Message of the Day: War, Human Rights

The Nobel Peace Prize 2022, Oslo, 10 December 2022


Today is the anniversary of the unanimous adaptation by the United Nations in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The following is the press release, presentation speech and Nobel lectures from recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize at the ceremony just completed in Oslo today:


The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 to one individual and two organisations.

The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.

This year’s Peace Prize is awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties.

Ales Bialiatski was one of the initiators of the democracy movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s. He has devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country. Among other things, he founded the organisation Viasna (Spring) in 1996 in response to the controversial constitutional amendments that gave the president dictatorial powers and that triggered widespread demonstrations. Viasna provided support for the jailed demonstrators and their families. In the years that followed, Viasna evolved into a broad-based human rights organisation that documented and protested against the authorities’ use of torture against political prisoners.

Government authorities have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014. Following large-scale demonstrations against the regime in 2020, he was again arrested. He is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.

The human rights organisation Memorial was established in 1987 by human rights activists in the former Soviet Union who wanted to ensure that the victims of the communist regime’s oppression would never be forgotten. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and human rights advocate Svetlana Gannushkina were among the founders. Memorial is based on the notion that confronting past crimes is essential in preventing new ones.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial grew to become the largest human rights organisation in Russia. In addition to establishing a centre of documentation on victims of the Stalinist era, Memorial compiled and systematised information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia. Memorial became the most authoritative source of information on political prisoners in Russian detention facilities. The organisation has also been standing at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and government based on rule of law.

When civil society must give way to autocracy and dictatorship, peace is often the next victim. During the Chechen wars, Memorial gathered and verified information on abuses and war crimes perpetrated on the civilian population by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of this work.

Civil society actors in Russia have been subjected to threats, imprisonment, disappearance and murder for many years. As part of the government’s harassment of Memorial, the organisation was stamped early on as a “foreign agent”. In December 2021, the authorities decided that Memorial was to be forcibly liquidated and the documentation centre was to be closed permanently. The closures became effective in the following months, but the people behind Memorial refuse to be shut down. In a comment on the forced dissolution, chairman Yan Rachinsky stated, “Nobody plans to give up.”

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 for the purpose of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy. To develop Ukraine into a state governed by rule of law, Center for Civil Liberties has actively advocated that Ukraine become affiliated with the International Criminal Court.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Center for Civil Liberties has engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population. In collaboration with international partners, the center is playing a pioneering role with a view to holding the guilty parties accountable for their crimes.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 to Ales Bialiatski, Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbour countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Through their consistent efforts in favour of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law, this year’s laureates have revitalised and honoured Alfred Nobel’s vision of peace and fraternity between nations – a vision most needed in the world today.

Oslo, 7 October 2022


Presentation Speech by Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2022.

At this very moment in Stockholm, Nobel Prizes are being presented to this year’s Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry and literature. Under the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will, all the Nobel Prizes, including the Peace Prize, are interconnected. The vision of Alfred Nobel was one of progress through science and the search for truth and ever greater knowledge. It was also a vision of profound literature enlightening and feeding the spirit, and of peace, which is so essential for safety and prosperity. Alfred Nobel’s support of science, literature and peace reflected his conviction that those pursuits were the keys to a better world. At the core of his vision was the belief that talented and committed individuals can make a difference.

I have the immense pleasure this year of recognizing Ales Bialiatski, the organization Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties as the “champions of peace” who – by different means, but for a common goal – have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. For this, each is being awarded a one-third share of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022. When announcing our decision in October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasized that the three laureates have promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and abuses of power. Together, they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.

A democratic government needs not only the support of its people, but also criticism, new ideas and new perspectives. Its ultimate source of authority is the people. History teaches us that even suppressed people will at some point defy their oppressor. Somebody will form a movement and speak up for more freedom, justice, democracy and rule of law. These rights and values are the framework that guarantees every citizen the right to hold an opinion and enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of organization.

Our three laureates share this conviction. They have a common approach to exposing oppressors and perpetrators of war crimes. Their method is to systematically collect evidence of past and current human rights violations and war crimes. The purpose is to hold perpetrators accountable, to honour the victims and to prevent the repetition of atrocities. Reliable evidence is of vital importance not only for a legal process, but also for historical documentation and moral restoration of the victims’ perspective.

This brings me to the first of our three laureates, Ales Bialiatski.

