The collapse of the Soviet Union, the “Evil Empire,” was perhaps the most welcome event of the latter part of the 20th century. Almost three hundred million people freed from totalitarian rule in a historical moment, and peacefully at that.
Tragically not all have remained free. Half of them are now back under the authoritarian rule of a would-be tsar, Vladimir Putin. Another unfortunate ten million in Belarus suffer the heavy hand of Alexander Lukashenko.
How appropriate that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners are from these two dictatorships and Ukraine, democratically run but under invasion and terrorist assault by the imperialist Putin. The winners are three: the Belarussian activist Ales Bialiatski; the Russian human rights organization Memorial; and the Ukrainian organization Centre for Civil Liberties.
All are concerned with human rights, which makes them sworn enemies of Putin and his autocratic buddy Lukashenko.
Bialiatski is a pro-democracy activist, a founding member of the Viasna Human Rights Centre, a human rights organization based in Minsk. It provides financial and legal assistance to political prisoners and their families. The New York Times has called Bialiatski “a pillar of the human rights movement in Eastern Europe.”
Memorial is an international human rights organization, founded in Russia during the fall of the Soviet Union, that exposes the crimes and human rights violations during the reign of Joseph Stalin. It has also exposed human rights abuses in present-day Russia.
The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties is a human rights organization founded in 2007 with the purpose of pressuring Ukraine’s government to make the country more democratic and enhance public control of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.
Not surprisingly two of the three winners have been silenced in their own countries. Bialiatski has been jailed since the 2020 protests against Lukashenko’s re-election. He faces up to 12 years in prison. After the Russian government accused Memorial of trying to undermine state order and declared it a “foreign agent,” the country’s Supreme Court shut it down. Only the Center for Civil Liberties remains free to do its work in its native land.
The triple prize is a triple rebuke to President Putin, for his suppression of human rights in Russia, for his support of Lukashenko’s suppression of human rights in Belarus, and for his attempt to crush Ukrainians’ freedom.
As the Ukrainian people fight heroically to defend their country against the 21st century version of the evil empire, these winners of the Nobel Peace Prize remind us of what they are fighting for.