The decision regarding this year's Nobel Peace Prize sends a clear message to people in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the rest of the world: We're honoring those in eastern Europe who have the courage to call out the monstrous crimes of the Putin regime by name. We are honoring those who are willing to suffer for the truth, to risk their lives, to go to jail.
The prestigious honor will pain Putin, for it will be recorded for posterity. Russia's violent leader and his state propaganda machine can ignore it, rail against it, and criticize it as much as they want but they cannot undo this wise decision by the Nobel Committee.
Systematically plotted crimes
Putin's crimes did not appear out of thin air: Neither his invasion of Ukraine, nor his persecution of Russian and Belarus opposition figures. Putin has been systematically preparing them for decades.
One of today's Nobel laureates, Ales Bialiatski, began calling them out by name long ago. For instance, Moscow's attempts to destroy Belarus sovereignty. For decades, Bialiatski has been fighting to maintain Belarus' language and culture. That alone made him a thorn in Moscow's side.
Minsk's self-proclaimed President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly had him jailed, purportedly for tax crimes. The charges were always made up. Bialiatski was penalized because he documented how Belarus security services tortured and jailed opposition figures. He stood up for demonstrators protesting rigged elections. In 2021, he was jailed again. Today's Nobel Prize will refocus attention on his fate and that of his homeland.
Documenting crimes is also the mission that Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties has taken upon itself. Recently, the organization gained notoriety for documenting crimes committed by invading Russian troops. Their hope is that their documentation will ensure such misdeeds do not go unpunished. For that to happen, evidence must be collected, and victims' names recorded. In the past, the center has been active in attempting to steer Kyiv toward Europe by seeking to strengthen Ukrainian civil society.
'Memorial' at odds with Putin's plans
The most well-known of today's laureates is the organization Memorial. It began shining a light on the darkest chapters of Soviet history back in the 1980s. One of its most famous associates was Andrei Sakharov.
President Putin has reviled the organization — a role model for many NGOs around the world — for years. Back in 2003, during his first term as Russian president, Putin said the nation's schoolbooks should inspire pride in students. The great detail with which Memorial documented the millions of crimes committed by the Soviet Union's Communist leadership ran counter to the president's wishes. Moreover, the NGO — as it had during Soviet times — continued to fight for free elections and the rights of persecuted opposition figures. Late last year, Putin had Memorial banned.
In the early 1990s, Memorial actually influenced legislation written in the Duma. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the organization sought to ensure that no new authoritarian regime would ever be allowed to control the country again. That inspired Memorial to call for perpetrators from the Communist Party as well as those from the intelligence services to be brought to justice through a system modeled after the Nuremberg Trials.
Unfortunately, that idea failed when Communists distanced themselves from their own crimes during the days of the Soviet Union. If Memorial had succeeded back then, Vladimir Putin may have never come to power.
This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton.