Putin Would Be in Good Company: 5 Controversial Nobel Peace Prize Winners

Much to the consternation of many, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work negotiating in the Syrian conflict.

While the Putin administration’s anti-gay, anti-women and overtly religious conservative stance might make this seem ridiculous, Putin actually fits quite well into the Nobel Peace Prize’s legacy of controversial recipients.

Here are five examples in no particular order:


Copyright: World Economic Forum, Photo by Remy Steinegger (Creative Commons License.)

1. Yasser Arafat (1994) – Arafat won the award alongside Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East” as represented by the Oslo Accords which set out a five-year transitional period for Israeli forces to withdraw from occupied territories and for a Palestinian authority to be set up and establish a permanent settlement.

This was perhaps one of the most controversial of awards because of Arafat’s history of, by most any standards, presiding over a corrupt, violent and authoritarian regime. Yet the Nobel committee has shown an incredible ability to focus solely on perceived good deeds at the expense of context, illustrating why Putin’s nomination could be in good stead.


Copyright: Demosh, Wikimedia Creative Commons.

2. Wangari Maathai (2004) — Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace,” and the award was widely praised as a recognition of a woman creating social change.

Undeniably, a great deal of Maathai’s work might be praiseworthy, but what the committee neglected to recognize was that Maathai, speaking at a public workshop in Nyeri the same year she was awarded the prize, had reportedly said that HIV/AIDS was the result of a botched laboratory experiment and that AIDS was the deliberate creation of Western scientists who wished to control the African population.

For once the Nobel Committee could not ignore this controversy and a statement was issued in which Maathai commented she had never said such things and that the pronouncements were “wicked.”

The Standard, which had originally reported on the controversial statements, has always maintained that this was a direct quotation of Maathai’s words.

Putin has made similarly ridiculous statements about the gay population, ones he in fact hasn’t denied, that include him implying that Europeans are dying out in part because of their capitulation to gay marriage.



Henry Kissinger

Credit: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.


3. Henry Kissinger (1973) — Kissinger was awarded the prize jointly with Vietnamese revolutionary Le Duc Tho (though the latter turned it down) regarding his role in negotiating a ceasefire to end the Vietnamese war. In reality, not only did the war not conclude until 1975, Kissinger had been instrumental in crafting the Nixon era policies that escalated the Vietnam war.

Furthermore, Kissinger’s role as Secretary of State and his alleged (though broadly evidenced) involvement in a number of heavily questionable attacks including  the U.S. bombing campaigns in Cambodia to name just one, has for critics brought the Peace Prize into disrepute.

Next page: Anti-choice and anti-immigration Nobel Peace Prize reward recipients.

4. Mother Teresa (1979) – You may be shocked to see Mother Teresa’s name on this list. Indeed, the abiding legacy is of the saintly and diminutive holy figure who tended to the poor and generally improved life for countless impoverished families. Notably, she won the prize for her “humanitarian work.”

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote extensively on why the simple notion of Teresa as a meek and selfless nun is false. Regardless, for our purposes we need only note that Teresa was aggressively against a woman’s right to choose, and that she in fact used her peace prize acceptance speech to wage the following attack:

‘We speak of peace … I think that today peace is threatened by abortion, too, which is a true war, the direct killing of a child by its own mother. In the Bible we read that God clearly said: ‘Even though a mother did forget her infant, I will not forget him.’ Today, abortion is the worst evil, and the greatest enemy of peace. We who are here today were wanted by our parents. We would not be here if our parents had not wanted us. We want children, and we love them. But what about the other millions? Many are concerned about the children, like those in Africa, who die in great numbers either from hunger or for other reasons. But millions of children die intentionally, by the will of their mothers. Because if a mother can kill her own child, what will prevent us from killing ourselves, or one another? Nothing.’

Teresa was also against the use of condoms, believing the prevention of conception to be a sin.

Teresa’s anti-abortion message is largely understood to have kept the wheels greased on several anti-abortion political machines ranging throughout Europe — particularly in Ireland — and even in the United States. In giving Teresa the Peace Prize and therein providing her yet another international stage, the committee allowed for her to do the work of the Catholic Church and attack women’s choice head on, something we still hear the echoes of today.

