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Nobel Prize season arrives amid war, nuclear fears, hunger

A bust of the Nobel Prize founder, Alfred Nobel, is on display at the Concert Hall during the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm. Associated Press File Photo

This year's Nobel Prize season approaches as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shattered decades of almost uninterrupted peace in Europe and raised the risks of a nuclear disaster.

The secretive Nobel committees never hint who will win the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economics or peace. It's anyone's guess who might win the awards being announced starting Monday.

Yet there's no lack of urgent causes deserving the attention that comes with winning the world's most prestigious prize: Wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia, disruptions to supplies of energy and food, rising inequality, the climate crisis, the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The science prizes reward complex achievements beyond the understanding of most. But the recipients of the prizes in peace and literature are often known by a global audience and the choices — or perceived omissions — have sometimes stirred emotional reactions.

Members of the European Parliament have called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine to be recognized this year by the Nobel Peace Prize committee for their resistance to the Russian invasion.

Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, believes more likely peace prize candidates would be those fighting climate change or the International Atomic Energy Agency, a past recipient. Honoring the IAEA again would recognize its efforts to prevent a radioactive catastrophe at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at the heart of fighting in Ukraine, and its work in fighting nuclear proliferation, Smith said.

“This is really difficult period in world history and there is not a lot of peace being made,” he said.

Promoting peace isn't always rewarded with a Nobel. India's Mohandas Gandhi, a prominent symbol of non-violence, was never so honored.

In some cases, the winners have not lived out the values enshrined in the peace prize.

Just this week the Vatican acknowledged imposing disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations he sexually abused boys in East Timor in the 1990s.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. A year later a largely ethnic conflict erupted in the country's Tigray region. Some accuse Abiy of stoking the tensions, which have resulted in widespread atrocities. Critics have called for his Nobel to be revoked and the Nobel committee has issued a rare admonition to him.

The Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991 for her opposition to military rule but decades later has been viewed as failing to oppose atrocities committed against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In some years, no peace prize has been awarded. It paused them during World War I, except to honor the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1917. It didn't hand out any from 1939 to 1943 due to World War II.

In 1948, the year Gandhi died, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made no award, citing a lack of a suitable living candidate.

The prizes carry a cash award of nearly $900,000 and will be handed out on Dec. 10.

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