Peace prize buzz around Greta

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has inspired millions
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, 16, has inspired millions
Image: ERIC BARADAT/AFP

Experts are cautious, but bookies are tipping teenage climate campaigner Greta Thunberg for the Nobel Peace Prize next week, while two literature laureates will be crowned after 2018’s award was postponed over a sex harassment scandal.

Odds from bookmakers such as Ladbrokes indicate the 16-year-old Swedish activist is the one to beat for the Nobel Peace Prize after she launched a school strike that inspired millions to join her “Fridays for Future” movement.

However, any prediction carries a great deal of uncertainty, since the list of candidates considered by the Nobel Committee is not made public, and experts are still divided over whether there is a direct link between climate and violent conflicts.

A day before the Peace Prize announcement on October 11 in Oslo, the Swedish Academy, which awards the Literature Prize, will reveal its choices in Stockholm.

The literary body is at pains to restore its honour after a scandal exposed scheming, conflicts of interest, and a culture of silence and harassment.

Long held up as Sweden’s bearers of culture, academy members traded barbs in the media and seven of the 18 members resigned.

For the first time in 70 years, the 2018 prize was postponed, as the institution found itself without a quorum to make key decisions.

In 2019, there will be one Literature Prize announced for 2018 and one for 2019, each accompanied by a gold medal and 9m krona (R13.8m).

Each year since the prizes were first awarded in 1901, literary circles are abuzz with speculation – often more a reflection of their own wishes than any real insight into the academy’s leanings.

Those mentioned include Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Albania’s Ismail Kadare, US novelist Joyce Carol Oates and Japan’s Haruki Murakami.

The academy is widely expected to try to steer clear of controversy, and is seen making conservative picks. The laureates are expected to include at least one woman.

The unorthodox decision to honour US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 2016 outraged traditionalists.

The subsequent 2017 nod to Remains of the Day author Kazuo Ishiguro, a British novelist of Japanese origin, was seen as a consensual choice aimed at making amends.

The academy’s turmoil began in November 2017, when 18 women spoke out in the media and accused a cultural figure with close ties to the academy of sexual assault, rape and harassment.

The figure was Jean-Claude Arnault, a Frenchman married to academy member Katarina Frostenson.

The allegations caused a rift in the venerable institution over how to handle their ties to him, unleashing a vicious power struggle.

In an extremely rare move, academy patron King Carl Gustaf XVI stepped in, changing the statutes to enable members – appointed for life – to be able to resign.

Arnault has since been convicted of rape and is serving a 2½-year sentence, while his wife has quit the academy.

Having appointed new members, the academy has vowed more transparency.

In 2018, the Nobel Peace Prize went to two champions of the fight against sexual violence, Congolese rape surgeon Denis Mukwege and Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad.

The bookmakers’ favourite for 2019 is Thunberg, who recently won Amnesty International’s highest honour.

“What she has done over the past year is extraordinary,” Stockholm international peace research institute SIPRI director Dan Smith said.

However, his counterpart at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Henrik Urdal, said he did not think she would win.

“Extremely unlikely,” he said, noting her young age and the fact that a link between climate change and armed conflict remains unproven.- AFP

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