Putin’s administration has overseen a deliberate tightening of abortion laws, partially on so-called moral grounds and also on “population” concerns.



Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull, 1924

5. Cordell Hull (1945) – Hull won the peace prize for his role in helping to establish the United Nations. What the committee apparently overlooked was the fact that then Secretary of State Hull, together with the Southern Democrats, had been instrumental in having President Franklin D. Roosevelt turn away the S.S. St Louis, which was carrying 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution.

Hull threatened to withdraw support from Roosevelt in the upcoming elections if he allowed the refugees on American soil. Roosevelt duly turned the ship away on June 6, 1939. It returned to Europe and while the U.S. did work with Britain to find safety for the refugees, more than a quarter of those who had sought asylum later died in the Holocaust.

Hull himself is not considered to have been an anti-Semite, but his reticence to engage with the worsening situation faced by Jews in Nazi Germany and his broader aims at not seeming to be in the pocket of the Jewish community so as to save his future political ambitions add up to a marked oversight by the Nobel Committee.

Putin’s own hostility toward immigration and even more regarding foreign oversight has been demonstrated by the increased burden the country has placed on foreign NGOs, to name just one example.


This list isn’t meant as an exhaustive look at the controversies created by the Nobel Peace Prize. Indeed, there were countless others that could have been mentioned.

Instead it is a snapshot of the Committee’s selective and highly subjective honors system and how the Putin nomination is unfortunately, despicably, not out of normal bounds for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Photo credit: World Economic Forum.


Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Yvette S.
Yvette S4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Lindsey O.
Lindsey O4 years ago

Obama should have been on that list - since he did zip to earn the Peace Prize (something which he himself essentially admitted).

This prize has been devalued - it's supposed to go to someone who has accomplished something really significant in stopping physical conflict. It's not something which should be used to further PC goals and to reward feel-good behavior.

And although I agree Mother Teresa shouldn't have been awarded the prize it has nothing to do with the recipient's views on abortion.

Dani C.
Dani C4 years ago

PEACE....an unattainable allusion

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K4 years ago

The Nobel Peace Prize is almost always just as much about encouraging future behavior as it is about rewarding past behavior - hence Kissinger gets it for a war still in progress, Obama gets it for speaking as nicely to the Arab world as to Israel, and Arafat, an actual terrorist turned politician, gets it for Oslo. Recognizing this, a man who has brutally suppressed an insurgency in a region seeking independence as it has been doing since it's annexation more than 500 years ago (Chechnya), who invaded a little neighbor that pissed him off (Georgia) makes perfect sense. Putin had been protecting the Assad regime from any kind of interference from the UN. When Assad was dumb enough to gas his own people and cross the line drawn by a POTUS who has no compunction about using the precision weaponry available to him, Putin started out by lying and blustering, but eventually came around to admitting that his protégé had those nasty weapons after all and offered to make him give them up. It's not easy for any of us to admit when we've been caught in a lie, and it's even harder for megalomaniacal autocrats; for that alone, Vlad deserves the prize. We're all better off with the chemical weapons being removed. It was only a matter of time before one went off in Moscow thanks to those Chechens, but eventually one would have made it to New York.

Anne M.
anne M4 years ago

I'm still wondering how Obama deserves a PEACE prize. In fact, if one considers that the US and the UK are the world's worst war-mongers and always have been, no American or Briton should ever qualify for a peace prize of any sort.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

BTW - in view of Obama's history in office he should be stripped off the NPP or - if he want's to save a little bit of the respect he once had - he should give it back on his own.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani4 years ago

Well ... it's quite simple:

If Kissinger and Obama got the NPP than Putin deserves it definitely twice! Just for averting yet another US war of aggression for nothing else but dominance and control over resources.

It has been descending more and more into a politically motivated farçe anyway.

What I find quite ... disgusting and disconcerting though is to see an outstanding person like Mother Teresa on this list!! It says a lot ... about the author? Care2? ... and it's not positive!

Don L.
Don L4 years ago

The Nobel Peace Prize means NOTHING anymore. If the committee really wanted to award a truly deserving person, they would look no further than Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani girl who demanded an education for girls, stood up to the Taliban, and was shot in the head for her trouble. Now she is safe in England and spreading her message of positivity and courage throughout the world.