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Geir Lundestad: I think there are very few saints among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. This is not a declaration of sainthood.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, celebrating a century of the Nobel Peace Prize.
DR. MORTON ROSTRUP: It meant a lot for all of the people working for the organization. I went straight after it was announced in Oslo, I went to Liberia and met the local staff and the volunteers. And everybody felt really personal about being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They were proud.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. The Nobel Peace Prize is perhaps the world’s most recognizable humanitarian honor. But as the Nobel Peace Prize marks its 100th year, the process used to determine winners remains far less known.
MCHUGH: Dr. Geir Lundestad is the Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and Secretary of the Nobel Committee. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Lundestad about the Nobel Peace Prize decision-making process, controversial winners, and the man who gave his name to the distinguished award.
GEIR LUNDESTAD: Alfred Nobel was Swedish but he lived most of his life abroad-Russia, France, Italy. He invented many things but he is best known for his invention of dynamite. So when he died in1896 he left a considerable amount of money and he wanted this money to be used for these prizes. The Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo, and the prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, and literature, that are awarded in Stockholm. And then in 1969 a memorial prize was added, the Nobel Prize in economics.
MCHUGH: The awards are given by a committee. Who comprises that committee?
LUNDESTAD: Well, this varies from prize to prize, but when it comes to the peace prize the Nobel committee has five members and these members are selected by the Norwegian Parliament, reflecting the strength of the various parties in this Norwegian Parliament. And I am the Permanent Secretary, so I do double duty-I’m the Permanent Secretary of the Committee and the Director of the Nobel Institute. And the Institute serves in a way as some sort of secretariat for the Committee.
MCHUGH: The Institute also does additional work, then, just being the secretary to the committee?
LUNDESTAD: Oh yes. We do many things. We have seminars and conferences. We have a research department. And our big thing now has been to establish a peace prize museum in Oslo, and that will open on June 7, 2005.
MCHUGH: This is the 100th anniversary year of the Nobel Prizes.
MCHUGH: Is there anything exciting planned for this year?
LUNDESTAD: Oh, we have many, many events, particularly in the fall. And the highlight will be in December, when we have invited all the living Peace Prize laureates to come to Oslo to participate in a week of events. And the highlight will be the symposium on December 6 to 8, where we will be discussing what went wrong in the 20th Century and how do better in the 21st. And out of the 39 living Peace Prize laureates, 33 have already accepted our invitation to come to Oslo. So this will be quite something.
MCHUGH: The Nobel awards carry a monetary prize. Tell me a little bit about how that is determined every year.
LUNDESTAD: The laureate gets a gold medal, a diploma, and a nice check. And this year the check will be 10 million Swedish kroner, or roughly one million US dollars. And we have tried to keep it at roughly one million US dollars in the last few years. And this reflects the financial situation of the foundation, the Nobel Foundation, and this situation has been good.
MCHUGH: How are the winners actually selected? There is a nomination process.
LUNDESTAD: For the Peace Prize there are seven groups of people who have the right to make a nomination. The two large groups are any member of any national assembly anywhere in the world, and university professors in history, philosophy, political science, and law. So there are thousands and thousands of persons who have the right to make a nomination. The record number as far as nominations are concerned is 150, which we had last year. So behind these 150 there might be in some cases only one nomination, on other cases maybe 10 or 100, or in one case actually 2,500 persons nominated the same. I’m responsible for informing the five committee members about who these 150 are, what they’ve done, and what their merits are. And at the very first meeting of the committee-the end of February each year-we draw up the first short list. Maybe 20, 25 names on the short list. Most of the names, they disappear there and then. Some advisors and myself, we write reports on those on the short list. These reports go back to the committee. They narrow this down to maybe four or five. Then we have another round of reports, and then often written by top foreign experts so we have some international input into this Norwegian process. And then the committee will spend the meetings number three, four, and five-normally not more than five meetings in a year-discussing the merits of the few remaining candidates until some sort of consensus has been achieved.