The Belarusian government has for years tried to silence him. He has been harassed. He has been arrested and jailed. He has been deprived of employment. Mr Bialiatski is by profession a scholar of literature, and words have been his weapon ever since he was one of the initiators of the democracy and human rights movement in Belarus in the 1980s. He is the founder of Viasna, an organization that initially documented government abuse against protesters but soon developed into a human rights organization.

For more than 20 years, Viasna has documented abuse and torture against activists and political opponents of the dictatorship in Belarus. The organization identifies victims, keeps track of where they are serving their sentences and monitors their treatment. Viasna wants to ensure that disappearing victims are not forgotten.

In July 2021, all of Viasna’s offices were searched and its leaders were arrested. At this moment, our thoughts are with all prisoners of conscience in Belarus. Most particularly, we think of Ales Bialiatski in his dark and isolated prison cell in Minsk: You are not alone; we stand with you. We thank your wife, Natallia Pinchuk, who will soon receive the gold medal and diploma on your behalf.

Mr Bialiatski insists that he is not a politician. His role is to promote human rights, democracy and rule of law – a dangerous task in a dictatorship. He is now facing a possible sentence of seven to 12 years in prison.

The novelist Milan Kundera once wrote: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

The organization Memorial is dedicated to exactly that: memory. It was established in the late 1980s in the former Soviet Union by, among others, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and the tireless human rights advocate Elena Zhemkóva, who is present here today. So please rise, Elena!

Initially, the purpose of Memorial was to document the oppression and atrocities under communist rule, so that these crimes would always be remembered. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the organization broadened its scope, also documenting human rights abuses as they occurred in Russia. Even though Memorial itself was temporarily tolerated by the government, its members repeatedly suffered repercussions and assaults. As we all remember, Natalia Estemirova, who oversaw the Memorial office in Chechnya, was brutally murdered in 2009 while documenting war crimes committed by Russian and pro-Russian forces in the Second Chechen War.

By classifying legitimate and normal civil society efforts as activities of “foreign agents,” Russian authorities have given themselves a legal grip on activities not to the government’s liking. As a legal entity, Memorial is now history. It was closed down by a court ruling in April 2022. However, the network of former staff members and supporters of the liquidated organization is still active.

It is now of paramount importance that Memorial’s unique archives of past and current state crimes are preserved for the future. We must also make sure that the main lesson of Memorial’s 35-year-long struggle for truth is never forgotten: By recording the dark chapters of our history, we allow ourselves to learn from the past and prevent mistakes from being repeated. Memorial was determined to tell the true history of abuse, oppression and war crimes. Such truths, I am sorry to say, are seen as an enemy of the state in present-day Russia.

We are honoured to have the Chair of Memorial’s Board of Directors with us here today, Jan Rachinsky. His slogan is: “Nobody plans to give up!”

I turn, finally, to the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, represented on stage by the Chair of its Board of Directors, Oleksandra Matviichuk. The Center for Civil Liberties has declared that it wants to “reinforce the principle of human dignity.” Indeed, a bold goal. More specifically, it wants to encourage civic activism in support of democracy, human rights and rule of law.

Back in 2007, when the Center for Civil Liberties was established, democracy and rule of law were not fully embedded in Ukraine. The years of newly won independence, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, had seen both gains and setbacks in this respect.

When the pro-Russian and increasingly authoritarian regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych cracked down on the peaceful pro-democracy protestors in Kyiv’s Independence Square in 2013, the Center for Civil Liberties launched its Euromaidan SOS initiative. The initiative had a double aim: documenting the government’s human rights violations and providing legal assistance to the victims. The center also began to monitor the conduct of various government agencies, such as the police and security services, in order to hold them accountable for their actions and encourage institutional reforms. Last, but not least, Euromaidan SOS developed interactive maps which made it possible to track enforced disappearances of human rights activists, democracy advocates and investigative journalists.

After Viktor Yanukovych was removed from office in February 2014 and Russia carried out its illegal annexation of Crimea, the Center for Civil Liberties turned its attention to the human rights situation there and in the contested Donbas region. As the first human rights group to send mobile monitoring teams into Crimea and Donbas, the Center for Civil Liberties compiled lists of political prisoners and human rights violations that were later exchanged with, and supplemented by, other national and international human rights watchdogs.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these mobile monitoring teams were given a new and daunting task: to identify and document war crimes committed by Russian and pro-Russian forces on Ukrainian soil. The Center for Civil Liberties has advocated that Ukraine become affiliated with the International Criminal Court. It has collaborated with international partners to collect evidence of Russian human rights violations and war crimes, thereby paving the ground for future legal processes against the war criminals. Through its work today, the Center for Civil Liberties is preparing for the peace and justice of tomorrow.

