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The Nobel Peace Prize was given to human rights activists from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus: not everyone liked this 'brotherhood'

The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the founder of the Belarusian human rights organization Vesna, Ales Byalyatsky, the Russian human rights center Memorial, and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties. More on this writes with the BBC.

Photo: IStock

Byalyatsky founded the Viasna Human Rights Center in 1996. In 2011, he was convicted on charges of tax evasion, which international human rights organizations considered baseless and politically motivated. Bialiatski was released in 2014. In the summer of 2021, the human rights activist was again arrested in connection with mass protests after the 2020 presidential election. Now he remains behind bars.

"Memorial" was founded in 1987 by like-minded people who wanted to perpetuate the memory of the victims of the political repressions of the Soviet era. Members of the movement collected signatures for the creation of a monument and a memorial complex to the victims of repression, held street demonstrations, exhibitions and scientific seminars on the topic of state terror. Andrei Sakharov, academician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, became the first Chairman of the Board of Memorial.

In the winter of 2022, the Supreme Court of Russia finally liquidated Memorial at the suit of the Prosecutor General's Office. The claims of the prosecutor's office boiled down to cases where the status of "foreign agent" was not marked in Memorial's materials, while there were no clear requirements for the text of the marking. In addition, the organization was accused of discrediting state authorities and creating a "false image of the USSR as a terrorist state."

The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 to protect human rights and promote democracy in Ukraine. This organization played an important role in "strengthening Ukrainian civil society and in putting pressure on the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy," the Nobel Committee said in a statement.

Gift to Putin

In announcing the winners, Berit Reiss-Andersen, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the laureates have proven themselves to be "outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence" in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. According to her, the prize winners brought to life the idea of ​​the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel, about "peace and brotherhood" between peoples.

"This idea is needed more than ever in today's world," Reiss-Andersen stressed, noting that the winners "demonstrated the importance of civil society for peace and democracy," as well as the right to criticize the authorities and protect the fundamental rights of citizens."

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The laureates were commended for their efforts in documenting "war crimes, human rights violations and abuses of power".

When asked by journalists whether the decision of the Nobel Committee can be considered a kind of gift-message for the birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who celebrates his 7th birthday on October 70, a representative of the Norwegian Committee Reiss-Andersen said that the peace prize has nothing to do with the Russian president.

The only connection, she says, is that the Russian and Belarusian authorities are authoritarian regimes, which all the awarded laureates arose to counter.

Another question from the press was whether the committee fears that these awards will worsen the situation with repressions in Russia and Belarus and will directly affect people involved in human rights activities.

Reiss-Andersen responded that this is a very serious matter that is always taken into account by the committee first. However, Ales Bialiatski, for example, is already imprisoned, and in extremely harsh conditions. Awarding him an award, most likely, will not aggravate the situation, but, on the contrary, will help him get out.

In 2021, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to two journalists. It was awarded to Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Maria Ressa, founder of the Philippine newspaper Rappler, for their "efforts to protect freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental condition for democracy and lasting peace."

Reaction to the award

The German branch of "Memorial" stated that it fully supports its colleagues from Russia, who were banned, but at the same time won the Nobel Peace Prize. The chapter said in a press release that the award was a tribute to the work of human rights defenders in the face of "unheard-of attacks and harassment."

This award, “despite the forced dissolution of Memorial in Moscow, spurs our determination to support our Russian colleagues in continuing their work in the new location,” said Anke Geisen, a member of the Memorial board.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg sent congratulations to the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, noting that the right to speak the truth is the foundation of any free and open society.

However, Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, criticized the decision of the Nobel Committee.

“The Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of the word “peace”, if the prize is received together by representatives of two countries that have attacked a third. Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to this war. This year's Nobel is just 'super'," he tweeted.

And not only he thinks so - Ukrainians began to express their indignation in all social networks. They believe that when Ukraine is “torn to pieces” by Russian missiles, which fly from the territory of Belarus as well, the Nobel Committee was somehow able to see “brotherhood and peace” in this.

How candidates for the Peace Prize are selected

According to the rules of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, anyone can be nominated for the Peace Prize, but only a limited circle of people can propose candidates. As the head of the Norwegian committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, explains, when nominating candidates, three criteria are taken into account, specified in Alfred Nobel's will: contribution to the reduction of the armed forces, promotion of peace negotiations and contribution to strengthening brotherly relations between peoples.

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According to Reiss-Andersen, over the past 120 years, several clarifying formulations have been added to the concepts designated by Nobel, such as international cooperation, the contribution to the cause of peace not only of individuals, but also of organizations, as well as the protection of human rights.

There is no minimum age for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but the head of the committee emphasizes that the contribution of a particular person to peace must be very significant, and this takes time, so usually the prize winners are mature people.

The youngest laureate in history was Malala Yusufzai, an activist from Pakistan, who was 17 years old at the time of receiving the award. She became famous for her struggle for the right to education for girls in Muslim countries, for which she was persecuted by the Taliban.

Controversial prize

The Peace Prize has always been controversial. And although in all other nominations the committee's decision is also very subjective, it is the peace prize that usually causes the most criticism.

One example is its award to US President Barack Obama, who by that time had just taken office, because many believed that he did not have time to do anything for the good of the world.

The main objection is related to the fact that the Nobel Prize cannot be withdrawn.

Awarded once, it remains forever associated with the name of a particular person.

Therefore, even if some politician receives the Peace Prize for peacekeeping activities, and then becomes involved in the conflict, he still remains a Nobel laureate. And this, of course, creates quite a few diplomatic problems.

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