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.
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?”