On Wednesday, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani education advocate, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child rights campaigner, attended a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, to receive their Nobel Peace Prizes. Yousafzai, who had been shot by the Taliban due to her promotion of education for girls, became the youngest ever winner of the world's most prestigious peace prize at just 17 years old.
While they were no doubt the most high-profile winners of an international peace prize this week, Yousafzai and Satyarthi were not the only ones. The day before they received their award, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro was announced as the winner of the rival Confucius Peace Prize at a ceremony in Beijing.
“As Cuba’s leader, when managing international relations, especially relations with the U.S., he did not use military force or violence to resolve controversies and disputes,” prize co-founder Liu Zhiqin was quoted as saying. Castro, 88, was not on hand to receive the prize, but state media reported that Cuban students in China said they would get it to him in due course.
If you've never heard of the Confucius Peace Prize, you're not alone. The prize was launched in 2010 and it has continued at a low profile ever since. In 2010, Lien Chan, Taiwan's former vice president, won the prize. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese scientist Yuan Longping, diplomat Kofi Annan and Li Cheng, head of the Chinese Buddhist Association, have followed.
The organizers have stressed the prize's links to Confucianism and said that they had set up their prize to "promote world peace from an Eastern perspective." However, few people failed to notice that the prize had been hastily set up after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Co-founder Liu had suggested China set up its own peace prize in a Nov. 17, 2010, editorial in state newspaper the Global Times. The article said such a prize could be a "weapon in battle of ideas." Within weeks, that weapon was a reality.
China isn't the first country to set up a rival to the Nobel Peace Prize. Under Moammar Gaddafi, Libya had its own "Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights" from 1988 to 2010. It became known for its sometimes unorthodox choices of winners, including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the children of Palestine, and "the libraries of Timbuktu."
More recently, a Dubai-based peace prize known as the "Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for World Peace" was set up, with the first prize due to be announced in 2015. The prize was established to "accurately and fairly highlight Islam’s teachings of peace, as a doctrine that promotes harmony, tolerance and moderation," though it does not necessarily have to be given out to Muslims.
Things can get confusing. A number of awards bearing the name of Mahatma Gandhi have been set up over the years. The Indian government established its "Gandhi Peace Prize" in 1995 (it was most recently awarded to Indian environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt), but there is also the "Gandhi Peace Award," which has been given out by U.S. NGO Promoting Enduring Peace since 1960 (given to Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin earlier this year).
To varying degrees, all these prizes have all been set up to not just reward an individual, but to promote a world view. Even with the famous Nobel Peace Prize, there's an element of soft power at work here.
What differs most, however, is how successful the soft power actually is. The Confucius Peace Prize has had issues for some time. In 2010, prize winner Zhiqin told journalists he knew nothing about the award until they asked him about it. And after a 2011 announcement that the prize had been canceled, it was swiftly announced that Putin had won the Confucius Peace Prize – bizarrely, due to his decision to go to war in Chechnya in 1999.