Updated: Apr 17
Alfred Nobel was a man of several interests. However, perhaps his most well-known legacy is what are known today as the most prestigious prizes for physics, chemistry, literature, economics, peace, and physiology/medicine: the Nobel Prize. Each year, the world stands by to see who will be chosen as the recipient of each prize. Of these, the prize which tends to receive the most attention is the Nobel Peace Prize. Since its establishment in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has stood to promote democracy and the evolution and improvement of human rights. Alfred Nobel’s specific criteria for nominees were that the Peace Prize should be awarded “To the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.” In accordance with this mission, he established three criteria for which the nominees could achieve the prize: (1) recognition, peace, and mediation (2) those who end conflict and arms control, and (3) those who reduce arms, abolish arms, and promote non-proliferation. Since then, the prize has taken on many forms, continually adapting itself to the contemporary world. In 1991, for example, areas of environment and human rights were officially added to the allowed criteria. In contemporary politics and society, however, the Nobel Peace Prize carries an unspoken weight and effect on both the recipient and their research. It is no longer merely seen as an award of recognition, but has come to be seen as a ‘political act’, according to the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee in the 1990’s, Francis Sejersted, stated. The Nobel Peace Prize has thus shown itself to be a dynamic representation of the problems which society faces and acts to promote a democratic system. Due to its global significance, however, its weight can be felt both positively and negatively.
"The prize is intended to be awarded to those who hold aspirations
within the field of human rights, working to foster and further the
stability of peace. Yet, since the awarding of the prize has become a ‘political act’, one is led to wonder what effects it may hold."
This leads us to the present day. On October 7, 2022, Ales Bialiatski (a jailed Belarusian activist), Memorial (a Russian organization), and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine were announced as the Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
Ales Bialiatski, founder of Visena, has been a prominent activist within Belarus, working domestically to fight the injustices and corruption of the Belarusian government. In 2011, he was jailed for tax evasion and then most recently jailed for demonstrating government dissent. The Russian organization, Memorial, received news of the prize in the midst of a court dispute as Russian authorities fought to take away the organization's office space. Founded during the Soviet Union, the organization has sought to make the Kremlin claim responsibility for its historical and present-day crimes. Most notably, the third recipient was an organization from Ukraine who worked on establishing Ukraine as a democracy and pro-Western ally. These three recipients were thus awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in human rights, both in the past and the present.
The prize is intended to be awarded to those who hold aspirations within the field of human rights, working to foster and further the stability of peace. Yet, since the awarding of the prize has become a ‘political act’, one is led to wonder what effects it may hold. As the other Nobel prizes are awarded based on an accomplished outcome, the effect it has on future research can be gauged easily. However, due to the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded on ambition, the outcome of the work being highlighted can be difficult to predict.. Thus, though the intention is good, the overall purpose falters. History has shown that the Nobel Peace Prize has had limited impact in aiding outcomes, especially when it shows opposition towards human rights in regimes. Sejersted, the Nobel Peace Prize chairman admitted, “ In some cases the prize has in fact provoked conflict in the short term.” States have responded to the prize, often through retaliation by increasing oppression and preventing local or international activists from continuing to operate. For example, in 1973, Andrei Sakharov, physicist and human rights activist of Russia was announced recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In response, the Russian government ordered the KGB to initiate a campaign of character assassination against Sakharov and his wife. Of this year’s recipients, three weeks after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Russian organization, Memorial, has faced increasing backlash from the Kremlin. For the past year, Russian President Vladimir Putin has worked towards liquidating the organization and has moved to increase restrictions on their operations. One of the organization’s annual tributes, “Returning the Names” in which the names of individuals who were murdered under Stalin’s reign are read out loud in Lubyanka Square was canceled for the first time in fifteen years. Russian authorities claimed to have banned the reading by citing public safety rules in regards to COVID. Thus, the organization was forced to break off into smaller groups. This citation against the organization has been a frequent method to disrupt and ban those who show dissent in public.
In light of the Russia-Ukraine war, the declaration of these recipients was met with both pride and disdain. In general, many were content with the committee's choice of the recipients as it appeared to foster greater international recognition and showed its support for Ukraine, but also indirectly declared their disapproval of Putin and Belarus’s actions. This view, however, was not equally shared among Ukrainian citizens. As Andrij Melnyk, a Ukrainian diplomat and former ambassador to Germany, proclaimed: it was the ‘craziest look on peace’. As he then tweeted, “The Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of the word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive @NobelPrize together, neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war.”
Anastasia Magaza, a Ukrainian journalist, stated that, “Despite all the merits of the laureates from Russia and Belarus, Ukrainians do not want the struggle for human rights in the three countries to be perceived equally.” Magaza highlights yet another detail which the Nobel Peace Prize committee overlooks: that if one continues to group these countries together, it is only reinforcing Putin’s ‘brotherhood of nations’ idea. Thus, with the current climate in which Ukraine, Russia and Belarus find themselves, one can ask if grouping these candidates together will restrict or enable them to continue their fight.
