The Nobel Peace Prize, one of the world's most prestigious honors as well as a lightning rod for controversy, again has emerged as a target of international outrage, this time because one of the winners took part in a propaganda crusade against a previous laureate, dissident Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov.
The decision to invite Dr. Yevgeni Chazov, a cochairman of the International Physicians For The Prevention Of Nuclear War, which won this year's prize, to appear at the awards ceremony Tuesday has embarrassed the Nobel Committee.
Committee members now admit that they did not know that Chazov had signed a letter in 1973 attacking Sakharov for slandering his country and "grossly distorting the realities of [Soviet] life."
Chazov's role has provoked an outcry, particularly in conservative European circles. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and nine other leaders of European Christian Democratic parties have written to the Nobel Committee urging that Chazov be dropped from this year's award ceremony.
The Nobel Committee pointedly rebuffed Kohl's letter, noting that the last such protest by a government leader was lodged by Adolf Hitler in 1935.
The ambassadors in Oslo of the United States, Britain and West Germany have given notice that they will not attend the awards ceremony on Tuesday, although the State Department has denied that U.S. Ambassador Robert Stuart's absence represents a boycott.
Chazov, a deputy health minister who has served as the personal physician of Soviet leaders, became a full member of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1982. As a leading figure in the Soviet scientific establishment, he has followed Moscow's policy views dutifully.
He recently wrote an article in the Communist Party daily Pravda blaming the United States for the nuclear arms race because it was "choosing to accumulate the most death-dealing arms in a futile attempt to gain a one-sided military advantage."
As a cofounder of the group, informally known as the Doctors Against Nuclear War, Chazov also has been accused of using the forum to promote Soviet antinuclear policy through the medical profession.
Two months ago, the group's 135,000 doctors and health professionals were named for the prize without protest for their work in alerting mankind to the medical and environmental risks of nuclear conflict.
The antinuclear physicians were lauded in the Nobel citation for providing "a considerable service to mankind by spreading authoritative information and by creating awareness of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear warfare."
The committee also felt that its choice would draw attention to the virtues of East-West cooperation. The group was created five years ago on the initiative of two leading cardiologists, the Russian Chazov and his American friend Bernard Lown.
Instead of focusing on the rapport between the Soviet and American doctors in their struggle against nuclear war, public attention soon became riveted on Chazov's background in the anti-Sakharov crusade that started more than a decade ago.
Yesterday, a Norwegian protest group awarded an alternative peace prize to the imprisoned Soviet psychiatrist Anatoly Koryagin, who reportedly was arrested for protesting Moscow's use of mental hospitals to incarcerate political dissidents. A candle was accepted as a token on Koryagin's behalf by the British doctor Allen Wynn, who described this year's selection for the peace prize as "the greatest mistake the Nobel Committee has ever made."
Wynn charged that the letter signed by Chazov and 21 other Soviet doctors, published in the government newspaper Izvestia in 1973, launched the official campaign to discredit Sakharov that finally resulted in his exile to Gorki without trial in 1980.
Lown has defended his relationship with Chazov, as well as their organization. He contends that the group's aims are apolitical and must not be buried in "cold war" rhetoric.
Lown rejected charges of a pro-Soviet bias in the doctors' campaign and said its primary goal was to educate people about the effects of any nuclear war.
Jakob Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, admitted Friday that the committee felt "uncomfortable" about the fact that it had been unaware of Chazov's denunciation of Sakharov when it chose him two months ago as a cowinner.
Sverdrup indicated, however, that the Nobel Committee had become resigned to inevitable questioning about its judgment. During the course of the Nobel Prize's 84-year history, other choices have aroused much greater criticism, he said. As examples, Sverdrup noted that giving the Nobel Peace Award to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973 for their ill-fated negotiations on the Vietnam War, and to Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in 1978 for the Camp David peace treaty, had provoked more widespread antagonism than this year's choice.
Egil Aarvik, the chairman of the selection committee, added: "We are used to divergent views on the committees' decisions. This is something we must live with."
The Soviet ambassador, as well as other envoys from the Eastern Bloc, have said that they will attend the Nobel ceremony for the first time since Sakharov won the 1975 award. At the time, the selection was decried by Moscow's state-run media as "a prize for anti-Sovietism."
In the past decade, the Soviet press has denigrated the Nobel Peace Prize, devoting little attention to winners. In contrast, Chazov's involvement now was acclaimed by the Soviet press.