5 winners who said ‘No’ to Nobel prize

It is the week where the winners of– the Nobel Prize are announced. The prestigious honour is awarded to those who have excelled in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics and peace.

Since its inception in 1901 more than 800 distinguished men and women have been awarded the honor and only a handful have refused or have been unable to accept them.

Kindle takes a look at five award winners who have deliberately or under some duress refused to or have been unable to accept their Nobel prizes.

Le Duc Tho: Le Duc Tho was awarded the Nobel Prize along with Henry Kissinger in 1973. Their role in brokering the ceasefire in Vietnam at the Paris Peace Accords earned them the Nobel Peace Prize.

le duc tho

Le Duc Tho

Le Duc Tho was no stranger to fighting great powers and had played a key role in the Vietnamese resistance to France till Vietnam was divided, and then against USA during the North Vietnam-South Vietnam struggle. USA decided to negotiate post- 1968, and Le Duc Tho was appointed Chief Negotiator for North Vietnam. Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger agreed to an armistice at the Paris Peace Accords, and it was this that earned them the Nobel Prize.

Tho refused to accept the award stating that peace had not been established in Vietnam yet, and thus the award was premature.

Jean Paul Sartre: The other voluntary refusal of the Nobel Prize came from Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existentialist philosopher. He was of the opinion that accepting the honor would compromise his status as a writer.

jean paul satre

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre was one of the most eminent minds of the 20th century and his work on the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology influenced several other areas of study.

Jean-Paul Sartre declined the Noble Prize for Literature in 1964 by saying that “It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form.”

Theirs was a story of voluntary refusal but there have also been a few who have been forced in some way or another to not accept their Nobel Prizes or not allowed to attend the awarding ceremonies.

Boris Pasternak: Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 for his Doctor Zhivago. Pasternak first accepted the award but was forced by the Soviet authorities to decline because they considered the award to be recognition for the dissident political innuendo in his work.


Boris Leonidovich Pasternak

Pasternak was a Russian a poet, novelist, and literary translator and his works had great influence among the Russian people.

When Pasternak first accepted the award, the authorities warned him that if he traveled to Stockholm to accept the honor, he would not be allowed re-entry to the Soviet Union. Pasternak wrote to the Nobel Committee, “In view of the meaning given the award by the society in which I live, I must renounce this undeserved distinction which has been conferred on me. Please do not take my voluntary renunciation amiss.” But the Committee refused to accept this and said that the refusal does not alter the validity of the award.

Yevgeny Pasternak accepted the prize on behalf of his deceased father in 1989.

Gerhard Domagk, Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt: Gerhard Domagk, winner of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1939, Richard Kuhn, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1938 and Adolf Butenandt, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1939 were all prevented from accepting their awards due to a decree passed by Adolf Hitler.


Adolf Butenandt, Gerhard Domagk and Richard Kuhn

Hitler was offended when the Nobel Committee awarded the 1935 Peace Nobel to Carl von Ossietzky, a German writer who openly opposed Hitler. Hitler reacted by issuing a decree on 31 January 1937 that forbade German nationals from accepting the Nobel Prize.

In 1948 however, the German scientists wrote to the Nobel Committee expressing regret over not being able to accept the awards in 1939. They were then awarded their medals and diplomas at a ceremony in July 1949.

Liu Xiaobo: Chinese literary critic, writer, philosopher and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for is long and non-violent struggle for fundamental rights in China. For more than 20 years, Xiaobo has fought for a more open and democratic China.

Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo

Arrested in 2009 on suspicion of ‘inciting subversion of state power’, Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights on 25 December 2009.

The Chinese government refused him the right to send a representative to collect the Nobel Prize for him. A government spokesperson said, “It’s a complete violation of the principles of the prize and an insult to the peace prize itself for the Nobel committee to award the prize to such a person.”

Pratiti Ganatra has completed her Masters in Mass Communication from the Symbiosis Institute Of Media and Communication, and has been with Kindle Magazine for the past two years. She likes to read and write on politics and history. She hopes that someday she will travel the world and write about it.

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