In most years that’s easy. If the minority cannot support the majority candidate and they reserve the right to speak out against the majority decision, then they actually have to step down from the committee. And this has happened three times in our 100-year history.
MCHUGH: And that’s because these committee meetings are actually held behind closed doors?
LUNDESTAD: Very much so, yes. I inform about the process, as I’ve done now, but we don’t release the names of those nominated. And everything is secret for 50 years and then we open up everything we have.
MCHUGH: Have there been any surprises once you have opened up what you’ve had?
LUNDESTAD: Oh, yes. Historians find many interesting things. And we have had many histories written about the Nobel Peace Prize and some new ones will be, will come out this year since this is our 100th anniversary.
MCHUGH: You mentioned that you don’t make the short list of nominees public. But oftentimes we hear, in the media, people lobbying the Nobel Committee on behalf of people they think should win the award. Does the lobbying do any good, or is it a waste of time?
LUNDESTAD: On the whole it’s a waste of time. But I’m a polite person, so I mean if they want to come and see me in my, in the Nobel Institute they can, and they present the merits of the candidate. And many fly in from distant corners of the world. I talk to them for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, and that’s OK. It has become very popular to submit signatures of support for a candidate, and the record so far is 750,000 signatures in support of one candidate-40 big boxes. Well, you could consider this lobbying but I consider this rather innocent lobbying. There have been attempts to bribe me by representatives of cultures who know very little about Norway. We accept only symbolic gifts-that goes without saying.
MCHUGH: I think that many people feel that the Nobel Peace Prize should be given to people who are saints. But in recent years your list doesn’t include people that many would consider saints-F.W. De Klerk, Yasser Arafat, Henry Kissinger come to mind.
MCHUGH: Why do those people qualify?
LUNDESTAD: I think there are very few saints among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. This is not a declaration of sainthood. They are fallible individuals, almost all of them. They have made mistakes. But they have made contributions towards peace. Let me just take F.W. De Klerk as an example. He received the prize with Mandela. I mean, we all agree that Mandela deserved the prize. But why De Klerk? I think there is much to be said for De Klerk. You have to put yourself in his own shoes. Everybody said that there would be no resolution to the situation in South Africa under apartheid. Only a civil war could resolve this. But De Klerk gave up power when a very considerable part of his constituency were very afraid of what would follow with majority rule. And I think there’s much to be said for this. I mean, that this made a peaceful resolution of the conflict in South Africa possible.
MCHUGH: Are you fearful that the awards are somehow viewed now as truly a competition and that that has, in fact, diluted the overall prestige of the award?
LUNDESTAD: No. I think the prestige of the award has never been higher. I mean, if you look in dictionaries or anywhere, I mean, you, they will tell you that the Nobel Peace Prize is maybe the most prestigious award in the world. And there is more than 300 peace prizes in the world and representatives of these other prizes, they come to me and they all have the same question: How come everybody knows about you and you have this tremendous prestige, while so few know about us? And some of them actually carry even higher monetary amounts than we do. So I think the prestige has never been higher. And I think you can make an argument that our courage to be controversial has been part of this success.
MCHUGH: How does the committee deal with the controversy, especially after the winner for the Nobel Peace Prize is announced and maybe part of the world community isn’t very happy about it?
LUNDESTAD: Well, that’s perfectly all right. I think controversy has increased the prestige of the prize, and I will give you some examples. In 1935 we gave the prize to Carl von Ossietzky, a well known opponent of Hitler. Hitler became furious. But we consider this one of the highlights in our history. In 1975 we gave the prize to Andrei Sakharov. And of course, the Soviet leaders became furious. But again, this is one of the highlights in our history. In ‘89 we gave the prize to the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities became furious. Our objective is not to make authorities furious but we should never be afraid to stand up for our principles even if this makes authorities furious.
MCHUGH: Would you say that the Nobel Peace Prize is an effective global peacemaking tool?
