Nobel Peace Prize to activists from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Human rights activists from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose invasion of the Ukraine broke decades of almost unbroken peace in Europe, and to the Belarusian President, his authoritarian ally.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2022 prize to imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, Russian group Memorial and Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of Norway’s Nobel Prize committee, said the panel wanted to honor “three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence”.

“We are in the middle of a war and we are talking about two authoritarian regimes and a nation at war and we would like to highlight the importance of civil society,” she said.

In Ukraine, the Nobel committee felt some resentment for awarding the Ukrainian group alongside activists from Russia and Belarus, whose government allowed Russian forces to attack Ukraine from its territory at the start of the war.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted that the Nobel committee had “an interesting understanding of the word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries who attacked a third receive” the prize together.

“Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war,” he added.

The Belarusian foreign ministry has denounced the Nobel committee for honoring Bialiatski, with the spokesman calling his choices in recent years so “politicized” that “Alfred Nobel was tired of rolling over in his grave”.

Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, retorted: “Well, I’m sure we understand Alfred Nobel’s will and intentions better than the Minsk dictatorship.”

Asked whether the Nobel committee was intentionally reprimanding Putin, whose 70th birthday is Friday, Reiss-Andersen said the prize was against no one but for the democratic values ​​upheld by the winners. However, she noted that the Russian and Belarusian governments are “repressing human rights activists”.

It was the second year in a row that Putin’s repressive government was implicitly reprimanded with the award. He was rewarded last year you o Dmitry Muratov, editor of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, for their efforts in favor of freedom of expression. The two struggled Last year.

Bialiatski was a leader of the democracy movement in Belarus in the mid-1980s and continued to campaign for human rights and civil liberties. He founded the non-governmental organization Human Rights Center Viasna.

He was arrested following protests in 2020 against the re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. He remains in prison without trial and faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

“Despite enormous personal hardship, Mr. Bialiatski has not given an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” Reiss-Andersen said.

Belarusian opposition leader in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, visiting Paris, told The Associated Press she felt “honored and delighted” that Bialiatski was among the winners and thought it would put more emphasis on human rights violations in his country.

Tsikhanouskaya, whose husband is also imprisoned, said Bialiatski is “suffering a lot in punishment cells” in Belarus.

Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist and writer who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, called Bialiatsky a “legendary figure”. She added that Bialiatski is “seriously ill” and needs medical attention, but is “unlikely to be released from behind bars”.

“What Viasna, founded by him, has done and is doing in the present circumstances, is in his mind, in his philosophy,” Alexievitch told reporters.

Memorial was founded in the Soviet Union in 1987 to ensure the memory of the victims of communist repression. He continued to compile information on human rights violations and to follow the fate of political prisoners in Russia. The country’s highest court ordered it closed in December, the latest step in a relentless crackdown on rights activists, independent media and opposition supporters.

Tatyana Glushkova, a board member of the Memorial Human Rights Defense Center, said one of the reasons the Kremlin sees the group as a threat is because it understands and educates people about the “parallels between the regime of Putin and the Soviet regime”.

Glushkova noted that the award was presented to the group on the day it was due to appear again in court in Moscow – this time on a case related to its office building in central Moscow.

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine during a time of turmoil in the country. Following the Russian invasion in February, the group worked to document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.

“The center is playing a pioneering role in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes,” Reiss-Andersen said.

A researcher at the center, Volodymyr Yavorskyi, said the award was important for the organization because “for many years we worked in an invisible country”.

“Human rights activity is the main weapon against war,” said Yavorskyi, who is married to a Belarusian and lived in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, until May 2021. when he was expelled with her 9 year old son. He has been banned from entering Belarus for 10 years and said law enforcement beat him during interrogations.

The prize has a cash reward of 10 million Swedish krona (nearly $900,000) and will be presented on December 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.

Olav Njoelstad, the secretary of the awards committee, told the AP that if Bialiatski is unable to receive the award in person, he can ask a representative to collect it for him, as did the Polish winner Lech Walesa in 1983. Alternatively, the committee could choose to symbolically place an empty chair on the stage, as was the case when imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo won in 2010.


Jordans reported from Berlin. Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Harriet Morris and Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia; Karl Ritter in Stockholm; John Leicester in Le Pecq, France, and Boubkar Benzebat in Paris contributed to this story.


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