Before yesterday I didn’t know that Sydney had its own ‘Peace Prize’. It seems a bit odd, a bit like Paris having its own ‘orbital hygiene mechanics’ prize; not totally out of the question, but somehow not quite what one associates with the image of the city. The Sydney Peace Prize. Well, why not? There have been no major wars here, or even minor ones. There have been no civil uprisings, military coups, or bombings. Except for an undercurrent of barely concealed racial tension Sydney is just about as peaceful as you could hope for. Who better to be giving out a peace prize than a city described by Clive James of having the air of a population permanently on holiday? There is a contention to be made, perhaps, that a nation like France, or Spain, or such, might be better suited to the distribution of accolades for peace. This is on the basis that a long and bloody history of civil and international conflicts really gives a nation an understanding of the value of peace. But I say phooey to them. Let the prizes come from a country that has rarely seen the need for an alternative.
At this point the thinking person might put up their hand and say, ‘wait a minute,’ and they would be right. Sydney bears a darker legacy than that: the Unacknowledged War that came to the country when, in 17xx, the endeavour dropped anchor and started the process of colonisation. A war was fought, acknowledged or not, and involved the trading of land for lives as much as any named war. The failure to acknowledge the reality of the conflict has been seen by many, like writer Peter Cary in his book 20 Days in Sydney, as one of the country’s greatest failings.
It makes me wonder where a country, or city, gains the right to make awards for peace. I don’t think that there’s a way to earn it. Neither lengthy suffering nor enduring political stability seems to confer the right. Indeed, it would seem as hypocritical for Switzerland to award a peace prize as it would seem, perhaps, self serving for modern Berlin to award one too. I don’t think it’s possible to qualify for the right, but if Sydney’s dark heart motivates it to foster the pursuit of peace in the world… then good. We should encourage it.
In that vein the winner of the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize is John Pilger. Pilger is an Australian journalist, film-maker and author. The Jury citation for the prize awarded it to Pilger “for courage as a foreign and war correspondent in enabling the voices of the powerless to be heard. For commitment to peace with justice by exposing and holding governments to account for human rights abuses and for fearless challenges to censorship in any form.”
Previous awardees include “Nobel recipients Professor Muhammad Yunus and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Indian author and human rights campaigner Arundhati Roy and, last year, the Aboriginal leader and ‘father of reconciliation’ Patrick Dodson.”
University of Sydney press release: Here.
Article from Pigler’s website: Here.
Image taken from: Here.