As the Nobel Peace Prize continues to change and adapt to the dynamic setting of international norms and events, it is clear that since Alfred Nobel first established it, it has widely evolved. From only being awarded for facilitating interstate peace and disarmament, to high profile characters like Barack Obama, to individuals with records of tax evasion such as Ales Bialiatski, a change in recipient standards is clear. Within the last 25 years, the award had been given to high profile candidates, but now it seems to be shifting gears to open the playing field to even the lesser known profiles. These progressive changes, however, have been accompanied by unintended impacts. In regards to the most recent case study, many Ukrainians found it counterproductive to group these three countries together as it strengthened Putin's reason for war. Additionally, it has yet to bring justice to Ales Bialiatski who is being withheld from his rights in an unidentified prison. On the other hand, while the Prize has brought more attention to Memorial in Russia, they face increasing restrictions and backlash from the Kremlin. Thus, as the world continues to watch how the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, it has proven to be a dynamic symbol, following, reflecting, and influencing current events around the world.
 VisitOSLO. “Nobel Peace Center.” Flickr. Yahoo!, September 29, 2011. https://www.flickr.com/photos/35811945@N05/6194188503.
 “History,” Nobel Peace Prize, August 26, 2021, https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/nobel-peace-prize/history/
 Kamina Diallo et al., “The Nobel Peace Prize: Past, Present, and Future,” International Peace Institute, September 24, 2018, https://www.ipinst.org/2018/09/nobel-peace-prize-past-present-future#9.
 Ronald R. Krebs, “The False Promise of The Nobel Peace Prize,” Political Science Quarterly 124, no. 4 (2009): pp. 593-625, https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1538-165x.2009.tb00660.x.
Derrick Bryson Taylor, “2022 Nobel Prizes: The Full List,” The New York Times (The New York Times, September 30, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/article/nobel-prizes-2022.html?searchResultPosition=5.
 Anton Troianovski, Megan Specia, and Andrew Higgins, “Nobel Peace Prize Winners Share a Past Shadowed by Russian Abuses,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 7, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/07/world/europe/nobel-peace-prize-memorial-russia.html?searchResultPosition=1.
 Ronald R. Krebs, “The False Promise of The Nobel Peace Prize”, 593-625
 Ibid, 602.
 Valerie Hopkins and Nanna Heitmann, “In Russia, Nobel-Winning Rights Group Is Forced to Downsize Its Tribute,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 29, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/29/world/europe/russia-memorial-stalin-victims.html?searchResultPosition=10.
 Megan Specia and Matthew Mpoke Bigg, “In Ukraine, the Sharing of the Prize Prompts Some Backlash.,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 7, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/07/world/europe/ukraine-nobel-prize-russia.html.
 Megan Specia and Matthew Mpoke Bigg, “In Ukraine, the Sharing of the Prize Prompts Some Backlash
Diallo, Kamina, Jill Stoddard Eimer Curtin, Youssef Mahmoud, Christelle Comair, Callum Watson, Claire Duncanson Carol Cohn, Taylor Hynes Gretchen Baldwin, David S. Salisbury, Andrian Prokip, and Naureen Chowdhury Fink Michaela Millender. “The Nobel Peace Prize: Past, Present, and Future.” International Peace Institute, September 24, 2018. https://www.ipinst.org/2018/09/nobel-peace-prize-past-present-future#9.
“History.” Nobel Peace Prize, August 26, 2021. https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/nobel-peace-prize/history/.
Hopkins, Valerie, and Nanna Heitmann. “In Russia, a Nobel-Winning Rights Group Is Forced to Downsize Its Tribute.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/29/world/europe/russia-memorial-stalin-victims.html?searchResultPosition=10.
Krebs, Ronald R. “The False Promise of The Nobel Peace Prize.” Political Science Quarterly 124, no. 4 (2009): 593–625. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1538-165x.2009.tb00660.x.
Lundestad, Geir. “Historian: How The Nobel Peace Prize Has Evolved.” Time. Time, December 10, 2019. https://time.com/5746538/nobel-peace-prize-evolution/.
Specia, Megan, and Matthew Mpoke Bigg. “In Ukraine, the Sharing of the Prize Prompts Some Backlash.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 7, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/07/world/europe/ukraine-nobel-prize-russia.html.
Taylor, Derrick Bryson. “2022 Nobel Prizes: The Full List.” The New York Times. The New York Times, September 30, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/article/nobel-prizes-2022.html?searchResultPosition=5.
Troianovski, Anton, Megan Specia, and Andrew Higgins. “Nobel Peace Prize Winners Share a Past Shadowed by Russian Abuses.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 7, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/07/world/europe/nobel-peace-prize-memorial-russia.html?searchResultPosition=1.