A vintage of the Nobel Prizes under the seal of the essential Covid

Pioneers of anti-Covid vaccines or top geneticists, Belarusian opponents or freedom of the press, a non-Western novelist? The 2021 Nobel Prizes are awarded from Monday with the undoubtedly essential seal of the pandemic.

Awarded for 120 years, the awards in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace desired by the Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, as well as the most recent prize in economics, are announced in Stockholm and Oslo. Slogan: give priority to those who have contributed the most “to the benefits of humanity”.

Will they have to wait or will they be sacred this year? The Hungarian Katalin Kariko and the American Drew Weissman appear to be nobelists for having paved the way for the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, already injected to more than a billion people around the world to protect them from Covid-19.

According to several experts interviewed by AFP, they could prevail in medicine, which opens the ball as usual on Monday, or even in chemistry on Wednesday.

“It would be a mistake of the Nobel committee not to give the prize to the vaccine by RNA messenger this year”, estimates Ulrika Björkstén, head of the scientific service of the Swedish public radio.

The Academy of Sciences, sometimes criticized for its tendency to crown very old discoveries, could also finally crown, at almost 90 years old, the lymphocite experts Max Cooper and Jacques Miller.

Research on breast cancer (Mary-Claire King and Dennis Slamon) or fields such as antibiotic resistance or epigenetics are also mentioned by nobelologists.

Physics will follow on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday, and literature on Thursday, with economics bringing up the rear on the 11th.

A vintage of the Nobel Prizes under the seal of the essential Covid

On Friday, all eyes will be on Oslo for the successor of the World Food Program (WFP) to the Nobel Peace Prize.

“I don’t think there are any obvious favorites this year, at least in the conventional sense of the word,” said director of the Oslo Peace Research Institute Henrik Urdal.

Organizations defending press freedom such as Reporters Without Borders or the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, are once again coming back this year as possible winners.

The Belarusian opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, alone or with her compatriots Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo, also has the rank of favorite.

Unless among the 329 candidates in the running, the Nobel committee chooses the climate cause, with for example the young Swede Greta Thunberg.

“This is the most important problem at the moment,” said Nobel historian Asle Sveen.

– “Positive colonialism” –

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Covax vaccine program for poor countries have lost their luster after controversies and delays in sharing doses.

As for the literature prize, it is also particularly open, with some predicting a non-Western winner.

A vintage of the Nobel Prizes under the seal of the essential Covid

If the 2017 British winner Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan, all the winners for the past nine years have been European or North American, from Bob Dylan to Peter Handke to the American poet Louise Glück, crowned last year.

“I think they really want to discover a genius of a place that has been neglected until now. You could call it positive colonialism,” says Jonas Thente, literary critic for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, who talks about the Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Other leads: the South Korean Ko Un, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o or the Chinese Can Xue, or newcomers like the Indian Vikram Seth, the Portuguese-speaking Mozambican Mia Couto and the Chinese opponent Liao Yiwu.

In a period that questions post-colonialism, the Caribbean American Jamaïca Kincaid or the Frenchwoman from Guadeloupe Maryse Condé are also mentioned.

Always cited, never a winner, would the Japanese Haruki Murakami follow the path of the American Philip Roth, who died without a Nobel?

In Europe, the Russian Ludmila Oulitskaïa, the Hungarian Peter Nadas, the French Michel Houellebecq or the Albanian Ismaël Kadaré are also “usual suspects” as, across the Atlantic, the Canadians Anne Carson and Margaret Atwood and the Americans Joyce Carol Oates and Joan Didion.

Covid obliges, the winners will receive their prizes like last year in their country of residence, even if there is little hope for the peace prize in Oslo.

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A vintage of the Nobel Prizes under the seal of the essential Covid