One day, when hostilities have ceased, Ukraine will continue its efforts to develop democracy and rule of law. The Center for Civil Liberties intends to be at the forefront of that process.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee firmly believes that this year’s three Peace Prize laureates represent the vital role played by civil society in achieving and maintaining peace.

In Oslo and Stockholm, we meet today to celebrate all the Nobel Prizes. We meet at a time when democracy and freedom are in decline globally, and when there is a brutal war of aggression in Europe with disruptive global effects.

In the face of this multitude of crises and challenges, the world needs dedicated scientists and people who relentlessly seek the truth and push the boundaries of our knowledge. And the world needs those admirable individuals and groups of people who at great personal sacrifice challenge repressive authorities and stand up against aggression in pursuit of democracy, human rights and peace.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is proud to honour Ales Bialiatski, Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties for their contributions to peace and human dignity in these very troubling times.v

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lectures

Nobel Lecture given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 Ales Bialiatski, delivered by Natallia Pinchuk, Oslo, 10 December 2022.

Your Royal Majesties,
Your Royal Highnesses,
Honourable members of the Nobel Committee, honourable guests!

I am extremely excited, and humbled, to have the honour to speak here at the award ceremony of 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Among them is my husband Ales Bialiatski.

Unfortunately, he cannot receive the award in person. He is illegally imprisoned in Belarus. That’s why I’m standing behind this podium.

I want to express my profound gratitude to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, whose decision strengthened Ales in his commitment to stand firm in his convictions and gives hope to all Belarusians that they can count on the democratic world’s solidarity in the fight for their rights, no matter the length of struggle.

Many thanks to everyone who has supported Ales, his friends and his cause all these years and supports him now.

I would most sincerely like to congratulate the Center for Civil Liberties and the Memorial International Society on the well-deserved award. Ales and we all realize how important and risky it is to fulfil the mission of human rights defenders, especially in the tragic time of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Not only is Ales in prison but there are also thousands of Belarusians, tens of thousands of repressed, unjustly imprisoned for their civic action and beliefs across the country. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee the country for the mere reason that they wanted to live in a democratic state. Unfortunately, the war of the authorities against their own people, language, history, and democratic values has been waged in Belarus for years. I say this here with supreme pain and vigilance s, as today’s political and military events threaten Belarus with the loss of statehood and independence.

Unfortunately, the authorities choose to engage with society through the use of force – grenades, batons, stun guns, endless arrests and torture. There is no effort or talk about national compromise or dialogue. They persecute girls and boys, women and men, minors and elderly people. The inhuman face of system reigns in Belarusian prisons, especially for those who dreamed of being free people!

In light of such a situation, it is no coincidence that the authorities arrested Ales and his associates from the human rights center “Viasna” for their democratic beliefs and human rights activities: Marfa Rabkova, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Andrei Chapiuk and other human rights defenders are behind bars.

Many human rights defenders remain under investigation and face the wrath of the prosecutor’s charges, while others were forced to emigrate abroad.

But “none can conquer, stay or halt”1 the human rights center “Viasna-96”, created over twenty-five years ago by Ales and his associates.

Ales could not convey the text of his speech from prison, but he managed to tell me just a couple of words. Therefore, I will share with you his thoughts – both the latest and those recorded earlier. These are fragments of his previous statements, writings, and reflections. Here are his reflections about the past and future of Belarus, about human rights, about the fate of peace and freedom.

So, I pass the floor to Ales.

It just so happens that people who value freedom the most are often deprived of it. I remember my friends — human rights activists from Cuba, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, I remember my spiritual sister Nasrin Sotoudeh from Iran. I admire Cardinal Joseph Zen from Hong Kong. Thousands of people are currently behind bars in Belarus for political reasons, and they are all my brothers and sisters. Nothing can stop people’s thirst for freedom.

In my homeland, the entirety of Belarus is in a prison. Journalists, political scientists, trade union leaders are in jail, there are many of my acquaintances and friends among them… The courts work like a conveyor belt, convicts are transported to penal colonies, and new waves of political prisoners take their place…

This award belongs to all my human rights defender friends, all civic activists, tens of thousands of Belarusians who have gone through beatings, torture, arrests, prison.

This award belongs to millions of Belarusian citizens who stood up and took action in the streets and online to defend their civil rights. It highlights the dramatic situation and struggle for human rights in the country.

I recently had a short dialogue.

– When will you be released? – they asked me.
– I am already free, in my soul, was my reply.

