Norway has a few things in common with Ohio. For one thing, there are Buckeye trees here. Buckeyes on the footpath, already strewn with autumn leaves, felt like a welcome gesture meant just for me when I arrived in Oslo last fall.
The other thing is that both the Buckeye State and Norway are occasionally thrown into the media spotlight and then completely forgotten. During every US election cycle Ohio’s status as a battleground state gives its residents national importance. Political pundits, campaign staffers and election junkies become obsessed with how Ohioans will vote and what it means. And then, on the first Wednesday of November, Ohio is forgotten.
Every October, Norway makes headlines by announcing the Nobel Peace Prize winner. This year the European Union is the recipient of the $1.2 million award. Once again there is controversy, this time it’s that seemingly 500 million citizens of the EU are now Nobel laureates, including some unemployed and unhappy Greeks.
Norway’s sacred Peace Prize cannot come up in conversation without someone remarking on the absurdity of awarding it to Barack Obama in 2009. Everyone outside the selection committee, from Norwegians to Obama himself, was perplexed. Then there was the Chinese dissident who got the prize in 2010, damaging Norway’s political ties with the whole of China.
Controversy has surrounded the prize for decades. Mahatma Gandhi was nominated five times and never won. The Nobel Foundation has said he was passed over because the selection committee felt he flip-flopped between being a freedom fighter and an ordinary politician.
Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and since the Nobel Peace Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, the committee has lived with the regret ever since.
It seems they are trying to make up for their mistake by honoring him in an exhibit called Eye on Gandhi featuring photos from his last days. I went to the Nobel Peace Center today and found the homage a disappointment.
For one thing the gift shop took an icon who showed the world how much one can accomplish through nonviolent civil disobedience and turned him into a boorish stuffed toy.
The very first piece in the exhibit, a larger-than-life photo of the smiling Mahatma, glosses over the Nobel Committee’s previous remarks on why Gandhi never won the prize. The exhibit states that if had he not been suddenly killed, he would probably would have gotten it.
Lead the entire nation of India to liberation from the Brits and Norway will make a party mask out of your face. And then sell it to foolish tourists for a whopping $17 each.