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Challenging search for Nobel peace laureate in world beset by war

Challenging search for Nobel peace laureate in world beset by war
Pope Francis, seen Oct. 8 at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City for his weekly public audience, makes most short lists of possible Nobel Peace Prize recipients. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images)

In a world racked by war, atrocities and treason, the search for a worthy Nobel Peace Prize laureate presents a daunting challenge this year.

Where on the planet can a man, woman or organization be found to have alleviated the bloodshed and cruelty that have afflicted humankind in the usually violent places and new corners freshly beset by chaos?

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Would-be peace brokers in the Middle East failed dramatically this year and last to halt the killing and maiming of warriors and civilians alike, making it seem unlikely that a diplomat will be named when the prestigious Nobel is announced in Oslo on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry all but gave up on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks this year as the most entrenched conflict in the roiling region slid into another spasm of deadly destruction in the Gaza Strip.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran U.N. diplomat charged with negotiating an end to the nearly 4-year-old civil war in Syria, quit in May after a dispiriting spate of fruitless peace conferences, efforts his replacement, Staffan de Mistura, hasn't even managed to reconvene.

No statesmen of the likes of South Africa's late Nelson Mandela [1993 peace laureate] or Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev [1990] or former U.S. President Jimmy Carter [2002] stood out as inspiring examples of leadership or freedom fighting in the year preceding the Feb. 1 deadline for nominations.

Nor did any religious leader make a noticeable contribution to world peace, although Pope Francis was nominated this year by the parliament of his native Argentina and has made some bold strides toward returning the Roman Catholic Church to a ministry focused on the plight of the poor. Still, the soft-spoken pontiff, who has eschewed the glittering trappings of the Vatican for a more humble lifestyle and wardrobe, has only been in office for 19 months, and the late Pope John Paul II wasn't recognized by the Nobel Committee during a nearly 27-year papacy dedicated to the cause of peace.

Bold gestures that stir controversy have landed some figures in the annuls of peace prize laureates at times, but most of this year's known nominees from the ranks of whistleblowers and protesters have already been passed over:

Former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, is serving a 35-year prison sentence for giving a trove of classified documents to the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group in a gesture hailed by some as spotlighting suspect government behavior but denounced by others as an act of treason. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, a fugitive from felony charges who is now holed up in Russia, is likewise saluted and reviled in nearly equal measures. Russian punk rockers Pussy Riot, a rare voice of protest in President Vladimir Putin's newly stifled Russia, were nominated but unchosen previously and in years when their rebellion landed them in prison.

Despite the dearth of obvious deserving recipients, a record 278 nominations were made this year, up by 19 from last year's previous record. Forty-seven organizations are among the nominees, which the Nobel Committee keeps secret for 50 years but which nominating individuals and agencies often disclose to the public.

Organizations tend to draw the secretive selectors' attention in years like this one when no individual stands out, and some names have been put forward as worthy recipients by informed speculators.

The Peace Research Institute Oslo, although not formally connected with the Norwegian Nobel Institute or the Nobel Committee, issues a short list of its perceived contenders each year and for 2014 suggests a Japanese pacifist group and an independent Russian newspaper as front-runners along with Snowden.

Japanese People Who Conserve Article 9 is a civic organization committed to preserving the pacifism enshrined in Article 9 of Japan's postwar constitution, in which the country pledges to abstain from "the right of belligerency" or use of force to settle international disputes. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been leading a push for revising the constitution to permit a more concerted defense posture since he took office nearly two years ago.

Novaya Gazeta appears on several organizations' list of peace prize contenders. The newspaper remains independent and highly critical of Putin and has paid the price with at least six of its journalists slain since its 1993 founding.

Other known nominees given at least an outside chance of scoring the prize include activist and Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for defying attempts to prevent girls from getting an education; gynecologist Denis Mukwege, who has treated thousands of female victims of rape and torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Uruguayan  President Jose Mujica, who gives away 90% of his salary to housing programs for the poor and has legalized marijuana and gay marriage; and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for putting the issue of climate change back atop the international agenda even in a world widely distracted by war.

One name long out of the limelight but thought by the Guardian newspaper to be deserving of belated recognition is Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of West Germany in the late 1980s when the postwar divide was mended through peaceful pro-democracy movements and skilled diplomacy.

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"Modern-day revolutions rarely end happily. Just look at the Arab Spring or the false Orange dawn in Ukraine," the British newspaper noted. "Helmut Kohl was no revolutionary, but the startling revolt that happened on his watch had a happy ending. Reunited Germany is one of today's great success stories, Europe's biggest country, its engine of growth, its biggest exporter, its anchor of stability."

Wouldn't it be fitting, the Guardian posited, to honor the 84-year-old icon of reunification with the prestigious Nobel prize almost 25 years to the date of the Berlin Wall's fall.

Follow @cjwilliamslat for the latest international news 24/7

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