The announcement of the 2010 Nobel Prize winners this week coincided with two anniversaries. October 2010 marks 35 years since Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and 20 years since Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded his.
This year, the Nobel Peace Prize was again conferred on a dissident and human rights activist like Sakharov, China's Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese laureate will not be able to travel to Oslo to collect his award in person, as he has just begun serving an 11-year prison term back home for allegedly plotting a coup. History repeats itself: Sakharov could not come to Oslo for his Nobel, either, as he was living in internal exile at the time.
Fifteen years after awarding the Soviet dissident, the Nobel Committee turned its attention to the leader of the USSR's Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev. It then spent the next 20 years touring the world, only to return to another campaigner for "fundamental human rights" living in a country that is a permanent UN Security Council member and whose political system is not necessarily based on Western democratic principles.
This zigzag belies a consistent strategy, in fact. The Nobel Committee's U-turn from Sakharov to Gorbachev had less to do with a change in worldview of the Norwegian Nobel Committee than a tectonic shift in world politics. The Soviet Union turned from a competitor and a Cold War adversary of the West into a constructive partner, willing to meet its former rivals halfway. The country humbly retreated from Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it did so while Gorbachev was in power. So it was only natural that the Nobel went to him.
But what do the five sages of the Nobel Committee, elected by the Norwegian parliament, have to do with this, you may be asking yourself? Ideally, they should act as a modern-day Areopagus, removed from the nuts and bolts of world politics and concerned only with high, immortal values. As Alfred Nobel wrote in his will, the Peace Prize should be awarded to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
However, such abstract categories cannot hold up against the harsh realities of life. And so the Nobel Peace Prize has always been extremely politicized. In the past few decades, the committee's sympathies have been with the U.S.-NATO-Western Europe camp. To prove this, look at the last three Nobel Peace Prize laureates before Liu.
One is former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, honored for his work exploring the implications of global man-made climate change and developing measures to prevent them. Studying climate change is important, by all means, but this is more about science than the struggle for peace. As for preventive measures, the recent Icelandic volcano eruption and the heat wave that struck central Russia this past summer prove that no one has found a way yet to "manage" Mother Nature.
After Gore came Finland's Marti Ahtisaari, the mastermind behind the harsh peace settlement in the former Yugoslavia along NATO and EU lines, a staunch supporter of the NATO's bombing of Serbia, and an architect of Kosovo's sovereignty. Far from peace, these efforts have escalated tensions in the Balkans, Europe's powder keg.
U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the peace prize last year, and not without controversy. To be sure, the committee had strayed from Nobel's will repeatedly, but they were mostly minor deviations. Also, how committed some of the laureates actually were to peace - such as Henry Kissinger, Yassir Arafat, Le Duc Tho, Itzhak Rabin - remains in doubt. Even so, all of these people were awarded for some concrete peace-related achievements, such as signed peace treaties or approved roadmaps to peace. Those accords may have been broken later on and the roadmaps may have never led anywhere, but the important thing is to have some real, tangible result of a laureate's efforts to promote peace - a result that would prove his or her commitment.
As for Obama, he had not produced any such result by the time the Nobel Peace Prize was announced. He was awarded in advance, for good intentions and election-year promises. The Nobel Committee took this unprecedented step in an apparent attempt to please a global power, which generated a lot of criticism. Some claimed that the committee had compromised its independent status and violated Nobel's last wishes.
Awarding the 2010 Peace Prize to Liu fits in with the Nobel Committee's trans-Atlantic strategy. During the height of the Cold War, the committee occasionally honored some of the most uncompromising and vehement opponents of the Soviet regime. In 1970, for instance, they awarded the literature prize to Alexander Solzhenitsyn. According to the committee's official statement, he was awarded the prize for upholding the traditions of Russian classical literature, but this explanation could not be taken seriously. As for the Sakharov's peace prize in 1970, it had clear political motivations.
It is hard to say whether this year's award to the Chinese dissident, in keeping with the Solzhenitsyn-Sakharov model, is a harbinger of a new cold war between the West and China. But there can be no doubt that Beijing will take this as an unfriendly, politically motivated gesture.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.