Ukrainian, Russian Nobel Peace winners slam Putin’s ‘insane’ war
The triple peace prize award was seen as a strong rebuke to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Following the awards ceremony in Oslo, the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize took turns criticising Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine.
Jailed Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian organisation Memorial, and the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties were announced as the recipients in October, and recognised for their work in documenting war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power.
The Peace Prize is awarded annually on December 10, the day Alfred Nobel died in 1896, and the recipients will share the prize which is worth nearly $1m.
Al Jazeera talked to Natalia Pinchuk, Bialiatski’s wife, who attended the ceremony on behalf of her jailed husband.
“Ales and we all realise how important and risky it is to fulfil the mission of civil rights defenders – especially in the tragic time of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” Pinchuk said.
She went on to say that her husband is only one of thousands of Belarusians unjustly imprisoned for their civic action and beliefs.
“Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee the country for the mere reason that they wanted to live in a democratic state,” Pinchuk said.
Oleksandra Matviichuk of Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties dismissed calls for a political compromise that would allow Russia to retain some of the illegally annexed Ukrainian territories, saying that “fighting for peace does not mean yielding to pressure of the aggressor, it means protecting people from its cruelty.”
“Peace cannot be reached by a country under attack laying down its arms,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “This would not be peace, but occupation.”
Rebuke to Putin
The triple peace prize award was seen as a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, not only for his action in Ukraine but for the Kremlin’s crackdown on domestic opposition and its support for Lukashenko’s brutal repression of dissenters.
Russia’s Supreme Court shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organisations that was widely acclaimed for its studies of political repression in the Soviet Union, in December 2021.
Before that, the Russian government had declared the organisation a “foreign agent” – a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that can discredit the targeted organisation.
Jan Rachinsky of Memorial said in his speech at the ceremony that “today’s sad state of civil society in Russia is a direct consequence of its unresolved past.”
He particularly denounced the Kremlin’s attempts to denigrate the history, statehood and independence of Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations, saying that it “became the ideological justification for the insane and criminal war of aggression against Ukraine”.
“One of the first victims of this madness was the historical memory of Russia itself,” Rachinsky said. “Now, the Russian mass media refer to the unprovoked armed invasion of a neighbouring country, the annexation of territories, terror against civilians in the occupied areas, and war crimes as justified by the need to fight fascism.”
While all the winners spoke in unison to condemn the war in Ukraine, there also were some marked differences.
Matviichuk specifically declared that “the Russian people will be responsible for this disgraceful page of their history and their desire to forcefully restore the former empire.”
Rachinsky described the Russian aggression against its neighbour as a “monstrous burden,” but strongly rejected the notion of “national guilt”.
“It is not worth talking about ‘national’ or any other collective guilt at all – the notion of collective guilt is abhorrent to fundamental 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.”