My free soul hovers over the dungeon and over the maple leaf outlines of Belarus.

I look inside myself, and my ideals have not changed, have not lost their value, have not faded. They are always with me, and I guard them as best I can. They are like cast from gold, immune from rusting.

We want to build our society as more harmonious, fair and responsive to the needs of its sons and daughters. To achieve an independent, democratic Belarus, free of foreign coercion. We dream that it will be a country full of warmth and advantageous to live in.

This is a noble idea, concordant with the global ideas of civility. We are not dreaming of something special or extraordinary, we just want “to be called human”, as our classic Yanka Kupala said. It implies respect for ourselves and for others, it implies human rights, a democratic way of life, the recognition of the Belarusian language and of our history.

I began to be critical of Soviet reality early on. Among other things, I faced a sharp restriction on the use of the Belarusian language, with the policy of de-belarusianization, which was carried out then – and is still being executed today. The former colonial dependence of Belarus is an ever-present reality. And as a result, there is still a threat to the existence of Belarusians as a nation and people

It is a dramatic mistake to separate human rights from the values of identity and independence. I have been involved in the independent underground movement since 1982, in fact since I was young man at 20 years of age. Its aim was to achieve a democratic independent Belarus in which human rights would be respected. There can be no Belarus without democracy and there can be no human rights without an independent Belarus. And civil society should have such a degree of independence that it guarantees the safety of a person from abuses of state power.

I believe because I know that the night ends and then the morning comes with light. I know that what pushes us forward tirelessly is hope and a dream.

Martin Luther King paid for his dream with his life, he was shot. My payment for my dream is less, but with harsh consequences I don’t regret a bit. After all, my dream is worthy of all the personal sacrifices. My ideals are in tune with the ideals of my older friends and spiritual mentors – Czech Václav Havel and Belarusian Vasil Bykau. Both of them went through great life’s trials, both advanced their nations and culture, both fought for democracy and human rights until the last minutes of their lives.

It is impossible to expect that a good harvest would grow immediately in an empty field. The field is to be well fertilised; stones should be removed… And what the communist government did in Belarus for 70 years can be called scorched earth…

There were times in the late 1980s when we literally knew each other by sight… But in the early 1990s there were thousands and tens of thousands of us …

Presidential elections were held in Belarus on August 9, 2020. Mass falsifications made people take to the streets. Good and Evil came together in a duel. Evil is well-armed. And from the side of Good there only peaceful mass protests unheard of for the country, which gathered hundreds of thousands of people.

In response, the authorities have fully launched the repressive mechanism of torture and murder — Raman Bandarenka, Vitold Ashurak and many others became its victims.

This is the highest and unspeakable of level of repression in its cruelty. People are subject to ghastly tortures and unimaginable suffering.

Cells and prisons are akin to Soviet public toilets, where people are kept for months and years. I am absolutely against women being in prison but imagine their imprisonment in Belarus — this branch of hell on Earth!

Lukashenka’s statements confirm that his enforcers have been given carte blanche to stop people by instigating fear and mass intimidation

But the citizens of Belarus demand justice. They demand that those who committed mass crimes be punished. They demand free elections. Belarus and the Belarusian society will never be the same again when they were completely tied hand and foot. People have woken up…

Now the permanent struggle of good and evil has unfolded almost in its purest form throughout the region. The cold wind from the East collided with the warmth of the European renaissance.

It is not enough to be educated and democratic, it is not enough to be humane and merciful. We should be able to protect our achievements and our Fatherland. It is not for nothing that in the Middle Ages the concept of the Fatherland was linked to the concept of freedom.

I know exactly what kind of Ukraine would suit Russia and Putin — a dependent dictatorship. The same as today’s Belarus, where the voice of the oppressed people is ignored and disregarded.

Russian military bases, huge economic dependence, cultural and linguistic russification — that’s the answer, on whose side is Lukashenka. The Belarusian authorities are independent only to the extent that Putin allows them to be. Consequently, it is necessary to fight against “the international of dictatorships”.

I am a human rights activist and therefore a supporter of nonviolent resistance. I am not an aggressive person by nature, I always try to behave accordingly. However, I recognise that goodness and truth must be able to protect themselves.

As I can, I keep peace in my soul, I grow it like a delicate flower, I drive away anger. And I pray that reality does not force me to dig up a long-buried axe and defend the truth with an axe in my hands. Peace. May peace remain in my soul.

And on December 10, I want to repeat for everyone: “Do not be afraid!” These were the words that Pope John Paul II said in the 1980s when he came to communist Poland. He didn’t say anything else then, but it was enough. I believe because I know that spring always comes after winter.

