After its Obama bombshell last year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee could make waves again this year, some predict, by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident.
The Nobel season opens Monday with the Medicine Prize, followed by awards for exceptional work in physics, chemistry, literature and economics.
But all eyes are fixed on the prestigious Peace Prize, which could create an upset again this year if some predictions come true.
“If the Nobel Committee is courageous, and I think it will be, it should reward Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo,” said Asle Sveen, a historian and Nobel Prize specialist.
“There’s been talk of a Chinese dissident for the prize for so long,” he told AFP.
Such a choice would certainly infuriate Beijing.
Geir Lundestad, the influential secretary of the Nobel Committee, recently said he was warned in June by Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying that rewarding a Chinese dissident would be seen by Beijing as “an unfriendly gesture” which could affect the relationship between China and Norway.
Liu Xiaobo, a 54-year-old writer, was sentenced last December to 11 years behind bars for subversion after co-authoring a bold manifesto calling for democratic reform, “Charter 08,” which was signed by more than 300 Chinese intellectuals, academics and writers, and thousands of others after it was circulated on the Internet.
Online betting website paddypower.com deemed him a gamblers’ best bet this year with odds of 6 to 1.
He is ahead of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Russian human rights group Memorial and its founding member Svetlana Gannushkina, and Ireland’s Mary Robinson, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who all have odds of 8 to 1.
“Liu would be a popular choice in the Western world, where he could help people forget that Obama fell short of expectations,” Sveen said, adding such a pick could help re-establish the prize’s luster in the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 after less than a year in office and as Washington was waging wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pick triggered widespread criticism of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
This year, the five members of the committee will have a record of 237 candidates to chose from. The list is secret, except for the names revealed by those who suggest them.
“I believe the winner of the 2010 is somebody few people will know about,” said Scott London, a U.S. journalist and author who closely follows the Nobels.
“It may be somebody working for peace in an unconventional way — a peace researcher, for example, or an investigative journalist,” he said.
The head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Kristian Berg Harpviken, said this week the committee would probably “be somewhat more traditional in its selection of a candidate than it was last year.”