Interview: Nobel chief sees 'important' 2011 Peace Prize

Under Thorbjoern Jagland, prize has gone to Obama, jailed Chinese activist; Assange, Israeli conductor Barenboim among new nominees.

Daniel Barenboim performing in Gaza 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Abed)
Daniel Barenboim performing in Gaza 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohammed Abed)
OSLO - This year's Nobel Peace Prize will be as "interesting" as the ones awarded to Barack Obama and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told Reuters on Thursday.
Under the two-year leadership of Thorbjoern Jagland, an ex-Norwegian prime minister, the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to the US President, then less than a year in office, and to the jailed democracy activist, infuriating Beijing to this day.
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"I believe it will be an interesting prize also this year," said Jagland when asked how this year's laureate could compare with the previous two.
"It will be an interesting and very important prize ... I think it will be well-received."
Jagland, who has been on a drive to give the Peace Prize a more global heft after an era in which laureates included environmentalists and a micro-loan pioneer, said the reaction to two prizes to Obama and Liu had been an encouragement to continue in the same direction.
"The way that these two prizes have been welcomed in the world has emboldened me, and I think as well the committee."
This year's award may recognize activists who helped unleash the revolutionary wave that swept through North Africa and the Middle East, closed watchers of the award have said, citing the committee's desire to address the day's big issues and to impact current events.
Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian Internet activist and Google executive, Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement, one of its founders Israa Abdel Fattah, and Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni may be among those in line for the award when announced on Oct. 7, one analyst said.
Jagland declined to say what in his view were the major events in terms of peace this year, nor would he comment on whether the Arab Spring has been part of the committee's deliberations.
"There are ... quite many positive developments (in 2011)," he said. "If I name them, I have gone too far in saying where the prize is (going). But there are a number of positive developments that we have looked upon."
The five-strong committee is gathering on Sept. 30 for what is expected to be the final meeting.
It has not yet made its decision, its secretary Geir Lundestad previously told Reuters, adding there were "a few" candidates linked to the Arab Spring among this year's nominees, declining to name them.
A record 241 candidates, of which 53 are organizations, have been nominated for this year's award, worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.5 million).
Among the known nominees this year are WikiLeaks and its leader Julian Assange, Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim, Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, the European Union and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Jagland said the popular outrage against corruption was a driving factor behind the upheavals in North Africa.
"At the end of the day people will not tolerate this corruption," he said. "That is the main reason why the revolutions in the South Mediterranean are taking place ... They see how the leaders were stealing the whole country. And this is the big discussion in China now, how corruption is developing, in particular at the local level."
Jagland said it was too early to say whether the popular upheavals taking place across the Arab world would lead to the same wave of democratization seen in Eastern Europe in 1989 as the region does not have a democratic tradition like Eastern Europe had before the Communist years.
Europe, he added, is not standing ready to help the region economically like they did with Eastern Europe in the 1990s and is worried about the history of colonization in the region.
"(The Europeans) are very cautious and sensitive to interference from abroad because of the history," he said.
He believes there are two powerful trends that have influenced world affairs over the past decades: economic globalization and peoples' demand for human rights.
"The latter one is such a strong force: Berlin in 1989, now in the South Mediterranean and ... in China. This peoples' quest for freedom and human rights is an enormous transforming force."
Nearly a year after the award of the Peace Prize to Liu, China is continuing to crackdown on political dissenters, a reaction that Jagland said he and his colleagues had expected.
"It is probably related to some extent to the Peace Prize and Liu Xiaobo, but it is much more related to the Arab Spring."
"If you analyze the reaction of the Communist Party and the Chinese leaders, we know that they will not take the risk that Gorbachev took with the Soviet Union," he said.
Jagland is increasingly worried about the re-emergence of nationalism worldwide, citing the rise of xenophobia in Europe.
"There are quite many worrying signs in the world, one of them is the return of quite many nationalistic processes and nationalistic thinking in many places," he said.