Viktor Yanukovych regime’s spin doctors have reacted in typical fashion to the nomination earlier this year of Yulia Tymoshenko for the Nobel Peace Prize. (The prize is awarded annually on Dec. 10).
Politics should not play a role in this award, huffed Yanukovych’s advisor Dmytro Vidrin in an interview with Radio Svoboda.
What Vidrin is apparently unaware of, or deliberately ignoring, is that politics have played a critical role in Nobel Peace Prize awards, especially since 1960. This is particularly true where an individual or organization is fighting for basic human rights against an oppressive regime, or regimes. And in awarding these individuals, what the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has been doing is bringing world attention to their causes. Thus the Tymoshenko nomination fits in perfectly with the historic precedents.
Here are just some of the most glaring examples:
• 1960: Albert Lutuli, South Africa; president of the African National Congress. “Was in the very forefront of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.” World attention began focusing on South Africa’s policy of apartheid that year. By giving the prize to its most prominent opponent at that time, the committee was giving the South African government a slap in the face and making a strong statement against apartheid.
• 1964: Martin Luther King, Jr., United States; campaigner for civil rights, “first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence.” In this particular case the Nobel Committee was sending a message to the governments of the Southern United States where Blacks faced the local version of apartheid, known as segregation and were denied even the most basic of democratic rights – namely the right to vote. A year after King’s award, the U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act which outlawed the Southern “Jim Crow” laws and returned the right to vote to millions of disenfranchised African-Americans. This led to the end of legalized segregation and changed the political landscape of the South forever.
• 1975: Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, Soviet Union; “[for his] struggle for human rights, for disarmament, and for cooperation between all nations”. By awarding the Soviet Union’s most noted dissident, the committee was once again sending a message in defence of human rights. A year after Sakharov’s award, Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. (The newly-enfranchised African-Americans of the South played a key role in his victory). Carter became the first U.S. President to make human rights the cornerstone of his policy towards the Soviet Union. Within the next 15 years the dissidents temporarily triumphed and the USSR collapsed in 1991, only to be revived today under Putin, Yanukovych and company. (Carter incidentally was the 2002 laureate “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development”.)
• 1977: Amnesty International, United Kingdom; “[for] protecting the human rights of prisoners of conscience”. In awarding the organization most prominent in the defense of human rights the Nobel Committee was once more making a statement on that issue.
• 1980: Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Argentina; Human rights leader; “founded non-violent human rights organizations to fight the military junta that was ruling his country (Argentina).” Again a statement directly aimed at an oppressive regime that tortured its dissidents. Within two years the Argentinean junta collapsed and democracy was restored to that country.
• 1983: Lech Walesa, Poland; “Founder of Solidarność; campaigner for human rights”. Coming fresh on the heels of the declaration of martial law in Communist Poland Walesa’s award was a strong statement supporting the democratization of his country. Within six years Communism collapsed, democracy was instituted and in 1990 Walesa became the first democratically elected President of Poland.
• 1984: Desmond Tutu, South Africa; Bishop of Johannesburg; former Secretary General, South African Council of Churches. Yet another strike against apartheid. Once the policy was finally brought to a close and Blacks granted their democratic rights, the committee recognized this by jointly awarding recently-released Black leader Nelson Mandela and then-Prime Minister of South Africa, Frederik Willem de Klerk, “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa” in 1993.
• 1989: Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet; “In his struggle for the liberation of Tibet [he] consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.” A statement condemning the oppression of the people of Tibet by Communist China.
• 1991: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma; “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”. The leading voice of the pro-democracy movement opposing her country’s military junta, Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time of her award. She was released only in 2010.
• 1992: Rigoberta Menchú, Guatemala; “[for] her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.”
• 2000: Kim Dae-jung, South Korea; “for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.”
• 2003: Shirin Ebadi, Iran: “for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.”
• 2010: Liu Xiaobo, China; “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. Liu is the third person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while in prison or detention, after Germany’s Carl von Ossietzky (1935) and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi (1991). Liu is also the second person (the first being Ossietzky) to be denied the right to have a representative collect the Nobel prize for him.
There are other examples we could use, but these are some of the most obvious precedents.
As the most prominent of all the political prisoners jailed by the Yanukovych regime, Tymoshenko has become a symbol of the struggle for the return of democracy in Ukraine. On that basis she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. So let us be clear on this issue. This nomination is not about her as an individual, but about what she represents — to repeat — nothing less than the struggle for democracy and human rights in Ukraine.
Marco Levytsky is the editor and publisher of Ukrainian News, an
independent bi-weekly newspaper based in Edmonton and distributed across