These were quotes from Ales Bialiatski. And I will conclude my speech with the exclamations of his soul:

Freedom to the Belarusian people! Freedom to Viasna! Long live Belarus!

1. From the song Pahonia – Translator’s note
Nobel Lecture given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 Memorial, delivered by Jan Rachinsky, Oslo, 10 December 2022.


Your Majesty, your royal highnesses, ladies and gentlemen! Dear friends!

Foremost, we would like to thank the Norwegian Nobel Committee for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize this year to “Memorial”.

We are particularly grateful to the Nobel Committee for sharing this great honour with the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Freedoms and with the brave Belorusian human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski. This decision of the Committee has great symbolic meaning for us: It underlines that state borders cannot and should not divide civil society. The fact that they are our co-laureates is an added reward.

“Memorial” has been in existence for 35 years. Today it has groups working in many regions of Russia, in Ukraine, and in several countries of Western Europe. The Nobel Peace Prize is a tribute to each of these organizations, to each of the thousands of people taking part in the activities of “Memorial” – their members, colleagues, volunteers, participants in public actions. This tribute is for them, and for those from “Memorial” who are no longer with us, in particular those people who did so much in the founding of “Memorial” and made it what it is today: Andrei Sakharov, Arseny Roginsky, Sergei Kovalyov, and many others. This prize is theirs as much as it is ours.

“Memorial” has two equally important main areas of work.

The first is the establishment of historical memory about the period in our history known as the time of the “Great Terror” carried out by the Soviet State against its people. We carry out archival research, we search for the places of executions and burials, we create our own archives, libraries and museum collections, we publish books, and we hold public memorials. We organize exhibitions, conferences and seminars, and we work with young people. We create data bases about the victims of the Great Terror and about those who carried it out. We promote public discussion about the persecution of dissidents, and the intellectual, civilian and political resistance to totalitarianism.

Second, “Memorial” fights for human rights in the countries formerly part of the Soviet Union. This includes the gathering, analysis and publication of information about violations of human rights in areas considered “hot spots” of conflict. “Memorial” has carried out human rights reporting during the two wars in Chechnya and in the zone of the Ossetian-Ingushetia conflict in the Caucasus area of Russia. “Memorial” human rights defenders, since the early 1990s, have monitored and reported on violations in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a conflict that has recently flared up again. “Memorial” has reported on the situation in Transnistria in Moldova, as well as on conflicts in the countries of Central Asia, including in Tajikistan. And “Memorial” reported on human rights violations in the Donbass region of Ukraine in 2014-16.

“Memorial’s” human rights defence work has included the search for the missing, investigation of extrajudicial executions and reporting on forced disappearances. It has included years of help for refugees and the forcibly displaced due to these conflicts. “Memorial” has been carrying out the monitoring of political repression and legal assistance for political prisoners. 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. The struggle for freedom has continued since the Soviet regime. Here, the past and the present come together.

I would like now to address the following three issues:

The first question concerns the relationship between human rights defence and the work on historical memory in the activities of “Memorial”.

Two hundred years ago, the Russian writer Alexander Pushkin wrote that a “person’s sovereignty” is anchored in his dignity, personal freedom, sense of belonging to the past, and love “for his native ashes” and “paternal coffins”. This indivisible link between memory and freedom is the foundation of “Memorial’s” work.

This work does not simply involve research and documentation of tragedies of the past and acute social conflicts of the present. We are investigating and documenting crimes; crimes against individual human beings and against humanity, already committed or currently being committed, by state power. What we see as the root cause of these crimes is the sanctification of the Russian State as the supreme value. This requires that the absolute priority of power is to serve the ‘interests of the state’, over the interests of individual human beings, and their freedom, dignity and rights. In this inverted system of values, people are merely expendable material to be used for resolving governmental tasks. This is the system that prevailed in the Soviet Union for seventy years and regrettably continues ‘til today.

One of the obvious effects of the sanctification of the State was the rise of imperial ambitions. Those ambitions grew into criminal aggression at the beginning of the Second World War with the attacks on Poland and Finland, the seizure of the Baltic states, and the annexation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in Eastern Europe. The post-war diktat by the Soviet Union against the countries of Eastern Europe, the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the war in Afghanistan are all manifestations of those same ambitions that still thrive today.

