“Is this a joke?” said Chrisoula Panagiotidi (36), an Athens beautician, laughing derisively upon hearing that the European Union had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Three days ago she lost her job, becoming one of the one-in-four Greeks who is unemployed in the fifth year of a biting recession. Told it was no joke at all, her incredulity quickly turned to disgust. “It mocks us and what we are going through right now,” she said. “All it will do is infuriate people here.”
Across a continent where the EU’s policies are blamed for deepening the worst economic crisis in living memory, many Europeans said they were simply baffled by the prize. Others were outraged. Mariana Fotiou, an Athens lottery ticket vendor was furious.
“It makes me so angry. We have a financial war on, don’t they realise that? The only morale it will boost is Merkel’s,” she said, referring to the German chancellor, whose insistence on austerity measures as the price for aid has made her a hate figure in Greece.
Earlier this week, Merkel visited Athens. Protesters burned Nazi flags and clashed with police in fury at her presence.
The irony of awarding the prize at a time when the EU is being pilloried in several European capitals, occasionally by crowds of rioters, was not lost on the Nobel Committee itself.
“The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU’s most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights,” said Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland in announcing the award in Oslo.
Yet even in countries hard hit by the tough economic times, there were still many people who said they understood the logic of awarding a prize to an organisation credited with helping maintain peace for more than half a century on a continent that was ripped apart in two world wars.
“It’s a good thing,” said 48-year-old Howard Spilane in Ireland, where unemployment has tripled since the crisis hit. “Europe’s in a crisis, but compared to the wars — even compared to the Cold War — Europe is in a better place. People are suffering, but they are not dying. On balance they have achieved a lot.”
. 2002: Jimmy Carter. The US president was awarded the prize for decades of peaceful solutions to conflicts. The prize coincided with the then US president George Bush making preparations for the invasion of Iraq
. 1994: Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In an award meant to celebrate the commitment to honouring those who turn from violence, Kare Kristiansen, a member, resigned in protest, calling him a terrorist
$1.2 mn -- The prize money (Rs 6.3 crore) for the Nobel peace prize