The Nobel Peace Prize Committee, a collection of Norwegian worthies, has awarded the 2012 prize to the European Union for its role in deepening integration between states who spent hundreds of years at war with each other. There are times in the EU’s history when this would not have seemed quite so ridiculous; in 1957 when the original treaty was signed, in the 1980s, when Spain and Portugal emerged from dictatorships to join, or in 2004 when ten former satellite states of the Soviet Union joined.
It is still impossible to tell whether the EU can handle the right-wing threat in Hungary and Greece, or whether prevarication over the sovereign debt crisis has held off an economic and social disaster, or made the situation worse. If there is a specific policy which the EU has stuck to in the name of peace, it is far from clear.
For these reasons, another choice might have been better. There are many deserving individuals. My suggestion is more provocative.
In Russia, the last year has seen peaceful and open protests on a scale that has not been allowed since 1991. The Prime Minister and former President, Dmitry Medvedev, made a point of using his political capital to visit independent media institutions (unthinkable before 2008), has struck a strategic arms reduction deal with the United States and criticised the harsh judgement in a great civil rights case – the Pussy Riot trial.
Of course, Russia is in many ways no freer now than it was in 2008. Modest gains have been rolled back and the new President talks about the opposition with a mixture of malice in disdain. Yet in 2010 the Nobel Committee gave the prize to Barack Obama in order to lend stature to his mission to reduce nuclear weapons holdings. They could just as easily award the prize to Medvedev to embolden reformers in Russia against the forces of reaction.
Of course, the idea is absurd in practice. But it says something about the Nobel Peace Prize that its own logic lends itself to my argument. A sad, sad situation.