By Ben Brumfield
(CNN) — The Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday to the European Union for peaceful reconciliation after World War II between former foes Germany and France, and for spreading democracy and human rights through Europe.
“In the inter-war years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made several awards to persons who were seeking reconciliation between Germany and France. Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality,” the committee said in a statement.
The European idea was born out of the suffering of the bloodiest war in human memory, which was the last conflict in a series of three fought between the neighboring countries over the course of 70 years, the committee said.
“Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable.”
The committee’s statement expressly mentions three EU member nations in the throws of economic and monetary crisis.
“In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership,” the committee said. All three countries had seen dictatorships in the 20th century even after World War II.
This year’s winner was picked from 231 different nominations, 43 for organizations and the rest for individuals, the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
Last year’s peace prize came as a surprise to many observers, split as it was among three women: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and grassroots activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni media freedom campaigner Tawakkul Karman, a symbol of the Arab Spring.
Johnson Sirleaf is one of many heads of state to have received the prize, including four U.S. presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
The Peace Prize is the fifth Nobel Prize to be awarded this week, preceded by honors in medicine, physics, chemistry and literature.
Two American scientists, Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for their work revealing protein receptors in cell membranes that tell the cells what is going on in and around the human body. Their achievements have allowed drug makers to develop medication with fewer side effects.
On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences bestowed Nobel honors in physics on Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the United States for their work in quantum optics that allowed scientists to observe the workings of atoms without disturbing their properties. As a side effect, their work lays down principles that could lead to quantum computers, which are astronomically fast computers that would radically change human life, if ever invented.
The Nobel Assembly Monday awarded the prize for physiology or medicine to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka jointly for their discovery that stem cells can be made of mature cells and need not necessarily be taken from fetuses or embryos.
The prize for excellence in the field of economics will be announced on Monday in Stockholm, Sweden, wrapping up this year’s awards.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 93 times since 1901 to 99 individuals and 24 organizations, according to the Nobel Prize website.
Many heads of state received it for their contributions to forging peace with conflict partners, fighting for human rights within their own borders or making amends for their countries’ past atrocities.
They have included German postwar Chancellor Willy Brandt; Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and his Israeli counterpart Menachem Begin; South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, Myanmar/Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, former Tibetan head of state in exile the 14th Dalai Lama, and Northern Ireland’s John Hume and David Trimble.
Well-known organizations honored with the prize are the Quakers, UNICEF, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, which the Norwegians picked three times.
The youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate is Mairead Corrigan, who was 32 years old when she was awarded the Peace Prize in 1976. The oldest winner is Joseph Rotblat, who was age 87 when he was awarded the Prize in 1995.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was nominated, but did not receive the prize, for his efforts to put an end to World War II.
A Swedish politician nominated Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1939 as a form of critical social commentary. Hitler, of course, was not considered for the prize.
Winston Churchill was nominated after World War II for both the peace and literature prizes and received the latter for his inspired oratories in the cause of human dignity.
Non-violence icon Mahatma Gandhi was nominated five times, including in 1948, the year of his assassination, and did not receive the prize, as the Nobel rules stipulate that prizes may not be awarded posthumously. That year, no prize was handed out.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five people chosen by Norway’s parliament and is named for Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist and inventor of dynamite.
Nominations come from lawmakers around the world, university professors, previous Nobel laureates and members of the Nobel committee.
The prize for peace is the only Nobel Prize not to be awarded by Swedes but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway instead — a stipulation in Alfred Nobel’s will, determined during a time when Norway and Sweden were ruled by a common monarch.
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