We won the Nobel Peace Prize

This morning, I was quite stunned to hear on the radio that I had won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Because in the extremely unlikely event that I should ever win a Nobel Prize, I would have bet on literature ahead of peace with the other categories in the “absolutely no fucking way” range.

But nonetheless, I did win the Nobel Prize for Peace today. Along with the approx. 500 million other citizens of the 27 member states of the European Union.

In 2005, when the German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, the tabloid Bild appeared with the infamous headline “Wie sind Papst!” (We are pope). Back then, I and a whole lot of other people* found the headline incredibly stupid. Because as a formerly Lutheran Protestant and now religiously unaffiliated woman from North Germany, I felt zero connection to the new Pope, a man with whom I have no more in common except that we happen to share the same passport.

But as for this decision, yes we – meaning all 500 million citizens of the European Union – did indeed win the Nobel Peace Prize. Because the Prize was not awarded to a bunch of buildings in Brussels or a bunch of bureaucrats and washed up politicians or to a stack of laws, guidelines and regulations that are impenetrable to the layman, but to the European Union as a whole. And that includes each and every one of us.

Of course, this decision was far from uncontroversial. The Americans are pissed, of course, probably because a lot of them secretly or not so secretly hate the EU (and besides Philip Roth didn’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature once again). Though mainly they seem to be ignoring the decision altogether to discuss other matters. Even Fox News, that bastion of unbiased rightwing propaganda, only offered a lukewarm list of reactions, mostly negative (including those from racist pieces of shit like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen who should certainly never be let anywhere near a Nobel Prize for Peace – maybe we should draft an “exclude” list and put Thilo Sarrazin right on it, too). The New York Times got real classy and quoted some retired Greek lawyer who said something about Germany waging economic war on Greece in the third paragraph of its article about the Nobel Peace Prize. The Brits, who actually are members of the EU, though they would apparently prefer not to be, are generally negative about the decision as well, though again I had to go to the conservative paper Daily Telegraph to get really negative reactions. There is also criticism from the left, mainly from Greek and Spanish anti-austerity activists who view the EU as the source of all their problems (though it’s not).

Now I don’t agree with all decisions and policies of the European Union either. There are a lot of things about the European Union that I disagree with (though for the record, I support the financial policies of Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble). There are certainly a lot of things that could be better. For starters, they could admit Turkey already. However, it’s also easy to forget that without the European Union, all our lives (yes, including people in Greece and Spain) would probably be more difficult in a million big and small ways. I think it’s great that I don’t have to get out my passport at every border, that I no longer need to go to my money box (which holds foreign currencies) before visiting the neigbouring countries, that I can live, work and study in every EU member state without having to deal with immigration laws, that I can buy and import products from other European countries without having to worry about customs and tolls. And – this is easy to forget – I live on a continent largely without war and without the death penalty (except for Belarus), which is a guarantee of peace and safety that previous generations did not have. That’s also the gist of those two supportive opinion pieces from Deutsche Welle and The Guardian respectively.

Besides, I also think that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union serves as an important reminder in times where all sorts of nationalisms are rearing their ugly heads again that we have got a good thing going here, something that is worth defending. It’s a reminder to stop paying attention to screeching nationalistic idiots like Thilo Sarrazin or Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders. It’s a reminder to Greek protesters that it’s possible to protest economic policies without resorting to swastikas and Nazi imagery and to tabloids like Bild (of “We are Pope” fame) that it’s possible to criticize the spending habits of other European countries without resorting to racist stereotyping. And finally, it’s a reminder that for all its problems, millions of people worldwide would love to live in the European Union and that thousands are risking and losing their lives (and of course the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea are another shameful chapter that needs to be tackled ASAP) to come here.

*My favourite reaction was that of a Turkish German comedian who said, “Wow, I’m the first muslim to become Pope. Who’d have thought?”

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15 Responses to We won the Nobel Peace Prize

  1. sherwood smith says:

    I was so delighted!

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  3. And – this is easy to forget – I live on a continent largely without war and without the death penalty (except for Belarus), which is a guarantee of peace and safety that previous generations did not have.

    I wonder if many of us don’t appreciate the peace we’ve had because we’re so used to it. Or perhaps we’ve not fully been able to appreciate that there’s been peace in Europe because we’ve still lived in fear at times due to the Cold War, domestic terrorist attacks such as those carried out by the IRA and ETA and, now, the “War on Terror.” All the same, Ulrike Guerot, from the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out at the BBC’s website that the EU began as

    a peace project and a political project. And this project has transformed Europe from authoritarian dictatorship into democratic, prosperous countries. […]

    More than 60 years later we are still struggling with this project – but do not forget that there has not been 60 years of peace in Europe since 1410.

    I think that deserves a prize.

