Nobel Peace Prize honors civil activism in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine

Belarusian Bialiatski, Russian NGO Memorial and Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties recognized.

Norwegian committee denies it is an award “against” Putin, but does condemn Russia’s crackdown on dissent

Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian NGO Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties have been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, in an award with which the Norwegian Committee wanted to applaud the work of civil society in defense of Human Rights in three closely interrelated countries in recent months.

“Together, they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy,” concluded the jury, which in the case of Belarus recognized the work of Bialiatski, a lawyer who began his activism in the 1980s and founded the organization Viasna in 1996 as a counterweight to the “dictatorial” tendencies of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

Bialiatski spent three years in prison, between 2011 and 2014, and was detained again after the 2020 post-election protests. He still remains in pre-trial detention, making him the fourth person to be recognized with the Nobel while in prison, along with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, China’s Liu Xiaobo and Germany’s Carl von Ossietzky.

In Russia, the Norwegian Committee has put the spotlight on the NGO Memorial, founded in 1987, at the height of the Soviet decline, by activists such as Andrei Sakharov, who had previously been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. The organization continued to grow after the collapse of the USSR and its constant tussle with the Kremlin led to it being declared a “foreign agent” and forced to close by the end of 2021.

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“Civil society actors in Russia have been the victims of threats, arrests, disappearances and murders for many years,” the jury’s findings read.

For its part, the Center for Civil Liberties emerged in 2007 to promote democracy and the defense of Human Rights in Ukraine and, during these last months, has worked to identify and document alleged war crimes perpetrated by Russia. It had already advocated since its founding for Ukraine’s membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC), in the interests of accountability.

The president of the Norwegian Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, has affirmed that the prize “is not against anyone”, but prefers to focus on actions that she considers positive. Thus, she has denied in statements to the media that it is a direct message to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who precisely this Friday turns 70 years old.

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However, he did condemn the repression of dissent in Russia, which has worsened since the beginning of the invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February. “That’s what we want to refer to with this award,” he argued, according to the British public broadcaster BBC.

The activist and the two organizations laureate this Friday pick up the baton from journalists Maria Ressa and Dimitri Muratov, awarded in the 2021 edition, and will receive in December in Oslo a recognition that also carries with it the delivery of 10 million Swedish kronor (more than 917,000 euros).

For this year’s edition, 342 nominations had been submitted, of which 251 were from individuals and 92 from organizations. The list, which closed at the end of January, is the second largest in the history of the awards, behind only the record 376 achieved in 2016.

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