On the 70th birthday of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Nobel prize committee recognised the work of three winners who are all battling against Putin or pro-Putin regimes.
The peace prize went to imprisoned Belarus activist Ales Bialiatski, Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine. These winners have been recognised by the committee as exemplars of “human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence”.
It is notable that the committee awarded prizes to an activist jailed by Putin’s key ally, a Russian human rights group that Putin has tried to close down and a Ukrainian human rights group that is documenting Russian war crimes.
Ales Bialiatski is a Belorusian, currently imprisoned for his activism. He was one of the original democracy activists in Belarus in the 1980s, and has never lost his commitment nor activism in promoting democracy and peaceful development in Belarus
As Belarus slid towards dictatorship, Bialiatski’s activism became less acceptable to the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. Bialiatski is only the fourth person to be awarded a peace prize while in detention and the Nobel committee has asked that he might be freed from prison in order to collect his prize in person in Oslo.
The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties started to identify and document potential evidence of Russian war crimes from February 2022, when the invasion began. These efforts will become important should the International Criminal Court be able to charge Russia with war crimes. The Center has been recognised by the Nobel committee for working to “strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a fully fledged democracy”.
The third winner is the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, which was outlawed in Russia in 2021. Memorial was co-founded by Andrei Sakharov, the physicist and another Nobel peace prize winner, during Gorbachev era, with the aim of bringing to light the scale of the terror and persecution during Stalin’s period in power.
The organisation publishes previously hidden historical documents and personal stories of those who were sent to Joseph Stalin’s gulags, Russian prison camps. These stories became uncomfortable for Putin’s regime when they began to have parallels with its creeping repression.
In recent years the Kremlin has sought to persecute and imprison Memorial activists and to close down their offices in Moscow. By unhappy irony, the award of this year’s Nobel prize coincides with a Moscow court appearance for Memorial activists seeking to overturn the seizure of their office.
The peace prize committee said it had taken into consideration the risk posed to the recipients in being awarded these prizes. For Bialiatski, in particular as he is currently in prison, the committee said they hoped the prize would boost his morale and have no negative consequences for him.