Norway is a stunningly beautiful, strikingly picturesque Scandinavian country. Its five and a half million citizens thrive in a land slightly larger than New Mexico. Less well known is Norway’s nearly 120 years of peace building around the globe, in many ways, a triumph of public diplomacy.
The Heil family of three generations had a firsthand look July 5-12 at Norway’s beautiful cities and villages, towering coastal mountain peaks and the earth’s deepest coastal channels known globally as fjords. For all 16 of us, it was an adventure of a lifetime.
- Eidfjord and its lofty peaks, cascading Vorringsfassten Falls midway up the North Sea coast.
- Rushing glacial streams even in mid-summer, with small receding patches of winter snow clinging to nearby mountain peaks.
- Snow white birches, firs and ferns in wondrous clusters, hugging the rugged canyon walls.
- Eroded bluffs, with streaks of white, brown and gray stone streaming down their rugged slopes.
Small wonder that Norway has been rated in an independent worldwide poll as among the world’s five happiest countries for most of the past decade. It claimed the top award as “the happiest population” in 2017.
But less well known, is a confident and modest feeling among Norwegians that their diplomats and private citizens have helped over decades to build a remarkable array of peace initiatives spanning the earth. A centerpiece of this diplomatic effort has been the Nobel Peace Prize founded by Swedish businessman and scientist Albert Nobel well more than a century ago.
Origin of the Nobel Awards
At the end of the 19th century, Albert Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896) was a world famous engineer, chemist and industrialist who held 355 different patents. Most notable among these were ones on dynamite and other high-power explosives. In Dr. Nobel’s twilight years, these inventions caused massive casualties in wars fought in Europe and elsewhere. He was persuaded by a female friend to bequeath his immense wealth to a series of funds to promote peace and scientific inquiry for the benefit of humanity.
The result was creation of the Nobel Awards, which have grown over the decades. Today, they include ones to honor individuals or organizations with achievements in Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Medicine and Physics (all awarded in Sweden). The Nobel Peace Prize is determined by a five-member panel of Norwegian judges in their country’s capital, Oslo. Each year awards are formally celebrated on December 10, Human Rights Day.
The Peace Laureates, Individuals and Organizations
The initial stop on the Heils’ pilgrimage to Norway was the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, a converted rail museum in the heart of the city. Our host for the day, good friend and Norway resident Bruce Wolman, accompanied us through a magnificent display of the achievements of more than a hundred Nobel Peace Prize recipients or their supporters since the first awards in 1901. Inscriptions or background reports included quotes from each:
“We need to stop competing, and start sharing.” —Nadia Murad, a Yazidi teenager from Iraq, 2018. “I will share my award with Yazidis, Iraqis, Kurds and all of the countless victims of sexual violence around the world. I’ll be thinking of my mother, who was slain be Islamic State militants.”
“Doing the right thing is not hard… it’s a matter of will.” —Dr. Dennis Mukwege, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2018. (Both Mukwege and Murad were awarded a joint prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict).
“Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.” —Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and activist, August 19, 2016. The famed Chinese dissident was speaking on the eve of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize award to ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“Do we have to, are we able to, and do we want to change?” —Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who shared the 2007 award with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for such change.”
Norway’s Own Contributions to Global Peace
A fascinating discovery while we were in Norway was the tiny country’s often unreported efforts in global peacemaking diplomacy since it gained full independence following the defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II.
In often secret mediation efforts since 1993, Norway, according to a recent foreign ministry report, has contributed to peace building efforts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Guatemala, Myanmar, Nepal, Israel-Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and talks on the secession of South Sudan from Sudan. Oslo has also provided financial and technical support for peace processes in Aceh, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Syria, and Uganda. And, according to the 2016 Norwegian Foreign Ministry report: “As peace talks are often confidential, this list is not exhaustive.”
To what end, all this activity in a still tumultuous planet? According to an excellent wrap-up by France 24’s Joseph Bamat, the 1993 peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, known as the Oslo Accord, “has been a high point of Norwegian diplomacy, even though the treaty has not stopped violence in the region and has been heavily criticized. Norway’s role in ending complex and bloody civil wars in Mali (1995) and Guatemala (1996) are clearer success stories.”
On September 17, 2016, Colombia and FARC rebels signed a peace agreement that eventually ended what was then the Western hemisphere’s longest running conflict, more than 50 years! Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos became the 2016 Nobel Peace laureate. At least 220,000 citizens of his country were killed in the conflict and close to 6,000,000 driven from their homes.
Peace be with you appears to be the prominent tenet of Norwegian diplomacy. Perhaps it’s not too far-fetched to say that the hard-working diplomats from Oslo merit Nobel Prize-like recognition for their labors over many decades. Their diplomacy seems perfectly summed up in the Havamal, or the words of the High One. As explained by the Vikings, Norway’s ancestors a millennium ago:
All men are mortal.
Yet words of praise
will never perish,
Nor a noble name.”
—The Sayings of the Vikings, Gudrun Publishing
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More