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A Look At Other Peace Prize Contenders


We're joined from Oslo by Kristian Berg Harpviken. He's head of the International Peace Research Institute there, which lists possible winners each year. Welcome to the program.


BLOCK: And first, I wonder if Barack Obama was on your radar screen at all this year.

BERG HARPVIKEN: He certainly was on my radar screen. I was aware that he most likely was nominated, but I did not think that he was a very likely candidate. Even yesterday night, as the rumor started circulating in Oslo that Obama may be the winner, I found it very hard to believe. And normally the committee is also tight lipped, so, those rumors are not necessarily to be paid great attention to.

BLOCK: Well, if Barack Obama, you didn't think was a likely winner, who were you thinking would win the prize this year?

BERG HARPVIKEN: I had three likely winners on my list, which is admittedly speculative because it's always hard to know. And of course there were 205 candidates altogether.

BLOCK: Yeah.

BERG HARPVIKEN: Secondly, the Jordanian prince, Ghazi Bin Muhammad, who has taken several important initiatives within the Islamic world - the Amman Initiative, which speaks out against misuse of religion in defense of terrorism. Also, the Common Word, which is a platform for reaching out to other world faiths, say, Christianity in particular. And my third candidate was Sima Samar, the Afghan human rights activist, who is currently also the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, as well as the UN special envoy on human rights to Darfur.

BLOCK: How does the Nobel committee balance years when it may want to make a political statement in its choice, if you look at the choices of Aung San Suu Kyi, say, or the Dalai Lama, or avoiding making a political statement? For example, this year they did not choose a Chinese dissident, who had been named, the dissident Hu Jia?

BERG HARPVIKEN: Well, it's a very particular year. In 2009, two of the five members of the committee are new appointees. They are sitting members of Norwegian Parliament until, in fact, the very day, today, even the announcement is being made. And I do think that that makes it particularly unattractive for the committee to draw attention to its independence by provoking a powerful regime such as the Chinese one this very year.

BLOCK: Could you say that that by choosing President Obama, in a sense, a committee is making a political statement?

BERG HARPVIKEN: Well, awarding the prize to President Obama is certainly very daring. It is daring in the sense that this is throwing away the (unintelligible) prize behind unfolding processes, rather than rewarding anybody for (unintelligible) as the Nobel Peace Prize has very much done in the past. But it's not daring in the sense of provoking powerful governments or powerful interests. In that sense, it's a rather uncontroversial prize.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Harpviken, thanks very much for talking with us.


BLOCK: That's Kristian Berg Harpviken. He's head of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.