Doo Hwan administration in the 1980s. He devised the "sunshine policy" to engage with North Korea, which was a major breakthrough in advancing inter-Korean relations. Even if Mr. Kim''s personal political ambitions drove him to pursue these achievements, it is difficult to argue that they do not deserve a Nobel prize.

Rhetoric to the effect that the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Mr. Kim was actually given to the 70 million Korean people is hollow. Claims that the prize contributes to the national economy are also blown out of proportion. Still, it cannot be denied that the Korean president''s triumph over other distinguished candidates helped to enhance Korea''s international status. It is, therefore, a happy event for the whole nation.

Since he was announced as the awardee in October, there has been a sharp rise in the number of countries asking Mr. Kim for a state visit and in people who wish to meet him at international conferences.

Some sectors in Korea are calling on Mr. Kim to skip the awards ceremony to concentrate on pressing domestic issues instead. Trying to prevent him from attending the ceremony, just because one does not like him or his handling of state affairs and therefore his award, is narrow-minded behavior that stems from failing to fully grasp the weight of the honor.

It is true that Korea is experiencing difficulties in various sectors, especially in its economy. But it is also an important duty of the president to present his vision for peace on the Korean peninsula and the future of Korea to the entire world. We should all gladly cheer his winning the Nobel Peace Prize with an open mind, and look forward to the radiance of the prize casting its light on Mr. Kim''s future administration of domestic affairs.
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