The War Politics Behind Nobel Prize
By Gouthama Siddarthan
19 October, 2015
The Nobel committee is at it again, proving for the umpteenth time that it has been a playground for the international political game of chess.
The game is played quite subtly with gay abandon along the puzzling lines pulsating with powerful swirls invisible and immense. “But the players keep remaining out of the bounds of the arena where the endless game of micro politics witnesses the shuffling and reshuffling of coins..” says Flemish novelist Jos Vandeloo.
This year the Nobel prize for literature has been awarded to Belarusian writer and media person Svetlana Alexievich to the great astonishment of literary buffs. What makes it special is the fact that the prize for literature has unusually gone to the writings which can be pigeonholed as anything but fiction. According to scholars, her writings damning Soviet Union on several counts are based on documented war-torn and war-ravaged voices of the hoi polloi. Pacifists are showering her with strings of sweet praises, carried away by the way she collected and recorded the agonized histories and voices of the people tossed about by the 1986 Chernobyl nuke fiasco, of those survivors of the World War II, and of those who were left displaced and depressed in the Afghanistan war.
Newspapers and journals hail her honour as the first one of its kind for media.
Are Svetlana’s non-fictional writings so impressive and important as to attract the attention of the Nobel committee? Does she deserve to be put in the category of the fictional writers who were honoured with the Nobel prize in the past, coming for the first time for non-fictional writing as it does after five decades?
The non-fictional writings of renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell awarded the Nobel in 1950 evolved into a system of philosophy throwing darts at imperialism which he believed was the root-cause of wars. Along those lines, Svetlana is also celebrated by the Nobel committee as an extension of non-fictional writers such as Russell for having captured the social essence and consciousness of the 20th century.
Critics may question placing of Svetlana’s writing on the same footing as past writers’ philosophical and idealistic thoughts. They may also pose the question whether media writings running as open narratives can be equated with the past glorious thinkers’ writings. However, they can be silenced by the Nobel committee‘s probable argument that as times change, so do the forms of writing and yet the fundamental essence, that is, anti-war attitude remains intact.
This kind of criticism is a charming quicksand and in fact, it seems to be instigated and inspired by the Nobel committee itself which paves the way for critics to come up with various charges. Nonetheless, it will be a totally flat and sterile perspective to proclaim that just as Boris Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky were honoured with the Nobel laurel just because of their anti-Soviet attitude, so is Svetlana made the Nobel Laureat for her writings interspersed with anti-Soviet strands and streaks.
Hence it is better to avoid stepping on such a dangerous landmine of criticism. And instead is all the more better to breeze into the global politics.
Political unrest is an in-thing in several countries across the globe. That scores of insurgents are fighting the State terrorism with the help and backing of some supporting neighboring and so called friendly countries needs no reiteration. The world political perspective has created an image of forward thinking in the case of supporting insurgents and anti-government political activists.
However the million dollar question is: what are the stances of those anti-government fighters?
The stance which keeps going the revolutionaries fighting against the racial supremacy theories of Third World countries such as Sri Lanka is far different from that of the revolutionaries in the Gulf countries.
First of all, the idealistic image of political revolutionaries per se is dead.
How can one name the militant groups in religion-oriented Arab countries, who say that the ruling elite does not strictly stick to the religious ideas and it is they alone who can establish and enforce a more religious dispensation? So, it is imperative to coin a new word to name such religiously conscious concept of political activism.
It does not mean that I argue that the world should turn a Nelson’s eye to the reign of terror let loose on the people by the powers-that-be in the Arab world and the ruling class theories and principles should be accepted as they are. I have to put forward my opinions based on a moral principle which does not take into account the view of the European media only and also tries to analyse the goals of the revolutionaries and stances of the establishments.
The Syrian civil war raging since 2011 has taken a heavy toll of human lives and tens and thousands of refugees have fled the country. When the Security Council of United Nations brought a resolution against Syria, China and Russia used their veto to get the move defeated.
Of late, the Syrian war has assumed a feverish pitch. The anti-establishment militant groups have been carrying on their activities with the covert backing of the U.S. Moreover, the IS militants are also keeping several town in Syria under their own control.
In the name of supporting the people harassed, suppressed and decimated by the Syrian government, the U.S. government wears a mask of humanitarianism. But it goes without saying that behind the mast lies hidden the U.S. eye on oil resources in the Gulf and so, it is the ‘oil micro politics’ that informs and infuses its strategies vis-à-vis Syria. As a sudden twist to the game, Russia too has taken a plunge into the raging fire, robbing the US of sleep and peace.
Russia girded up its loins and began swooping on all the anti-government fighters. Its president Vladimir Putin has given a clarion call to the US to send its army in the battle against the Syrian militants. Russia has announced that it has conducted aerial attacks on 27 IS strangleholds in Syria, which were under the control of the US-backed Free Syria Army. As a result, both the US and Britain have condemned Russia, saying that its pro-Syrian government stance would ultimately lead to the instability in the Gulf country.
The US critics allege that Russia has an ulterior motive of safeguarding and expanding its 40-year-old naval base in Tartus in Syria.
It is worthwhile to mention that the defence ministers of the NATO countries have assembled and discussed the Syrian issue. Moreover, their armies under the leadership of the US have been conducting aerial attacks on the IS militants.
Syria president Bashar al -Azad has declared that the Soviet intervention in his country should help win the war. Then only it will be possible to safeguard the entire Middle East. Otherwise the whole region be doomed. The NATO forces under the leadership of the US have been unable to eliminate the extremism which has, on the contrary, grown by leaps and bounds, he said. All this has angered the US and other countries to a great extent.