LUNDESTAD: It depends on the definition of effective. We cannot bring about peace. I mean, this is not a magic wand. I think you could turn it around and argue that the amazing thing is that the Nobel Peace Prize has any influence whatsoever. But it does have influence. I’ll give you one example. In 1996 we gave the Peace Prize to Bishop Belo and José Ramos-Horta from East Timor. Nobody cared then about the situation in East Timor. It was a dead issue. And Ramos-Horta has told about all the doors being closed to him when he tried to travel around the world to present the case. He had to sleep in railroad stations. Now East Timor is on the way to independence. I don’t think the Nobel Peace Prize should claim all the credit, not even most of the credit. But we should certainly claim some of the credit. And the two laureates, well they have been very generous. I think they even give us too much of the credit. And this is the mystery. I mean, how can a prize awarded by five unknown Norwegians have carried that much influence even in distant East Timor?
MCHUGH: But the goal isn’t necessarily to give support to any specific cause or person or organization?
LUNDESTAD: No. We have not really defined “peace.” But we think there are many, many different roads to peace. And that’s why we have many different kinds of laureates. We have the statesmen, we have the great humanitarians, we have the human rights activists, we have those who work for arms control and disarmament, we have church leaders. So there are all these possible avenues to peace and that’s why we have so many different kinds of laureates. I mean, to take the, what many would consider the extremes, Mother Theresa and Yasser Arafat. We have given Peace Prizes to both of them. And that might seem to be a prize without a focus, but the explanation, of course, is that there are these many different avenues to peace.
MCHUGH: And would you say that the Nobel Peace Prize actually is an award for peace efforts that have succeeded, or an encouragement to peace efforts that may be ongoing, or is it combination of the two?
LUNDESTAD: I think more and more it has become a combination of the two. Of course, you must have achieved something. You cannot just throw out the Prize and hope that something will happen in a certain area. So there has to be a basis of achievement. But very rarely has peace been established totally. We intervene in a process. And we hope that the Peace Prize will then contribute to further resolution of the conflict. In some cases this may work. We gave the Prize to Mandela, De Klerk, and yes, they carried out the entire process. And we gave the Prize to Arafat, Peres, and Rabin, and they had certainly achieved something. And we should never underestimate the importance of the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, and this was the basis of the Oslo Agreement, and that still stands. But unfortunately the peace process has now more or less broken down.
MCHUGH: Would you say that the world is more peaceful today than it was 100 years ago?
LUNDESTAD: Many parts of the world are certainly more peaceful. But if the definition of success is that we have established peace all over the world then I think this is probably too ambitious. It’s an incredibly multifaceted world and there are conflicts in many parts of the world. But we have to believe that we can have some sort of impact. I’m a professor of history. So I mean, in the long-term perspective I think we have made great progress. There are large, large parts of the world where conflict is virtually unthinkable.
MCHUGH: Dr. Geir Lundestad is the Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. He also serves as Secretary of the Nobel Committee.
PORTER: The international impact of the Nobel Peace Prize, next on Common Ground.
DR. MORTON ROSTRUP: In the ideal world we should not exist at all. The reason why we are different places is because of political failure.
PORTER: If the media frenzy surrounding the annual Nobel Peace Prize announcement is any indication, the award leaves a huge impression on people in all walks of life in every corner of the globe. Some years, the winner is a well known leader. But just as many are far lesser known individuals or organizations. Or at least that’s the case before the award is announced.
MCHUGH: Take for example, Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. The French-based humanitarian worked in the trenches for nearly three decades to provide healthcare to those in conflict situations, without name recognition in much of the world. That changed when the group was awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Morton Rostrup is the International President of Doctors Without Borders. I recently visited with him to learn more about the organization and the impact the Peace Prize has had on day-to-day operations.
