Hundreds of Norwegians held a torch-lit march in Oslo on Sunday to criticize the selection of the European Union for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Its member countries account for one-third of global arms exports. "It is not only the [EU] member states that do export weapons, and it’s not only the member states facilitating the weapon industry, but it’s also the EU on an institutional level. And that is the main reason, at least I’m here today, to contradict this prize," says Hedda Langemyr, the director of the Norwegian Peace Council. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Norwegian singer Kari Svendsen singing at Sunday’s protest in Oslo, the well-known antiwar song, "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream." This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Above me, a helicopter is hovering overhead. We’re just at the port in Oslo, Norway. I am standing just in front of Oslo City Hall, where the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has just wrapped up. People are now coming out. Not far from here is the Museum of Resistance, the Norwegians who resisted the Nazis in World War II.
Well, on Sunday, hundreds of Norwegians held a torch-lit march in Oslo to criticize the selection of the European Union for the Nobel Peace Prize. Just before the march, I sat down with Hedda Langemyr, the director of the Norwegian Peace Council.
HEDDA LANGEMYR: I was very surprised. And I was surprised because not long ago we also had a strong negative reaction to the prize in 2009, when Obama received it. Last year, when it was given to Tawakkul Karman and Gbowee and Sirleaf Johnson, we, maybe naively, hoped that the Nobel Committee was on better thoughts and had better intentions for the prize. However, it was—it was a big disappointment for us, because we believe that this year’s prize contradicts with Nobel’s will and the intentions for the prize.
AMY GOODMAN: What is Alfred Nobel’s will? What does it say?
HEDDA LANGEMYR: It says that the award should be given to person that has done most or best for disarmament, for fraternity and for the organization of peace congresses of the last year. If you look at the EU, EU is of course no single actor. It’s not—it’s not a person. They haven’t done that much for peace the last year, and they are actively facilitating armament, processes which contradict with the disarmament component in Nobel’s will.
AMY GOODMAN: How are they facilitating armament?
HEDDA LANGEMYR: Well, the member states of the EU, they have had an enormous increase in the weapon industry. This goes for Turkey. It goes for—well, particularly, it goes for Germany. The EU member countries also represent about one-third of the global arms export in the world. And there are nuclear weapons placed in five different EU countries. What the EU as an institution does to facilitate this is through something called the ICT Directive that was introduced this year. So the year they’re receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, they are launching a directive that facilitates weapon industry and export through making the industry a part of the internal market, which means that it’s much easier for the EU member countries to avoid their national legislators on this. So, it’s liberalizing the conditions for weapon production and export.
AMY GOODMAN: And how clearly are you heard in Norway when you speak out? Explain how the Nobel Peace Prize is decided.
HEDDA LANGEMYR: The Nobel Committee consists of five members appointed by Parliament, and it’s in a very closed and confidential process that not a lot of voices or members of are included in at all. What we do is that we comment on this on an annual basis, trying to invite the Nobel Committee to a debate on how to come back to the fundament that this prize was built on in the very beginning, which it seems that the Nobel Committee is moving further and further away from. In that sense, we have fairly easy access to media. We do a lot of public debate work, and we do a lot of pure informational work, because a lot of the people in Norway don’t necessarily know so much about Nobel’s will or know so much about the Nobel Committee or know so much about the criterias for the prize. So one of our main tasks also in this period of time is to inform about this, to awake public consciousness and to awake public mobilization.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you oppose President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009? And do you feel the same way about him today, in 2012?
HEDDA LANGEMYR: Well, opposing in 2009 was very easy. He was—at that time, he was a state leader, commander-in-chief, waging two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, increasing military troops in Afghanistan, waging two wars that we were principally against and that were not going well at all. And in that sense, that was a very clear paradox. You’re basically—you’re giving the peace prize to a warrior. And during his speech, when he came to Norway and held his peace prize speech on December 10th, he actually used the word "war" more often than he used the word "peace," which is also kind of illustrating what kind of a real political atmosphere he’s a part of and that this is not only—not only is it different from, but it’s incompatible with, the intentions of the prize and the guidelines for the prize.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, you’ve talked about the European Union militarizing the world. On the issue of the austerity programs that have been imposed on southern European countries, can you talk about your concerns there?
HEDDA LANGEMYR: Well, when it comes to the packages to Greece, for instance, the EU is dictating major cuts in certain parts of their national budget, but at the same time they’re delivering a premise. That is, that Greece is not to reduce their weapon import, which means that, relatively, EU is dictating an armament process in Greece in a situation where they are severely suffering and there are extremely many different obstacles and dilemmas to be handled. And in that sense, the weapon import, it’s not reflecting security, political need even. But it’s a waste of money, and it’s leading to a rearmament process in Greece that nobody is really served with. And this is also, yeah, just one of many examples of how the EU, through this, is facilitating the weapon flow and arms economy and arms profit.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, can you tell us about the building that your window overlooks?
HEDDA LANGEMYR: Yes. This is the governmental building that was attacked on July 22nd, 2011, where eight people were killed by Anders Behring Breivik, the terrorist that later attacked and killed 69 young Labor Party youth in the island called Utøya. I also think that the physical closeness of those acts of extremism and those acts of brutal violence also is a constant reminder for us working here in the Peace House of what kind of forces we are up against and have to continue working against also in the time to come.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hedda Langemyr, the director of the Norwegian Peace Council, speaking yesterday just before the peace protest. She also attended the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony today, right behind me at Oslo City Hall. The ceremony has just ended. About 20 heads of state in Europe and heads of government are now conducting a working lunch before the big banquet at the Grand Hotel.