All three hard-pressed representatives of human rights organizations in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were standing tall in Norway on Saturday, after accepting their joint Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo’s City Hall. The roughly 1,000 people in the audience were soon standing, too, in a lengthy ovation for the prize-winners’ bravery and efforts to promote freedom and ultimately peace in their authoritarian and war-torn homelands.
Norway’s royal family, top Norwegian officials and dignitaries including ambassadors based in Oslo were in the audience and listening to all three acceptance speeches. Russia’s ambassador was invited, too, as a matter of principle but reportedly didn’t respond. The speeches were described as stirring and powerful, with several members of the audience captured on video as they wiped away tears, including Norway’s Crown Princess Metter-Marit.
“The people of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the whole world,” said Oleksandra Matviichuk, while accepting the Peace Prize on behalf of the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties. “But peace isn’t won by a country under attack laying down its weapons. That’s not peace, that’s occupation.” She noted how bombing, torture and deportations have become part of everyday life in Ukraine, and she spoke of how a mother lost her newborn baby when Russian missiles hit the hospital where she’d just given birth.
All three representatives of the winners thanked the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Natallia Pintchuk said it had strengthened her imprisoned husband, Ales Bialiatski, who knows he’s “not alone” in his struggle against Belarus’ dictatorship. Jan Rachinsky of Memorial claimed the prize has “great symbolic meaning,” and Matviichuk (who also won applause for speaking Ukrainian) was grateful for the solidarity the prize symbolized and that she fervently hopes will continue to support Ukraine.
The Oslo City Hall was decorated a bit more sparsely than usual at the Peace Prize ceremony, with mostly red and white anthuriums to symbolize the colour of the opposition in Belarus. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that among those in the audience were several of Memorial’s founders, the leader of the opposition in Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaja, and the daughter of Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist who was working for Memorial when she was murdered while investigating war crimes in Chechnya.
The Peace Prize winners were later traditionally hailed by a torch-lit parade that ended outside Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where they were also honoured at a banquet attended by Norway’s royal family. On Sunday they were due to visit the Norwegian Parliament and its president, Masud Gharahkhani, along with the parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee. They were also to formally open the annual Peace Prize exhibition at the Nobel Peace Center just across the plaza from Oslo’s City Hall.