DR. MORTON ROSTRUP: It is a medical organization, relief organization. And we have in many ways specialized in medical humanitarian action. So we are very field oriented. So we are sending people directly to the field to assist people and to help people. And more than this, than just the medical act, we are also outspoken. We bear witness to what we are seeing. And we want to reveal injustice. So there are two elements: the medical action and speaking out, telling about what we experience. And in this way, provoke change.
MCHUGH: Where are you currently having most of your operations? Where are currently most of your operations?
ROSTRUP: In volume most of our operations are now in Africa. But we are present in almost 90 different countries worldwide. So we are also in South America, Latin America; we are in Europe; we are in Asia. And many, many different countries.
MCHUGH: What types of services do you provide? Certainly not just emergency services.
ROSTRUP: No. It’s a lot of different kinds of health services. Of course, we do have the emergencies, during natural catastrophes, civil wars, or armed conflicts. But also we have more long-term projects, supporting health systems in different countries. And that’s primary healthcare, but also supporting hospitals. So it’s a vast variety of programs.
MCHUGH: Doctors Without Borders relies solely on volunteers? Or do you actually have money to pay staff?
ROSTRUP: Well, we do have the volunteer concept. That is, that if you work as a volunteer for us we cover your expenses in the field and travel back and forth to the field. And then you get some, about $500 to $600 a month to compensate for some expenses you do have back home. But that’s it. So it’s not really salary. It’s a kind of compensation, a kind of support. And that’s all. So we don’t want that money should be any part of the motivation of going abroad and do this kind of work.
MCHUGH: Where do you draw your volunteers from?
ROSTRUP: Well, we try to recruit from, of course, health personnel. Nurses as well as doctors. And then, in addition, we need logisticians, people that can build up buildings, you know. Rehabilitate, take part in refugee camps, for sanitation and so on. So, roughly we may, say we send 3,000 volunteers yearly to the field. They’re working with 15,000 local people. So the local staff dominates the work a lot. But among those 3,000 it’s roughly one-third medical doctors, one-third nurses, and one-third logisticians.
MCHUGH: And they don’t just come from France or the United States?
ROSTRUP: No, no. They come from all over the world. I think it’s about 40, 50 different countries and nationalities we have in the field.
MCHUGH: Over the years your organization has developed a number of methods to respond quickly in the field. Can you tell me a little bit about the methods that have been invented for your organization?
ROSTRUP: Yes, it’s pretty interesting. Because when MSF started back in ‘71 it was also due to the frustrations in effective medical aid. That there was no way of really reaching people in an efficient and speedy way. So to start with, the MSF invested a lot to develop the regimens and develop methods and building up kits, hospital kits, surgical kits, cholera kits, and so on, so we could, if we had an epidemic somewhere we could just send a kit and it was already there prepared. And in this way we could act very, very fast. And during a cholera epidemic we have cholera kits with everything we need, so we just go a place, we build up in one day, we have a functioning cholera center. And that’s very important because the first doctors that started MSF, so that time was crucial. If we were to save lives we had to be very fast on the spot. I think that 30, 40 percent of our missions or of our programs, are more emergency based.
But what we see today in the world is that you can have an emergency but then you also have a kind of chronic emergency or chronic conflict, in which it takes a kind of long-term perspective. So we have been in places for many, many years running health structures, running primary healthcare centers, and so on. And that’s the major part actually of our activities. But of course the most spectacular and what people get to know is the emergency part of our work. But we are doing much more than that.
MCHUGH: How do you decide where you’re going to do programming?
ROSTRUP: It depends. The most important thing is the needs. That defines a lot of the action. But also the feasibility. And also, what we are concerned about is that if we are going someplace we need the freedom of action. We need to freely assess the needs, freely move around, freely monitor what’s going on. And this is what we call the “humanitarian space.” And if we don’t have the humanitarian space it’s difficult for us to go even though there are needs. Because in totalitarian regimes sometimes, they may manipulate humanitarian aid. So that we, to a certain extent, by giving aid, we support a system that in the first instance gave rise to the misery. And we cannot be part of that. So we need certain criteria, conditions, before we can go and give aid.