On the other side, the Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi in an interview given to France-24 TV channel has said, “if Russia comes forward to hold aerial attacks on IS militants in Iraq, we will consider it.’’
Thus the world political scenario has been changing colours like a chameleon moment by moment, what with tension marking the political game and gambling.
The media are dishing out stories proclaiming that Russia in support of the Syrian government is waging a war against the people and hope are afloat among the people that thanks to the Russian support, the civil war will come to an end. Against this confusing background, the political configurations in South East Asia are undergoing a process of readjustment and realignment.
In the arena of media politics, two different political perspectives, Russian and European, are at loggerheads. Against this backdrop, what is really righteous or rather, where is the moral rightness? The world micro political stage is enacting the play of the Nobel prize as the morally valid perspective.
The Nobel committee, which has till now upheld and honoured fictional writing, has for the first time deviated from the practice and showered laurels on the media-oriented non-fictional writing. The paradigm shift can be understood, taking into account certain factors. We can observe the moral righteousness of the Nobel Committee in its projection of Svetlana’s anti-Russian writings as the most important and most indispensable part in the international arena. It says her writings are not fictional in nature; they are real documents echoing with a multitude of sounds of sobs, snarls and sweats of beings in flesh and blood. Polish word, ‘literaturafaktu,’ (literature of fact) can be applied to this kind of writing. Her writing can be called, polyphonic writings. to borrow the phrase from an article in New York Times, “The truth in many voices’’. That article says ‘ the recovery of experience from myth has made her a major critic of the nostalgic dictatorships in Belarus and Russia.’
As a result, because of the Nobel prize background, all over the world the voices can be heard; voices condemning the Russian matters such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and voices resurrecting former dictator Stalin. In this Tower of Babel, all that the US has done and is to do will be relegated to the background.
In this context, we can quote from Harold Pinter’s Nobel prize acceptance speech given in 2005.
“Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed…”
“The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it..”
“But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked..’’
This excerpt from Harold Pinter’s speech reflects the helplessness coming out of an artistic mind brimming with powerful emotions.
By an extension of this perspective, we must observe the fact that the Nobel prize for peace has been given to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.
The importance of honoring a peace organization, which came into existence only in 2013, ignoring all others operating for a long time, should be realized. Originally in the list of Nobel prize probabales this Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was trailing behind among 227 individuals and 49 organizations. It was not among those recommended by socially conscious media and outfits for the prize. It did not figure either in the lists proposed by the media such as Guardian, CNN, and by the Nobel Peace Prize Watch and PRIO which are the social organizations well-known for their opinions on the most envious honour.
In fact the names initially recommended for the peace honour were the Japanese anti-nuke organization, ‘No More Hibakusha’, and Article 9 Association, German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has made the European countries accept the Syrian refugees and who has acted fast to bail out the economically deteriorating Greece, jointly with the European Union, Edward Snowden who has been exposing the web espionage of superpowers, American journalist and activist David Swanson and Uruguay President José Mujica who has taken to streets for the down-and-outs’ welfare and for opposing the use of chemical weapons.
However the background of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet having leapfrogged over all these famous probabales to the Nobel honour is full of micro political features.
The anti-dictatorial agitation called ‘jasmine revolution’ broke out in Tunisia in 2010-11 and spread to the whole of north Africa and in a domino effect, the Middle East was also bitten by the bug of uprising and finally it all led to what is now popularly called ‘Arab Spring’. The Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Al, was forced out of office. In all these activities, the role of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet has been immensely hailed.
The core of this argument is this: the way the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was formed and its democratic influence alone are very essential to the US. It is continuing phenomenon that the revolutionaries are up in arms against the dictators in the Arab countries and finally they topple the ruthless rulers and seize power. Against this background, the US would not like to witness the power shifting to the revolutionaries in the Gulf countries which it always wants to keep control of. The reason is that democratic outfits are pliable whereas the revolutionary organizations are not. That was why the US is hell-bent on ensuring that the Arab Spring hardly moves to the revolutionary stage and instead, it celebrates and upholds democratic values and supports such organizations. The motive is to blunt and stunt the revolutionary tendencies among the people and hold aloft the colonial outlook. This system of thought is based on the ideology of International non-governmental organizations.
It is worthwhile to mention here that last year an Indian voluntary service organization got the Nobel peace award. The hidden political agenda is that India’s biggest problem of child labour should hog the global limelight; it is also part of commercial politics that India’s surging trend in garment section should be underplayed.
Moreover, under the Narendra Modi dispensation in India, allegations are thrown at voluntary service organizations that they are getting fund from abroad. This kind of mudslinging is going on in most of the Third World countries. So, to stem the trend, the US seems to be driven by the idea that such voluntary organizations should be honoured to the great comfort of the governments in the Third World. It is a sort of ploy to keep tabs on the Third World.
A lot of micropolitical viewpoints have been expressed ad nausem about the Nobel honour for Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai .
It is against this background that one can understand from the global perspective of micropolitics that the Nobel prize committee seems to be a playground for the international chess game of politics.
In India too, a controversy is raging over the Sakitya Akademi award, the topmost literary honour. Several past awardees are returning their award to the organization in protest against the murder of Kannada writer M. M. Kalburgi by religious fundamentalist activists. The soul of creative writing is left gasping for breath, caught as it is between the politics of Third World countries over awards and the image of international awards mired in micro politics
In ‘Silapathikaram’, a Tamil classic, there is an everlasting image of a dice being rolled by the power politics flying across the space like a bird and snatching away the loincloth of the protagonist Kovalan. No better image fits the Nobel honour.
Translated by Maharathi
(Gouthama Siddarthan is a noted columnist, short-story writer, essayist and a micro-political critic in Tamil, who is a reputed name in the Tamil neo-literary circle.)