Another consequence of this exaltation of the State was, and remains, impunity, not only for those who make criminal political decisions, but also for those who commit crimes in the execution of those decisions. Extra-judicial executions, the murder of civilians, torture and looting are neither investigated nor punished. We saw this in the hostilities in Chechnya, and we see it happening again today in the occupied territory of Ukraine. After the bombing of Grozny, the destruction of Mariupol, tragically, was not anything new.

This chain of unpunished crimes continues, and it will not stop on its own. Nor will compromise lead to any durable solution to this problem.

Regrettably, Russian society did not have the strength to break the tradition of state violence.

For seventy years, the Soviet state destroyed any solidarity among people, atomized society, eradicated any expression of civic solidarity, and thus turned society into docile and voiceless masses. Today’s sad state of civil society in Russia is a direct consequence of its unresolved past.

For us, the highest priority is the individual human being: their life, freedoms and dignity. We reject the formula “man is nothing, the state is everything”. Our focus is not on momentous historical events or on questions of “big politics” (although one must examine them in order to understand the context of human destinies). More important for us are the names and fates of the individuals who have become victims of criminal state policy, past and present. Their names and fates are the foundation, the level at which we work, what we document and reconstruct.

The second issue is the supra-national, universal nature of the problems that “Memorial” addresses.

Humanity has long realized that human rights and freedoms are not bound by national borders. The Nobel Committee’s choice of co-laureates from different countries clearly confirms this principle. The idea of the supremacy, universality and indivisibility of human rights has become one of the key touchstones of human co-existence, a guarantor of peace and progress in the world. Russian thought, from the 19th century Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov to Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov and other Soviet dissidents, has made a notable contribution to this transformation.

The case of historical memory is more complicated. Every country and every society develop their own historical narratives, their own ‘national images of the past’, which often contradict those of their neighbours. The cause of disputes is usually not one fact or another, but different interpretations of the same events. Differences in the understanding and assessment of the same historical events by different peoples are inevitable, if only because their insights and assessments are born in the context of different national histories. We need to learn to recognize the reasons for these differences and to respect each people’s right to their own understanding of the past.

It makes no sense to ignore the memory ‘of the other’, to pretend that it does not exist at all. Indiscriminately declaring false those interpretations of historical reality that stand behind the memory of others is not only senseless, but also extremely dangerous. And it is deadly to use history as a political tool, to unleash “memory wars”.

In the Soviet empire, any attempts by peoples to fight for national independence or even simply manifest a national consciousness that did not fit the Soviet ideological dogma were declared to be ‘bourgeois nationalism’ and were brutally suppressed. After the collapse of the USSR, the states that formed on this territory had their own historical narratives that did not coincide with the official Soviet historical mythology. And soon after Vladimir Putin came to power, the new Russian leadership and his ideological servants began violent and aggressive “memory wars” against their neighbours – Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine – while fully using old Soviet stereotypes and labels. Of course, this was done for the sake not of “historical truth”, but for their own political interests. The result was that the Russian propaganda against ‘nationalism’ — and what Putin’s regime called ‘Bandera-ism’ (after a far right-wing Ukrainian nationalist) — 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. Indeed, in order to pass off aggression against a neighbouring country as “fighting fascism,” it was necessary to twist the minds of Russian citizens by swapping the concepts of “fascism” and “anti-fascism”. 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.

Hatred is incited against Ukraine, its culture and language are publicly declared “inferior,” and the Ukrainian people are deemed not to have a separate identity from Russians. Resistance to Russia is called “fascism”. Such propaganda absolutely contradicts the historical experience of Russia and devalues and distorts the memory of the truly anti-fascist war of 1941-1945 and the Soviet soldiers who fought against Hitler. The words “Russian soldier” in the minds of many people will now be associated not with those who fought against Hitler, but with those who sow death and destruction on Ukrainian soil.

Finally, the last question, which I would like to address: the problem of guilt and responsibility.

The question that troubles us: did “Memorial” really deserve to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

Yes, we have tried to resist the erosion of historical memory and legal consciousness by documenting crimes of both the past and the present. Modesty aside, we have done a lot and accomplished more than a little. But did our work prevent the catastrophe of 24 February?

The monstrous burden that fell on our shoulders that day became heavier after we received the news that the prize had been awarded to us.

No, this is not a matter 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. 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.

