Limelight: Peace be with them
"It's the most wonderful time of the year," especially in Sweden -- a veritable Winter Wonderland. Their main festivals take place in December and the celebrations start early. The fragrance of their evergreens fills the air and the traditional holly and mistletoe decorate every home, in anticipation of the Christmas season. But the Swedes have more reason for their festivities. This is their time to celebrate the legacy of one of their greatest countrymen Alfred Bernhard Nobel. You could say this is their Festival of Excellence, an academic celebration focussing on science and literature, when six outstanding international scientists and scholars are presented with the most prestigious prize the world has to offer, the Nobel Prize.
Nobel week starts on 6 December after the arrival of the Laureates in Stockholm, with a visit to the Nobel Museum and a tour of the Nobel Centennial Exhibition. Invitations for receptions, dinners, interviews, television appearances, press conferences and the traditional lectures by the Nobel Laureates, culminate on 10 December with the award ceremony. Following the speeches extolling the Laureates, they are presented with a diploma and a medal by the King of Sweden. This formal and impressive event is followed by a banquet at the Stockholm City Hall for 1,300 guests with the King and Queen of Sweden as guests of honour. The week ends on 13 December with the Santa Lucia -- Festival of Light -- where young maidens dressed in diaphanous white, wearing crowns of evergreen wreaths adorned with seven lit candles, serve guests traditional Christmas treats, at a grand finale dinner.
In conjunction with Stockholm, similar celebrations take place in another Scandinavian capital, Oslo, Norway. That is where the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded. Why? It was the express wish of Nobel himself. While he gave no particular reason in his will, the speculations are many.
Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896) was descended from Olof Rudbeck, Sweden's 17th century technical genius, during her era as a great Northern European power. Nobel himself was no less gifted. He was one of the 19th century's greatest scientists. He invented dynamite in 1866, which made him a very rich man, but not a very happy one. A quiet man of peace, who wrote poetry and drama, Nobel was devastated that his invention, which he intended mainly for serving humankind, in building and construction, was used instead for war and destruction. His guilt made him increasingly morose and sickly; but Nobel was determined to make amends. He would bequeath his fortune to serve the cause of international peace and human welfare. On 27 November 1895 Nobel, in his final will and testament, established a fund of about $9 million, the interest of which was to be used to award annual prizes to outstanding men and women "regardless of nationality", who have made valuable contributions to the "good of humanity". The fields assigned were Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine and Literature (a Prize for Economics was established in 1968 by the Bank of Sweden). He also made provisions for an award for the most effective work in promoting international peace. This award would be presented in Oslo. It was Nobel's sincere wish that his friend and sometime secretary, Austrian Baroness Bertha von Suttner, author and active leader in the peace movement and the inspiration for this award, would be its first recipient.
Five years later, on the anniversary of his death 10 December 1901, the first awards were presented according to his wishes, in both Stockholm and Oslo. Von Suttner however had to wait four more years before she received her Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. The first prize for peace ever given was shared by Jean Henri Dunant of Switzerland for founding the Red Cross and the Geneva Convention, and Fredéric Passy of France for establishing a French Peace Society. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, also on 10 December by the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee with the presence of the king and queen of Norway. The award ceremonies and banquets in both countries have become major international events that receive worldwide coverage by the media.
When Nobel's will, revealed that the Peace Prize would be awarded in Oslo and not Stockholm, many objections were raised in Sweden. At that time Norway and Sweden were in a union under a common Swedish/Norwegian King, and Norway was struggling to dissolve the union. The Swedes feared that the Norwegians would abuse the peace prize in their struggle for self-governance. Some believe that Nobel's motive was his deep admiration for Norwegian patriot and prominent writer Bjornstjerne Bjornson. Then again he may have wished to distribute the task within the union to preserve the harmony. The union was dissolved in 1905.
During the last 102 years, only 11 women have received the Peace Prize; the earliest, an Austrian baroness, the latest an Iranian lawyer. Last night, 10 December the eyes of the world were focussed on Norway as the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the courageous 56-year-old lawyer Shirin Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize for 2003 for her lifelong struggle for human rights. Ebadi is also a Muslim and only the fourth Muslim ever to win a Nobel Prize. The first three were President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in 1978, Egyptian literary giant Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, and Egyptian physicist Ahmed Zuweil in 1999. Ebadi is the first citizen of Iran ever to win a Nobel Prize. Born in 1947 Shirin received her law degree from the University of Tehran in 1975 and became the first female judge and president of the Tehran City Court from 1975-1979, when she was forced to resign after the advent of the Islamic Republic. Ebadi resumed her law practice and took on sensitive and controversial cases other lawyers would not touch. A small self- effacing soft-spoken woman, she has a will of iron and a pen of steel. Ebadi continues her fight for women, children, as well as non- Muslims and political dissidents. The heroine of Iran's reformists, it is her firm belief that no conflict exists between Islam and fundamental human rights, and has expressed her controversial views in several books "never heeding any threat to her own safety".
Among the many hundreds of Nobel Laureates only 31 are women. Eleven of those who received the Peace Prize, form a rainbow of colours, nationalities, classes and faiths. Though they have taken diverse paths to peace they have all been staunch defenders of human rights. They have all been peacemakers. Apart from an Austrian baroness and an Iranian lawyer, a number of patriots, humanitarians, reformers and peace activists from the US, Northern Ireland, Sweden, Guatemala, Burma and one Albanian who became a Saintly missionary in India, working in the slums of Calcutta, helping the sickest, the poorest, the loneliest and the most destitute. We know her as Mother Teresa. The eleven women who made a difference are: von Suttner (1905), Jane Addams (1931), Emily Green Balch (1946), Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan (1977), Mother Teresa (1979), Alva Myrdal (1982), Auung Sang Suu Kyi (1991), Regoberta Menchu Tum (1992), Jody Williams (1997), Shirin Ebadi (2003).
Struggling for two millennia under a sea of male chauvinism and an oppressive patriarchal civilisation, "Woman" has managed to raise her head and come up for air through the centuries. She has finally reached shore, hoisted her flag of independence and made her voice heard as she shouted at the top of her lungs: "I am Woman!" Her lofty achievements may seem insignificant next to man's, but only man can be blamed for that. A glaring fact that should not be overlooked is that certain platitudes ring true in her favour. It is an undeniable truth that "the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world", and an absolute certainty that every Nobel Laureate was reared and nurtured by a mother, and probably supported and tolerated by a wife.
Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters -- all women hate wars. They neither make wars nor fight them. They are the peacemakers, and -- "Blessed are the peacemakers".
And what is bettre than wisedoom? Womman.
And what is bettre than a good womman? Nothyng.
from: The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343- 1400)