OSLO, NORWAY: In the absence of rock icon Bob Dylan, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will be the star of Saturday’s Nobel ceremonies when he receives his Peace Prize in Oslo, crowning an achievement that came close to failing at the finish line.
After a first peace deal rejected by the Colombian people, Santos’s government and the Marxist FARC rebels renegotiated a new peace accord that was signed on November 24 to end a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and forced nearly seven million to flee their homes.
“Something that was for many Colombians and for many Latin-Americans and for the world an impossible dream just a few years ago is now reality,” Santos told reporters in the Norwegian capital on the eve of the prize ceremony.
The peace process had suffered a major setback on October 2 when Colombians narrowly rejected a first peace accord in a referendum.
While the “no” vote appeared to send Santos’s chances of winning the Nobel up in smoke, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stunned world watchers five days later by awarding him the prize, arguing that Colombians had rejected the peace deal but not peace itself.
“It shows that peace is not made in one day,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, deputy chairwoman of the Nobel committee, said on Friday.
The 65-year-old laureate called the prize a “gift from heaven” that gave a “tremendous push” to reach a new agreement with FARC.
“People in Colombia interpreted it as a mandate from the international community to persevere, to continue striving to achieve a peace agreement,” Santos said.
“It encouraged me, it encouraged our negotiators, but particularly it encouraged the Colombian people to press” for a new deal, he said.
The peace deal, amended to include proposals from the opposition, calls for the rebels’ disarmament and FARC’s transformation into a political movement.
The Peace Prize will be presented early on Saturday afternoon at Oslo’s City Hall at a ceremony attended by the royal family, members of the Norwegian government, representatives of victims of the conflict, and two high-profile former FARC hostages, Ingrid Betancourt and Clara Rojas.
The Nobel prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and a cheque for eight million Swedish kronor (824,000 euros, $871,000), a sum Santos promised to donate to the victims of the war.
Later on Saturday, another ceremony will be held in Stockholm where the Nobel laureates in the sciences, economics and literature will be honoured — a ceremony marked by the notable absence of this year’s literature laureate, Bob Dylan.
The first songwriter to win the prestigious award, he has declined to attend the glittering ceremony due to “pre-existing commitments”.
The no-show has created a stir in Sweden, where it has been perceived as a slight towards the Swedish Academy that awards the literature prize and the Nobel Foundation.
Announced as the winner on October 14, Dylan waited almost two weeks to publicly acknowledge the accolade, a silence one Academy member termed “impolite and arrogant”.
Dylan did ultimately say he was honoured to win, but then informed the Academy in mid-November that he would not be travelling to Stockholm to accept his prize.
“A slap in the face,” remarked editorialist Lena Mellin at one of Sweden’s biggest dailies, Aftonbladet.
“Anyone who has ever received a prize, even if it’s just for being the best neighbour in the apartment building, knows that the least one can do is go and accept it,” she wrote.
On social media, opinions were mixed.
“If it were me, I would probably… collect a Nobel Prize and $900,000. But it’s Bob, and that’s part of what makes him Bob,” wrote fan Evan Sarzin on the singer’s Facebook page.
“He is 75, give him a break,” argued another, Karen Lunebach.
“But what is Bob Dylan doing instead of going to the Nobel ceremony,” asked daily Svenska Dagbladet on Friday, joking about his “pre-existing commitments” even though no concert was scheduled for Saturday.
The singer-songwriter has sent a thank-you speech to be read at the gala banquet at Stockholm’s City Hall, attended by around 1,300 guests and the Swedish royal family.
And just before that, American rock star Patti Smith will sing Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” during the formal prize ceremony at Stockholm’s Concert Hall.
According to the Nobel Foundation, his prize should be presented to him in person sometime in 2017, either in Sweden or abroad.
Nobel Prizes for serving heads of state
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to serving heads of state or government several times since the honour was first handed out in 1901. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos receives it on Saturday for his “resolute” efforts to end five decades of war in his country, as enshrined in a historic peace accord signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Here are the precedents for Santos’ honour:
2011: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
She was one of three women laureates along with Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The committee highlighted “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
2009: Barack Obama
He was a surprise winner for his “extraordinary” diplomatic efforts on the international stage, just nine months after he took office.
The Nobel committee attached “special importance to Obama’s vision and work for a world without nuclear weapons” and said he had created “a new climate in international politics”.
2000: Kim Dae Jung
He was a pro-democracy campaigner who became president of South Korea between 1998 and 2003. He won the prize in 2000, the year he helped organise a landmark reconciliation summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. Kim Dae-Jung died in 2006.
1994: Yitzhak Rabin
Rabin, Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat jointly won the prize for their efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, resulting in the Oslo Agreement in 1993. At the time Rabin was prime minister and Peres foreign minister of Israel, while Arafat was later elected president of the Palestinian National Authority.
Their goal still eludes world leaders today however.
1993: F.W. de Klerk
As president of South Africa, de Klerk was instrumental in ending his country’s white-minority apartheid system and paving the way for majority rule. His government released from prison the man who succeeded him, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela. The two won the prize jointly in 1993.
1990: Mikhail Gorbachev
He was awarded the peace prize in October 1990. The reforms in part inspired by Gorbachev led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the reunification of Germany the following year and the effective dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
1987: Oscar Arias Sanchez
The president of Costa Rica won for his work on ending the civil wars that afflicted several central American states in the 1970s and 80s.
1978: Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin
The Egyptian president and Israeli prime minister signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978; they led to a peace deal between the two main belligerents in several Middle Eastern wars, but were followed by Sadat’s assassination three years later.
US president Jimmy Carter, who presided over the deal, was to also win the prize in 2002, after he had left office.
1971: Willy Brandt
Brandt was chancellor of West Germany — one of the two German states that emerged after World War II — when he won in 1971. Brandt, a social democrat, was awarded the prize for his “Ostpolitik”, or policy of reconciliation with East Germany. The two states reunited to form the present-day republic of Germany in 1990.
1921: Karl Hjalmar Branting
The Swedish prime minister, who held office twice between 1920 and 1923, won along with Norwegian historian Christian Lange. The Nobel committee hailed their support for the League of Nations.
1919: Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Wilson was in the middle of the second of his two terms as US president when he won the prize for his work to seal the Treaty of Versailles that followed World War I. Wilson’s “Fourteen points” laid the foundations of the League of Nations, the predecessor of today’s United Nations.
1906: Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt, whose name is more often associated with his role in several wars and his motto “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping end a war between Russia and Japan.