The responsibility of a person for everything that happens to their country, and to the whole of humanity, is based, as Karl Jaspers also noted, on solidarity, civil and universal. The same applies to the sense of responsibility for the events of the past. It grows out of a person’s sense of his connection with previous generations, from the ability to realize himself as a link in the chain of these generations – that is, from the awareness of his belonging to a community that did not arise yesterday and, hopefully, will not disappear tomorrow. Readiness for responsibility is an exclusively personal quality: a person voluntarily assumes responsibility for what happened once or for something that is happening now, but in which he or she is not directly involved; no one else can put this burden on him. And most importantly, a sense of civic responsibility, unlike a sense of guilt, requires not “repentance”, but work. Its vector is directed not to the past, but to the future.

“Memorial” is precisely a union of people who voluntarily assume civic responsibility for the past and present and work for the future. And maybe we should take this award not only as an assessment of what we have managed to do in thirty-five years, but also as a kind of advance on what we aim to do, because we are not giving up and we continue to work.

Thank you for your attention.

Nobel Lecture given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 Center for Civil Liberties, delivered by Oleksandra Matviichuk, Oslo, 10 December 2022.

Time to take responsibility

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, dear members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of Ukraine and citizens of the world.

This year, the entire Ukrainian nation was waiting for the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. We see this Prize as a recognition of the efforts of the Ukrainian people, who have bravely stood up to the attempts to destroy peaceful development of Europe, as well as a celebration of the work being done by human rights activists in order to prevent military threat for the entire world. We are proud of having Ukrainian language heard during the official ceremony for the first time in history.

We are receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during the war started by Russia. This war has been going on for eight years, 9 months and 21 days. For millions of people, such words as shelling, torture, deportation, filtration camps have become commonplace. But there are no words which can express the pain of a mother who lost her newborn son in a shelling of the maternity ward. A moment ago, she was caressing her baby, calling him by his name, breastfeeding him, inhaling his smell – and the next moment a Russian missile destroyed her entire universe. And now her beloved and longed-for baby lies in the smallest coffin in the world.

There are no available solutions for the challenges we and the whole world are facing now. People from different countries are also fighting for their rights and freedoms in extremely difficult circumstances. So, today I will at least try to ask the right questions so that we could start looking for these solutions.

First. How can we make human rights meaningful again?

Survivors of the World War II are no longer around. And the new generations began to take rights and freedoms for granted. Even in developed democracies, forces questioning the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are on the rise. But human rights cannot be upheld once and for all. The values of modern civilization must be protected.

Peace, progress and human rights are inextricably linked. A state that kills journalists, imprisons activists, or disperses peaceful demonstrations poses a threat not only to its citizens. Such a state poses a threat to the entire region and peace in the world as a whole. Therefore, the world must adequately respond to systemic violations. In political decision-making, human rights must be as important as economic benefits or security. This approach should be applied in foreign policy too.

Russia, that has been consistently destroying its own civil society, illustrates this very well. But the countries of the democratic world have long turned a blind eye to this. They continued to shake hands with the Russian leadership, build gas pipelines and conduct business as usual. For decades, Russian troops have been committing crimes in different countries. But they always got away with this. The world has not even adequately responded to the act of aggression and annexation of Crimea, which were the first such cases in post-war Europe. Russia believed that they could do whatever they want.

Now Russia is deliberately inflicting harm on civilians aiming to stop our resistance and occupy Ukraine. Russian troops intentionally destroy residential buildings, churches, schools, hospitals, shell evacuation corridors, put people in filtration camps, carry out forced deportations, kidnap, torture and kill people in the occupied territories.

The Russian people will be responsible for this disgraceful page of their history and their desire to forcefully restore the former empire

Second. How to start calling a spade a spade?

People of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world. But peace cannot be reached by country under attack laying down its arms. This would not be peace, but occupation. After the liberation of Bucha, we found a lot of civilians murdered in the streets and courtyards of their homes. These people were unarmed.

We must stop pretending deferred military threats are “political compromises”. The democratic world has grown accustomed to making concessions to dictatorships. And that is why the willingness of the Ukrainian people to resist Russian imperialism is so important. We will not leave people in the occupied territories to be killed and tortured. People’s lives cannot be a “political compromise”. Fighting for peace does not not mean yielding to pressure of the aggressor, it means protecting people from its cruelty.

In this war, we are fighting for freedom in every meaning of the word. And for it, we are paying the highest possible price. We, Ukrainian citizens of all nationalities, should not discuss our right to a sovereign and independent Ukrainian state and development of the Ukrainian language and culture. As human beings, we do not need an approval of our right to determine our own identity and make our own democratic choices. Crimean Tatars and other indigenous peoples should not prove their right to live freely in their native land in Crimea.

