Human rights activists from China and Russia are considered front-runners in the Nobel Peace Prize next week, while punters are betting on an Italian, Syrian or Israeli for the coveted literature award.
The annual guessing game is in full swing as the secretive prize committees prepare for their final meetings to single out achievements in science, economics, peace and literature for the US$1.3 million awards.
While the selections for medicine, physics, chemistry and economics are usually met by approval from the scientific community, the peace and literature committees nearly always face accusations of political bias.
The Nobel announcements start tomorrow with the medicine prize, which awards breakthroughs that have furthered our understanding of killer diseases or helped develop treatments to cure them.
Physics, chemistry, literature and peace will follow later in the week, while the economics award — technically not a Nobel Prize but a creation of Sweden’s central bank — will be announced on Oct. 13.
Peace prize speculation is focusing on human rights, partly because this year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in New York 1948.
Coincidentally, the declaration was signed on Dec. 10, the date of the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies and the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
Peace researcher Stein Toennesson, whose picks tend to shape world speculation, was leaning toward Chinese dissidents Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) and Hu Jia (胡嘉), both arrested and jailed through the Beijing Olympics to keep them out of the public eye.
Toennesson, director of the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, said the prize committee might pick a Chinese activist this year “in view of the fact that the Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had hoped for, but instead led to a number of strict security measures.”
He also suggested Russian lawyer and activist Lidia Yusupova, as a way of drawing attention to human rights abuses in Russia, and to remember Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya who was gunned down in 2006.
Another possible pick is Vietnamese Thich Quang, a Buddhist monk and prominent dissident who has spent more than 25 years in detention for his peaceful protests against Vietnam’s communist regime.
Toennesson also mentioned Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, a Pakistani Supreme Court chief justice who was suspended after defying former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf.
The Nobel announcement schedule was completed on Friday when the Swedish Academy said it would present the literature prize winner next Thursday.
That announcement is always made by permanent secretary Engdahl at the academy’s 18th century offices in Stockholm’s Old Town.
Engdahl sparked debate in literary circles this week by saying that the US is too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world.
His comments drew strong reactions in the US, where the head of the US National Book Foundation offered to send Engdahl a reading list of US literature.
“Of course there is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can’t get away from the fact that Europe still is the center of the literary world ... not the United States,” Engdahl said in the interview on Tuesday.
He was speaking in general terms about US literature — the academy insists that nationality doesn’t matter when it makes its pick.
The 16-member jury often picks obscure writers and hardly ever selects best-selling authors. It regularly faces accusations of snobbery, political bias and even poor taste.
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