By Craig Cormick
Each December, as the world turns its attention to the Nobel Peace Prize, other individuals and groups are honoured with an alternative peace prize. The recipients, chosen by the London-based Right Livelihood Award jury, are often unaligned with major nations or political parties, and are chosen because they are working for "practicable solutions to the most urgent problems facing the world today".
Among the latest recipients of the Alternative Peace Prize are Bengt and Marie-Therese Danielsson, who have helped to voice the concerns of the peoples of French Polynesia, exposing the effects of military colonisation and the dangers of nuclear weapons tests there.
Speaking from Tahiti, Bengt Danielsson said the award had come as a surprise. A Swede by birth, he arrived in Polynesia rather dramatically in 1947 as a member of the Kon-Tiki expedition when its craft crashed on the atoll of Raroia.
Bengt Danielsson decided to settle there, and later wrote his doctoral thesis on the people: Work and Life on Raroia. He has since written many books and scripted many films, becoming one of the world's foremost students of Polynesia. He is particularly outspoken against the destruction of Polynesian culture through colonialism.
The award jury honoured the Danielssons for their "resolute efforts to expose opposition to French nuclear colonialism in the Pacific". Bengt Danielsson responded modestly, saying, "My wife and I work together. What we do is simply report on what is happening here."
The Danielssons have accused the French government of misinformation campaigns to cover up radiation leaks, cancer increases and damage to the local environment, including fish poisoning. Since French nuclear testing began at Moruroa Atoll in 1966, there have been more than 160 atomic tests.
Bengt Danielsson says that, despite the secrecy surrounding the tests, there is a lot of information on the lethal effects of nuclear tests on local populations such as the Aborigines of Maralinga, people living near Soviet test sites in Kazakhstan, and those living near US bases in Nevada and Micronesia.
A friend and colleague, Professor Grant McCall of the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of New South Wales, says Bengt Danielsson is concerned about development. "It doesn't mean no development. He's not a romantic. He's got a very clear vision."
Bengt Danielsson has long been an advocate of Polynesian independence. He says military testing is prolonging colonial rule. With a local population of only 188,000, there are 8000 French troops and police in the region, and this distorts the economy. "Bribes and subsidies are widely distributed. And the rapid development of a European-style money economy, based mostly on tourism, has made Polynesia more and more dependent." Danielsson say the Polynesians would cope with the French leaving, just as they had in other Pacific nations such as Tonga and Tuvalu. He thinks the French government will eventually grant independence and remove its military facilities, as it is becoming concerned about the cost of the military nuclear program.
While the French authorities try to dismiss Danielsson as crazy, Professor McCall says he has "taken on a very powerful institution, arguing his case reasonably".
The Danielssons had been able to remain in Tahiti because Marie-Therese is a French citizen. The Swedish government made him an honorary consul for a time, until the title was withdrawn under French government pressure.
Professor McCall says many people who win international prizes are co-opted by people in power, but "Bengt is uncompromising on that. He will criticise anyone who is failing on human issues."
The Right Livelihood Award, or Alternative Peace Prize, was established under an endowment from a Swedish-German writer, Jakob von Uexkull, who felt that the Nobel Prize had become too narrow and specialised and ignored much work that was vital for the survival of humankind.