OSLO, Norway (AFP) — A trio from the three nations at the center of the war in Ukraine accepted their Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday, calling for the fight to continue unabated against Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s “insane and criminal” invasion.
Jailed Belarusian rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, the Russian organization Memorial, and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) were honored by the Nobel committee for their struggle for “human rights, democracy, and peaceful co-existence” in the face of authoritarianism.
The world’s most prestigious prize for peace efforts has in no way weakened the trio’s resolve to stand up and fight.
“The people of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world. But peace cannot be reached by a country under attack laying down its arms,” the head of the CCL, Oleksandra Matviichuk, said.
Founded in 2007, the CCL has documented war crimes allegedly committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, including the shelling of residential buildings, churches, schools, and hospitals, bombings of evacuation corridors, forced displacement of people, and torture.
Due to the Russian bombing of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Matviichuk had to write her Nobel acceptance speech by candlelight, she told AFP in an interview just hours before the ceremony.
In the nine months since the start of the Russian invasion, the CCL has documented more than 27,000 cases of alleged war crimes, which she said were “only the tip of the iceberg.”
“War turns people into numbers. We have to reclaim the names of all victims of war crimes,” she said in her speech, her voice overcome with emotion.
Putin’s ‘imperial ambitions’
In Oslo’s City Hall decorated with red Siberian flowers, Matviichuk reiterated her appeal for an international tribunal to judge Putin, his ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and “other war criminals.”
Her Russian co-laureate Yan Rachinsky, the chairman of the human rights organization Memorial, meanwhile denounced Russia’s “imperial ambitions” inherited from the ex-Soviet Union “that still thrive today.”
Putin and his “ideological servants” have hijacked the anti-fascist struggle “for their own political interests,” he said.
Now, “resistance to Russia is called ‘fascism'” and has become “the ideological justification for the insane and criminal war of aggression against Ukraine,” he said, using harsh language considering the stiff penalties Moscow imposes on those who publicly criticize the invasion.
Founded in 1989, Memorial has for decades shed light on crimes committed by Joseph Stalin’s totalitarian regime, worked to preserve the memory of the victims, and documented human rights violations in Russia.
Amid crackdowns on the opposition and media, Russia’s Supreme Court ordered Memorial dissolved at the end of 2021 and ordered a raid of its Moscow offices on October 7 — the very day it was announced as co-winner of this year’s Peace Prize.
“Today, the number of political prisoners in Russia is more than the total number in all of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the period of perestroika in the 1980s,” Rachinsky said.
‘International of dictatorships’
The third Nobel laureate, Ales Bialiatski, founder of rights group Viasna, has been detained since July 2021 pending trial following Minsk’s crackdown on large-scale protests against the regime.
The 60-year-old was not authorized to transmit an acceptance speech for the Nobel ceremony.
Instead, his wife Natalia Pinchuk, who accepted the award on his behalf, shared some of his thoughts, recorded earlier, including a call to fight against “the international of dictatorships.”
In Ukraine, Russia is trying to establish “a dependent dictatorship,” he said, quoted by his wife.
“The same as today’s Belarus, where the voice of the oppressed people is ignored and disregarded,” he said, citing “Russian military bases, huge economic dependence, (and) cultural and linguistic russification.”
“Goodness and truth must be able to protect themselves,” he said.
Later Saturday, a separate awards ceremony was to take place in Stockholm honoring the winners of the other Nobel prizes in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, and economics.
That will be followed by a lavish banquet at Stockholm City Hall for some 1,500 guests, including the royal family.
Also in attendance will be the laureates from 2020 and 2021, when the Stockholm festivities were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year’s laureates will receive a gold medal, diploma, and cheque for 10 million Swedish kronor ($970,000).