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Why Are Norwegians Deciding Over Nobel Prize?

Updated on October 10, 2009

Why is a committee of the Norwegian parliament deciding over the Nobel Peace Prize?

Seems strange, for at least two reasons.

One: Nobel Prizes are private, not public (funded by private money, ruled by a private will); so how can a parliament be involved?

Two: Alfred Nobel was Swedish, not Norwegian, and all the other Nobel Prizes - medicin, physics, chemistry and literature - are decided by academies in Stockholm. (Those academies are formally royal, but not ruled by the government.)

I think we must remember two things:

One: Alfred Nobel was a great excentric, and I think he had a good sense of irony.

Two: when he wrote his will, Norway was not fully independent.

During the years 1814-1905 - which included all of Alfred Nobel's life-time - Sweden and Norway formed a union. Both countries had their own parliaments and governments, but they had the same king (who had to change his uniform every time he crossed the border, for diplomatical reasons).

Each contry decided pretty much about its own domestic policy, but foreign affairs were decided by the union - in theory; in practice, by Sweden.

Now, of the five Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize is the most evidently political one, and obviously concerned with international affairs.

So the right to decide about this prize was given to a parliament that had, according to its own rules, no right to meddle in international matters.

That's Alfred Nobel for you...

He probably wasn't a great friend of the Swedish government, nor of the Scandinavian king at the time, Oskar II.

Who didn't like him very much either.

Now, Nobel's will says nothing about royal participation at the Nobel festivities. (It doesn't even say anything about Nobel festivities.)

But the administrators wanted to have it.

The first year the prizes were given, Oskar II refused to participate. He was furious that such a great Swedish prize should be given to foreigners and not only to Scandinavians.

Next year, he had changed his mind. It had become obvious that the Nobel festivites were good for the international prestige of Sweden.

But he couldn't be in Stockholm and Oslo during the same day, because the Wright brothers had hardly got up from ground level yet, so there weren't any airlines.

Therefore, the Norwegians didn't get accustomed to royal presence at the festivities; and even when the country finally got a king of its own in 1905, after the union had split up, the Peace Prize wasn't given by his hand.


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