The Nobel Peace Prize has always been viewed as a an inspiring award that celebrates contributions to the advancement of human rights. But the integrity of the Norwegian committee that selects the winner each year may be in jeopardy now that a controversial leader of the populist Progress Party may join its ranks. Carl I. Hagen, an anti-immigrant politician, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Committee seat, a decision that has sparked outrage both within Norway and around the world.
The Nobel Prize Committee, which must reflect to political complexion of Norway's parliament to avoid partisanship, currently has three vacant seats to fill after the political representation of the country changed as a result of this year's elections. Most notably, the Progress Party, which has come to be known for its anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric in recent years, expanded its representation in government, and is now demanding a seat on the Nobel Prize committee. The party has selected Hagen — who led the party for 30 years and has made a number of outrageous statements about Muslims and the LGBTQ community — to have it.
Hagen has made headlines in the past for stating that "Being gay … is nothing to celebrate,” and for urging Norwegian citizens to "wake up to the creeping Islamization" of their country. Hagen has expressed to a local news station that he would be interested in serving on the Nobel Prize committee should he be selected.
Hagen's nomination must be accepted and confirmed by Norway’s Stortinget parliament, but many national leaders have publicly stated that Hagen has no place on the committee. "His opinions are not consistent with the values the prize promotes and that much of Norway wants to project,” one politician, who asked not to be identified, told The Guardian. “It’s that simple.”
The committee frequently recognizes immigrants for their immense contributions to society, but even aside from Hagen's controversial political views, his nomination has received backlash for another important reason: His appointment could be at odds with longstanding rules that are meant to preserve the neutrality of the Nobel Prize Committee.
Current government members are not allowed to be on the committee to ensure that members will not be subject to political pressure, especially from foreign governments. Hagen is currently the Progress Party’s first deputy MP. According to many leaders, this means that Hagen's appointment would raise many questions about the "independence of the committee."
“It’s vital for the legitimacy of the Nobel Peace Prize that it’s completely independent from government and parliament," a Liberal Party MP and deputy speaker of the parliament, told The Guardian. "I’m surprised the Progress Party is ready to break this tradition.”
According to Local Norway, while Nobel Committee rules do prevent current MPs from having a seat, it's unclear whether these rules apply to deputy members of political parties, which is what Hagen's current role is. In fact, a former Norwegian municipal councilor, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn, briefly served on the committee in 2001 while she was a second deputy for the Progress Party.
Norway's parliament will weigh all of these arguments on Monday when it meets to begin deliberating about all of the Nobel Prize Committee candidates. Should Hagen be accepted to join the committee, the backlash will likely be severe. Even the secretary of the Nobel Committee and director of the Nobel Institute, Olav Njølstad, has spoken out against the nomination.
"It would be a completely untenable situation," Njølstad told a local broadcaster. "[The nomination] indicates little understanding and respect for the Nobel Committee's work."