From “Greta” to Houellebecq, a very open Nobel season

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Stockholm | Peace for the freedom of the press or Greta Thunberg, literature from Michel Houellebecq or the American-Caribbean writer Jamaïca Kincaid: the Nobel Prize season opens Monday with its usual share of speculation on a 2020 vintage where the coronavirus cannot be completely absent.

Literature and Peace, awarded on October 8 and 9 respectively, are usually the center of attention.

But in a year marked by the most serious pandemic in a century and a major economic recession, medicine Monday, physics Tuesday, chemistry Wednesday and economics on October 12 will benefit from a special look. Even if the scientific committees swear not to be influenced by the news.

“The pandemic is a great crisis for humanity, but it illustrates how important science is”, underlined Lars Heikensten, the head of the Nobel Foundation who oversees the organization of the famous awards created by the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel.

However, it is unlikely that a prize will crown work directly related to Covid-19, as research sacred to a Nobel often takes years to be verified.

For the 101st Peace Prize, awarded in Oslo when the others are in Stockholm, experts stress that the game is open.

“There is no real major progress towards peace or peace agreements,” observes Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Reporters Without Borders?

While journalists are increasingly targeted on the battlefield and “fake news” parasitizes public debate in countries at peace, some experts would see press freedom crowned.

Who? Perhaps the French-born NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), abound the Nobel historian Asle Sveen and the director of the Oslo Peace Research Institute, Henrik Urdal, who also mentions the Committee for Protecting Journalists (CPJ), based in New York.

“During conflicts, it is extremely important that journalists help provide information on what is going on, both to establish the responsibilities of the opposing sides and to inform the rest of the world,” said Urdal.

Another major front in global crises, the fight against climate change could win it its first prize since that awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC in 2007.

At only 17 years old, the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is, like last year, cited among the possible winners, alone, with other activists or with her movement “Fridays for Future”.

To succeed Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed crowned in 2019, other experts cite the World Health Organization (WHO), the NGO Transparency International, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the UN and its Secretary General Antonio Guterres or even the Afghan Fawzia Koofi.

Polemics and literature

For literature, will 2020 mean the end of controversy? After Bob Dylan's controversial choice in 2016, the Swedish Academy was caught in the midst of a sex scandal that divided it to the point that it had to postpone the awarding of the 2018 award, a first in over 70 years.

In 2019, when everyone saw her going back on her tracks, she crowned the Austrian novelist Peter Handke, in the sulphurous pro-Serbian positions during the war in the former Yugoslavia.

“If the Academy knows what is good for them, they will choose Jamaïca Kincaid,” predicts Björn Wiman, culture editor of the main Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter.

The 71-year-old American-Antiguan author is known for exploring very topical themes: racism, colonialism and gender. A portrait of the winner which would also go well to the Frenchwoman Maryse Condé.

Often criticized for being too focused on Europe which has monopolized five of the last six literature prizes, the Academy could look outside the Old Continent with the American Joan Didion, according to literary critic Madelaine Levy.

Canadians Anne Carson and Margaret Atwood, Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Marilynn Robinson, Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o are also among the names that keep coming back.

In Europe, the Hungarian Peter Nadas, the Albanian Ismaïl Kadaré or the Romanian Mircea Cartarescu are regularly cited in recent years, as well as the French Michel Houellebecq, dissecting Western malaise. The name of the Briton Hilary Mantel, specialist of the historical novel, also emerged this year.

If the awards can be done as normally planned, the traditional award ceremonies on December 10 are reduced to a minimum. In Stockholm, the traditional physical ceremony with the winners was canceled, a first since 1944.

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