Following a year that saw protests spread across the world and galvanize the movement against racial injustice, Black Lives Matter is among the contenders for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Petter Eide, the Norwegian lawmaker who nominated Black Lives Matter for the prize, said he would be delighted, but surprised, by a win.
Awarding the prestigious prize to Black Lives Matter would be “very controversial,” he told Newsweek. “It would be a very, very brave decision” for the Norwegian Nobel Committee to make, he said. They “will receive a lot of criticism, but they are used to that.”
In total, 329 candidates are being considered for the prestigious prize for 2021—234 are individuals and 95 are organizations. The secretive Nobel committee keeps the names locked in a vault for 50 years, although nominees and the people behind the nominations can make them public earlier.
The winner is set to be announced on Friday, kicking off speculation about who will be awarded the top accolade.
Bookmakers have the World Health Organization as the likeliest winner for 2021 for its work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Black Lives Matter have been given better odds of winning the prize than the likes of former president Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. But other top picks include: climate activist Greta Thunberg, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, New Zealand’s popular leader Jacinda Ardern, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a leading figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Eide believes the violence that erupted at some protests that took place in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last summer could hinder Black Lives Matter’s chances of winning the Peace Prize. “My argument when I was nominating them is that we need to distinguish between what BLM organizes and the violent riots,” he said.
But he noted that the Nobel committee has a tradition of connecting anti-racism movements and peace. “Let’s go 55 years back in time, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Peace Prize, I think exactly the same arguments against him were raised at that time. Some groups labeled him as a terrorist.”
Henrik Urdal, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, believes Black Lives Matter could win the prize “in principle,” but agreed there were some issues the committee would need to grapple with.
“The committee is particularly focusing on whether social movements are non-violent or not,” he told Newsweek. “Of course, there has been a little bit of turbulence throughout some of the BLM protests.”
When Eide nominated Black Lives Matter, he said he felt its call for systemic change had spread far beyond the U.S. and forced other nations to “grapple with racism within their own societies.”
It came after protests against police brutality and racial injustice that started in Minneapolis after Floyd’s killing quickly spread around the U.S. and then the world, momentarily shifting the spotlight off the COVID-19 pandemic.
But since the nominations for Nobel Prizes closed at the end of February, the five-person panel of judges are ruminating at a time when those issues are no longer dominating front pages.
Eide argued that could be an advantage for Black Lives Matter, saying the panel’s judging is “more academic and systematic.”
“Perhaps that might even strengthen the chances, I would say, because many of the headlines were, of course, linked to the riots,” he said.
He said that it was “extremely important” to recognize groups fighting racial injustice. “And not only in the U.S, but the movement has spread throughout the world… so that’s why I nominated them,” he added.
But Urdal noted that in recent years, the committee has also demonstrated its efforts to make the prize a truly global one. If the committee were to recognize the fight against racism and inequity, he says they may wish to look at it in a broader context.
“Of course, these kinds of challenges exist everywhere in the world,” he said, pointing to social movements that have taken place in countries including India and Nigeria.
Urdal, who has correctly predicted previous winners, says the committee may be inclined to recognize groups fighting for the freedom of the press, climate activists or those who have led non-violent protests against autocratic regimes.
His picks include Reporters Without Borders for a prize focused on the “importance of independent reporting and press freedom in the face of the dire risks” and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who led non-violent protests in Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko won what was viewed as a rigged election.
Eide says the expectation is that the prize will go to an organization that has been tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. But he added that even without a win, he believes Black Lives Matter view the nomination for the prize as a significant victory itself.
Black Lives Matter declined to comment. But co-founder Patrisse Cullors told Newsweek in February that the movement was “more energized than ever” after the nomination. “We are honored the movement is being recognized, and are more energized than ever to continue to fight for Black lives,” she said.
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