    • Cora says:

      If, like you and me, you’ve grown up in a world where war was something that grandparents talked about, I think it’s easy to forget how remarkable that truly is. But although Germans supposedly have a national predisposition to being afraid, we actually got fewer of the post WWII fears. There was fear of nuclear war that led to widespread protests in the 1970s and 1980s and fear of war in general that – at least according to my parents, because popular historians paint a different picture – led to protests against the rearmament in the 1950s. And while we did have terrorism, our most visible terrorist, the RAF, mostly targeted bankers, industrialists and the occasional politicians, but generally didn’t bomb trains or busses (the 1977 hijacking of a Lufthansa plane was carried out by a Palestinian group affiliated with the RAF, not the RAF itself). Besides, I was four years old during the terrorism panic of autumn 1977, so it happened well before my threshold of political awareness, which doesn’t kick in until the following year. And indeed, I have no firsthand memories of those events at all – the RAF were mainly “those people in the grainy photos on the post office wall” to me. We didn’t really have the sort of attacks on civilians and commuters committed by the IRA or ETA – indeed, I found the constant terrorism awareness very disturbing as a student in London in the mid 1990s and that was during a temporary IRA ceasefire. As for the “war on terror”, the only way that our current government can keep up the continuing involvement of our army in Afghanistan at all is by pretending that it isn’t happening, while the involvement of German soldiers on the Balkan (and initially in Afghanistan) was presented as a “humanitarian mission” to the population (and everybody who disagreed with those humanitarian mission was quickly painted as being in favour of genocide), because the politicians knew that if they called it “war” they would have protests on their hands, cause Germans don’t do war anymore.

      Congrats on your part of the Nobel Peace Prize by the way.

      • “Congrats on your part of the Nobel Peace Prize by the way.”

        Thanks! Congratulations to you on your part of it!

        “cause Germans don’t do war anymore.”

        The UK does, obviously, and I wonder if there’s actually been an upsurge in support for the military recently. I think my first political memory concerns the sinking of the Belgrano. I’m not sure if I actually saw the infamous “Gotcha!” headline, but I was horrified by it. I have the impression that war helped Thatcher win the next General Election, though.

        • Cora says:

          The Falklands War was never taken quite seriously in Germany, probably because it was an election year and a time of massive protests against the NATO double track decision, so our national news media was occupied with other issues. I faintly remember seeing footage of smiling soldiers aboard the MV Queen Elisabeth on the news and that the gossip press was very worried about Prince Andrew, which always struck me as strange, because what about all of those other soldiers? I don’t think I was aware that there had been serious casualties until years later.

          But getting involved in a war wouldn’t have won anybody an election in Germany. Indeed, when Gerhard Schröder’s government decided to get involved in the Kosovo and later Afghanistan, a lot of people, including me, felt betrayed, because while we might have expected something like that from a conservative government (and Helmut Kohl, for all his faults, did keep Germany out of the 1991 Iraq Kuwait war), nobody expected it from the Socialdemocrats and the Green Party, which had been founded on pacifism. And Gerhard Schröder did learn from the loss of trust and refused to get involved in the Iraq war, pissing off George W. Bush along the way, which narrowly won him the 2002 general election, because his opponent was even less trustworthy.

          And even now, most politicians steadfastly refuse to call what is going on in Afghanistan “war” (with exception of the disgraced secretary of defense Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg).

          • Laran says:

            oh, now I am curious, Cora, what is the first political or world-event memory you have? In 1978, as I conclude from your words above?

            I have always been thinking that this question tells you so much about persons’ perspectives – how your early awareness of society and policy was imprimed. Sometimes I ask students and suddenly their look into the world makes much more sense, realizing that the first “big thing” they remember is 9/11.

            Mine is Chernobyl, by the way. And because it had so many repercussions on every-day life, even on a four-year-old it left lots of detailed memories. However, I guess what was most disturbing was the experience of grown-ups’ fear – when they were supposed to be steady rocks in a child’s life.

            • Cora says:

              Oddly enough my first “political” memory is the repeated election of new popes in 1978, which is strange because we’re not even Catholic and I had no idea what a pope was or what he did. However, I remember being very upset that those poor elderly men were being locked in with nothing to eat or drink, and given those conditions it really wasn’t a wonder that they kept dying.

              The next two big events I remember are the sinking of the freighter München in December 1978 and the flour explosion at the Rolandmühle in early 1979, two events which wouldn’t have been considered big outside Bremen at all. However, my Dad worked for the company that owned the München and the adult worries that a ship had simply vanished without a trace (it’s suspected that one of those monster waves got it) must have affected me. As for the Rolandmühle, we often drove past the building when visiting friends of my parents, so I was disturbed that it suddenly exploded. Interestingly, I have a very vivid and clearly false memory of actually seeing the Rolandmühle explode, which is impossible because we were nowhere near when the explosion happened and there is no film footage. The memory is so vivid as if I was actually there, though. To this day, I feel uneasy driving past the mill.

              My political awareness flickers on and off throughout 1978 and 1979. For example, I remember seeing footage of the Iranian revolution, but there are other big events of the time that I don’t remember at all.

              I seem to remember seeing the US troops pulling out of Vietnam on TV, but I suppose that I must’ve seen documentary footage sometime as a small child, because I would have been a baby when that happened.

              I remember Chernobyl quite clearly, particularly not being allowed to go outside during the breaks at school and how they threw away all the fresh vegetables, even though we’d been taught that one shouldn’t throw food away.

