This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine shared their visions for a fairer world and denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine at the awards ceremony Saturday.
Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties rejected calls for a political compromise that would allow Russia to retain some of Ukraine’s illegally annexed territories, saying “fighting for peace does not mean giving in to pressure from the aggressor, it means to protect people from his cruelty.”
“Peace cannot be achieved by an attacked country laying down its arms,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “It would not be peace, but occupation.”
Matviichuk reiterated his earlier call for Putin — and authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who provided his country’s territory for Russian troops to invade Ukraine — to face an international tribunal.
“We have to prove that the rule of law works and that justice exists, even if they are delayed,” she said.
Matviichuk was named co-winner of the 2022 Peace Prize in October along with Russian human rights group Memorial and Ales Bialiatski, head of Belarusian rights group Viasna. Later on Saturday, the other Nobel Prizes will be officially awarded at a ceremony in Stockholm.
Bialiatski, who is imprisoned in Belarus awaiting trial and faces a prison term of up to 12 years, was not allowed to send his speech. He shared some thoughts when he met his wife, Natallia Pinchuk, in prison who spoke on his behalf at the awards ceremony.
“In my country, the whole of Belarus is in jail,” Bialiatsky said in remarks delivered by Pinchuk – in reference to a sweeping crackdown on the opposition after massive protests against a fraudulent August 2020 vote that Lukashenko used to prolong his reign. “This award belongs to all my human rights defender friends, all civic activists, tens of thousands of Belarusians who have suffered beatings, torture, arrests, imprisonment.”
Bialiatski is the fourth person in the 121-year history of Nobel Prize winners to receive the award while in prison or in custody.
In remarks delivered by his wife, he cast Lukashenko as a tool of Putin, saying the Russian leader was seeking to establish his dominance in ex-Soviet lands.
“I know exactly what kind of Ukraine would suit Russia and Putin – a dependent dictatorship,” he said. “The same as today’s Belarus, where the voice of the oppressed people is ignored and ignored.”
The triple peace prize was seen as a strong rebuke to Putin, not only for his action in Ukraine, but also for the Kremlin’s crackdown on domestic opposition and his support for Lukashenko’s brutal crackdown on dissent.
Russia’s Supreme Court shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and largest human rights organizations widely acclaimed for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union, in December 2021.
Previously, the Russian government had declared the organization a “foreign agent” – a label that involves additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit the targeted organization.
Memorial’s Jan Rachinsky said in his speech that “the current sad state of civil society in Russia is a direct consequence of its unresolved past”.
In particular, he denounced the Kremlin’s attempts to denigrate the history, statehood and independence of Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations, saying that this “has become the ideological justification for senseless war and criminal act of aggression against Ukraine”.
“One of the first victims of this madness was the historical memory of Russia itself,” Rachinsky said. “Now the Russian media refers to the unprovoked armed invasion of a neighboring country, the annexation of territories, terror against civilians in occupied areas and war crimes as justified by the need to fight fascism.”
While all the victors spoke in unison in condemning the war in Ukraine, there were also stark differences.
Matviichuk specifically said that “the Russian people will be responsible for this shameful page in their history and their will to forcefully restore the old empire.”
Rachinsky described Russian aggression against his neighbor as a “monstrous burden”, but strongly rejected the notion of “national culpability”.
“It’s not worth talking about ‘national’ culpability or any other collective culpability – the notion of collective culpability is abhorrent to basic human rights principles,” he said. “The joint work of the participants of our movement is based on a completely different ideological basis – on the understanding of civic responsibility for the past and for the present.”
The Independent Gt