Our today’s fight is paramount: it shapes the future of Ukraine. We want our post-war country to let us build not some shaky structures, but stable democratic institutions. Our values matter most not when it’s easy to embody them, but when it’s really hard. We must not become a mirror of the aggressor state.

This is not a war between two states, it is a war of two systems – authoritarianism and democracy. We are fighting for the opportunity to build a state in which everyone’s rights are protected, authorities are accountable, courts are independent, and the police do not beat peaceful student demonstrations in the central square of the capital.

On the way to the European family, we have to overcome the trauma of war and its associated risks, and affirm the choice of the Ukrainian people determined by the Revolution of Dignity.

Third. How to ensure peace for people around the world?

The international system of peace and security does not work anymore. Crimean Tatar Server Mustafayev as well as many others are put in Russian prisons because of their human rights work. For a long time, we used law to protect human rights, but now we do not have any legal mechanisms to stop Russian atrocities. So many of the human rights activists were compelled to defend what they believe in with arms in their hands. For example, my friend Maksym Butkevych, who is now in Russian captivity. He and other Ukrainian prisoners of war, as well as all detained civilians, must be released.

The UN system, created after the World War II by its winners, provides for some unjustified indulgences for individual countries. If we don’t want to live in the world where rules are set by states with stronger military capabilities, this has to be changed.

We have to start reforming the international system to protect people from wars and authoritarian regimes. We need effective guarantees of security and respect for human rights for citizens of all states regardless of their participation in military alliances, military capability or economic power. This new system should have human rights at its core.

And the responsibility for this lies not only with politicians. Politicians are tempted to avoid looking for complex strategies, which require a lot of time. They often act as if global challenges would disappear by themselves. But the truth is that they only get worse. We, people who want to live in peace, should tell politicians that we need a new architecture of the world order.

We may not have political tools, but we still have our words and our position. Ordinary people have much more influence than they think they do. Voices of millions of people from different countries can change world history faster than interventions of the UN.

Fourth. How to ensure justice for those affected by the war?

Dictators are afraid that the idea of freedom will prevail. This is why Russia is trying to convince the whole world that the rule of law, human rights and democracy are fake values. Because they do not protect anyone in this war.

Yes, the law doesn’t work right now. But we do not think it is forever. We have to break this impunity cycle and change the approach to justice for war crimes. A lasting peace that gives freedom from fear and hope for a better future is impossible without justice.

We still see the world through the lens of the Nuremberg Tribunal, where war criminals were convicted only after the fall of the Nazi regime. But justice should not depend on resilience of authoritarian regimes. We live in a new century after all. Justice cannot wait.

We need to bridge the responsibility gap and make justice possible for all the affected people. When the national system is overloaded with the war crimes. When the International Criminal Court can try just a few selected cases or has no jurisdiction at all.

War turns people into numbers. We have to reclaim the names of all victims of war crimes. Regardless of who they are, their social status, type of crime they have suffered, and whether the media and society are interested in their cases. Because anyone’s life is priceless.

Law is a living continuously evolving matter. We have to establish an international tribunal and bring Putin, Lukashenko and other war criminals to justice. Yes, this is a bold step. But we have to prove that the rule of law does work, and justice does exist, even if they are delayed.

Fifth. How can global solidarity become our passion?

Our world has become very complex and interconnected. Right now, people in Iran are fighting for their freedom. People in China are resisting the digital dictatorship. People in Somalia are bringing child soldiers back to peaceful life. They know better than anyone what it means to be human and stand up for human dignity. Our future depends on their success. We are responsible for everything that happens in the world.

Human rights require a certain mindset, a specific perception of the world that determines our thinking and behavior. Human rights become less relevant if their protection is left only to lawyers and diplomats. So, it is not enough to pass the right laws or create formal institutions. Societal values will always prevail.

This means that we need a new humanist movement that would work with meanings, educate people, build grass-root support and engage people in the protection of rights and freedoms. This movement should unite intellectuals and activists from different countries, because the ideas of freedom and human rights are universal and have no state borders.

This will enable us to create a demand for solutions and jointly overcome global challenges – wars, inequality, attacks on privacy, rising authoritarianism, climate change, etc. This way we can make this world a safer place.

We do not want our children to go through wars and suffering. So, as parents we have to assume the responsibility and act, not to shift it on our children. Humanity has a chance to overcome global crises and build a new philosophy of life.

It’s time to assume the responsibility. We don’t know how much of the time we still have.

And since this Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony takes place during the war, I will allow myself to reach out to people around the world and call for solidarity. You don’t have to be Ukrainians to support Ukraine. It is enough just to be humans.