              As for 9/11, last year one of my students came to school extremely upset and disturbed after having seen 9/11 footage on TV. The kid in question was an enthusiastic member of the youth fire brigade and had apparently come across what he thought was a documentary about American firemen on TV (he loves American fire engines and wants to go to the US and become a fireman). Only that it was a 9/11 documentary and the kid was deeply disturbed, because he had apparently managed to live for 12 years on this planet without seeing any 9/11 footage. Of course, he would have been two when it happened.

  4. Not surprisingly, my view of this is different. For one, the Nobel committee restricts all other prizes to three or fewer people, thereby depriving many deserving scientists (it defaults to Big Names and heads of labs). For another, the EU worked when all was in abundance; it has essentially reverted to punitive measures for the “undeserving” and “lax” the moment scarcity raised its head.

    • Cora says:

      I totally agree on the various science Nobel Prizes. Science on that level is always a team effort and restricting the reward to a handful of (usually white and male) big names is unfair towards everybody else who worked on those discoveries.

      As for the current financial crisis, the racist crap about those “lazy South Europeans” found in the tabloid press and among politicians hoping for votes annoys me, too. Besides, how do they explain Ireland then, which isn’t located in Southern Europe at all (usually they conveniently forget Ireland)? I suspect that this Nobel Prize win is supposed to remind people everywhere in Europe that we’re all in this together and that old-fashioned racist and nationalistic prejudices don’t help anybody.

      And it probably would have been possible to avert the current crisis, if the financial control system had been better. I remember that there was a huge hue and cry sometime in the early 2000s when Germany and France exceeded the European deficit limit by half a percent or so for a year or two. Meanwhile, nobody at the European central bank was aware of the mounting deficits in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, because the control systems apparently relies on self-reporting and plenty of countries (we don’t even know how many others) didn’t accurately report their figures.

      Besides, as far as I’m aware the root of the financial issues in Greece is that wealthy people and industries, i.e. the proverbial 1 percent, don’t pay any taxes at all. Going after those people and companies and getting them to pay taxes would certainly be a better approach to dealing with the deficit crisis than taking it out on the backs of the poor, the elderly and government employees.

      Nonetheless, I think that a lot of people in Greece and Spain miss the point that Angela Merkel isn’t their enemy. For starters, Peer Steinbrück, the chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic Party used to be secretary of finance and is as much of an austerity politician as Merkel and Schäuble, so nothing would change with him in charge. Germans in general don’t think much of spending and debts and inflation and believe that saving money and cutting costs are good things, whether here or abroad. I cannot disagree with that. I have no debt in my private life and I’m not wild on losing my savings to inflation.

      Besides, the only party in Germany that would be opposed to austerity measures is the Left Party and they usually hover somewhere between five and ten percent with not a chance in hell of ever ending up in a national government. And the entire liberal party (like Libertarians in the US, though not quite as scary) as well as some in the conservative and socialdemocratic parties (e.g. that racist jerk Thilo Sarrazin) are in favour of cutting off all support to Greece, Spain and Portugal (and presumably Ireland, if they remember them) altogether. So it’s basically a choice between financial support in exchange for harsh measures and no financial support at all. And I still think the former is preferable.

      • Yes and no to the last few paragraphs. Individual Greeks (and I belong to that category) consider debt anathema and still prefer to pay for everything cash down. Of course, this is well-nigh impossible if you’re the head of a business. So please do not bundle people in one undifferentiated mass as far as habits go.

        Germany has used its economic clout to essentially end up borrowing at negative interest. By the way, Italy and the Baltics (though not included in the discussion) also belong to the troubled countries. If half the members of a union are in trouble, there’s something off about the union. Also recall that Germany was given the enormous Marshall bundle as an interest-free gift (not loan) after the war. Granted, this was for geopolitical reasons — but they conveniently forgot the clause about repaying the money upon unification.

        Finally, the troika is acting like a colonial power in Greece. Finances are only part of the equation. Constant humiliation and destruction of the social fabric are just as crucial.

      • Also, it’s true that the very rich manage to evade taxes in Greece (as in other countries) and that many appointments to key positions are political. However, what started the downward spiral for Greece was entering the euro — which means that when the crisis descended they couldn’t devalue their currency to remain competitive or keep the debt from snowballing.

        The conditions imposed on Greece right now is that it must pay the interest on its debt (not even the capital) BEFORE it takes care of even basics of its economy — like paying salaries and pensions. If that’s not colonialism, I don’t know what is.

      • Final point: “I cannot disagree with that [the overall German view]. I have no debt in my private life and I’m not wild on losing my savings to inflation.”

        Guess what, my father and sister worked their full span of years and then some (my father till he was 75, because he kept getting roped back in due to his precious, unique expertise). They aren’t wild either to see the money that was taken out of their salaries — that is, the principal, not the interest — to create their pensions cut down by 40%, so that European banks can get full interest on the bad loans they made. If you make an investment, you take a risk. European banks took these risks, but want (and have received) no penalty.

        And if your view is “I got mine, Jack, and the devil take the unlucky” I fail to see how this constitutes solidarity.

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