MCHUGH: Is it difficult to go into a country? Are there some places where your help is actually resisted?
ROSTRUP: Well, it may happen. It’s, someplaces may be difficult because, because the government perhaps, they don’t want to have foreigners, [don’t] want to have witnesses to what’s going on. And of course, MSF is well known for speaking out. And to have such an organization in certain sensitive areas would, some authorities would not like to have us there. But we always try to focus very much on our humanitarian principles, which are impartiality and neutrality. And, and try to get the authorities to realize that we are acting according to those principles. Then it’s more easy for them to accept us. We are not a political body and we don’t take part or sides in a conflict.
MCHUGH: You mentioned neutrality. But yet you are an outspoken organization. Does that cause problems for your volunteers in the field?
ROSTRUP: Well, sometimes. And that’s a good question because by speaking out we also take sometimes the risk of being expelled from a country. And for the people in the field it may be difficult sometime. If you decide to speak out and then they have to take the consequences if we are expelled, that is leaving your patients behind. Which is some of the worst things you can do. So there’s always a dilemma between how much should we speak out and how much should we be operational. Sometimes it’s not a problem for us because we need to speak out. And not doing that would really make the situation much worse. In other situations we decide to not speak out because we find the need of being there much, much more important. And, well, we have to consider this. But it’s always the field, the people in the field, they take part in this process-very, very, very much.
MCHUGH: Has Doctors Without Borders ever been expelled from a country?
ROSTRUP: Yeah. We have been expelled. In Ethiopia we condemned what was a kind of forced migration of people. And it was not popular. Some other contexts as well. We have withdrawn ourselves and we have done it, at the same time we have been speaking out. So it happens. It’s not often. But we are prepared sometimes that we may be expelled.
MCHUGH: Do you sometimes finally leave a country or finally leave a particular program, or turn that program over to another organization?
ROSTRUP: In the ideal world we should not exist at all. The reason why we are different places is because of political failure. The work we are doing is really the responsibility of the governments. And the reason why we are there is because the governments failed. Some places the government may be, after some time, able to take over the responsibility and we can leave. Some places we do have other organizations that are more, better perhaps, in dealing with really long-term projects. And they can take over our projects after the first phase. And that’s good. Sometimes we have to leave for various reasons even though nobody else can take over, and that’s the most difficult part of it.
MCHUGH: Your organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. Has that elevated your profile?
ROSTRUP: Yeah. I think it has had some effects. I think our voice is louder now than before. More people are listening, which is good. And also it meant a lot for all of the people working for the organization. I went straight after it was announced in Oslo, I went to Liberia and met the local staff and the volunteers. And everybody felt really personal about being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They were proud. And emotional. And that was interesting to see because it’s really a special commitment working for an organization like MSF. And it’s very personal and part of your emotions as well. And I saw it very clearly during that event.
MCHUGH: You could be back in Norway right now. You could have a private practice. You could make lots of money. But instead you choose to go into areas of armed conflict and deal with humanitarian issues. Why?
ROSTRUP: Well, it’s, I think just certain level you need some material goods. But it’s not much you need. And what I have found out is that what is of most value in life is exactly interaction between people, relationships between human beings. And I’m so privileged that being a doctor I do have the possibility of giving support, giving aid directly, which is very rewarding as well. And for me it’s not any sacrifice at all. I don’t understand people that admire me to some extent because “You are sacrificing a lot.” It’s not true. I think a lot of other people living their lives, they are sacrificing what I experience. And you just have to go and do and see for yourself, I think, and get the feeling. And then you will understand. So for me it’s very natural now. And I feel privileged being able to do this.
MCHUGH: Dr. Morton Rostrup is the International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders. When not on the road he works as a specialist in internal and intensive care for a hospital in Oslo, Norway. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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