Human rights activists in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, economists with experience in financial crises and a trio pushing advances in click chemistry were honored on Saturday as Nobel prizes were presented in person for the first time in two years .
Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the board of directors of the Nobel Foundation, called it a “special” year, emphasizing the return to a live event. He also noted that, in light of the turmoil caused by the war in Ukraine, the world needed scientists and activists like the ones being honored.
The events began in Oslo, where the winners of the Peace Prize were awarded: the now banned Russian human rights organization Memorial; the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) in Kiev; and jailed Belarusian human rights lawyer Ales Bialiatski, head of human rights organization Viasna.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, called them “champions of peace” when they gathered for the prize. Bialiatski remains in prison and was presented by his wife, Natalia Pinchuk.
CCL President Oleksandra Romantsova and Memorial leader Yan Rachinsky were able to personally collect the medals and diplomas in the Olso Town Hall.
The choice of this year’s honorees was seen as a denunciation of the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The laureates were honored for their many years of work criticizing those in power and defending essential civil rights. The groups have gone to great lengths to document war crimes, human rights violations and abuses of power, the award jury said.
“Together, they demonstrate the importance of civil society for peace and democracy,” said Reiss-Andersen.
Referring to her imprisoned husband, Pinchuk said: “Ales and all of us recognize how important and risky it is to fulfill the mission of human rights defenders, especially at the tragic moment of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Pinchuk said that thousands of Belarusians are being oppressed and unjustly imprisoned, while hundreds of thousands are forced to flee to live in a democratic state.
“In my homeland, the whole of Belarus is in a prison,” she said on behalf of her husband, adding that the award gives all Belarusians hope that they can count on the solidarity of the democratic world.
Romansova, leader of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, said in her speech that “peace, progress and human rights are inextricably linked”.
A state that kills journalists, jails activists and disperses peaceful demonstrations is a threat to peace around the world, Romansova said.
“The Ukrainian people want peace more than anyone else in the world. But peace cannot be achieved by a country under attack laying down its arms,” Romansova said, referring to the bloody Russian invasion of her country. “This would not be peace, but occupation.”
Rachinsky, the Russian leader of Memorial, said the award has great symbolic significance for the group: “It underlines that state borders cannot and should not divide civil society.”
He also questioned, however, whether Memorial really deserved the award in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Aside from modesty, we’ve done a lot and accomplished more than a little,” Rachinsky said. “But did our work prevent the catastrophe of February 24?”
Memorial, an internationally recognized group, was disbanded last year on orders from Russian authorities, for allegedly violating the law by refusing to bear the title of “foreign agent” imposed by the Kremlin.
The events then moved to Stockholm.
Svante Pääbo of Sweden won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the study of human evolution.
Alain Aspect, John F Clauser and Anton Zeilinger, scientists based in France, the United States and Austria, have accepted the Nobel Prize in Physics for work on quantum information science.
Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K Barry Sharpless were this year’s winners of the Chemistry Prize for their work on click chemistry, a tool for building molecules.
French author Annie Ernaux was the literature winner for her writing heavily based on personal recollection.
And the Nobel Prize in economics went to Ben S Bernanke, Douglas W Diamond and Philip H Dybvig for their research on financial crises.
The awards had all been announced in October. The awards go back to the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel (1833-1896). The awards are formally presented on the anniversary of his death, 10 December.
This year, the prize is endowed with 10 million SEK (about $969,000).
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