Nobel Peace Prize for Memorial “big show of moral support”, says head of Czech branch

Demonstration for support of Memorial organization

All three winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are people or organisations from the former Soviet Union: the imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian human rights organization Memorial, and the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties. Memorial was banned in Russia last year for allegedly operating as a foreign agent, and the Czech branch of the organisation has been doing its best to support them since then.

The seat of Memorial organization in Moscow | Photo: Stanislav Kozlovskiy,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

2022 joint Nobel Peace Prize winners Memorial have been active in the study of political repression in the USSR and in contemporary Russia since the late 1980s.

Štěpán Černoušek, head of the Czech branch of Memorial International and a member of the board of directors, says that the awarding of the prestigious prize is a testament to the important work that the Russian branch of the organisation has done in defending human rights and documenting abuses in the country.

“I would say that it’s great news for our Russian colleagues – it’s an award for their work in Russia and not for our Czech branch of Memorial. It’s really big moral support for their current situation, which is really hard right now.”

Memorial has more than 50 branches in Russia and another 11 in other countries, including the Czech Republic, with the Czech branch being established in 2016. The Russian branches of the organisation have come under increasing fire from the Russian authorities since 2014, first receiving a court order to register with the Ministry of Justice as a foreign agent and eventually being dissolved at the end of last year, a decision that was sharply criticised in the West, including by the Czech Republic, which stated that the verdict constituted an attack against civil society.

Štěpán Černoušek | Photo: Olga Vasinkevich,  Radio Prague International

Štěpán Černoušek says that the liquidation of the main branch of Memorial International has made their work very difficult.

“Their office was closed by the Russian authorities, the library and the Memorial museum is closed at the moment and they can’t do their educational programmes, so it’s really hard for them to do any projects there.”

The war in Ukraine has also had a big impact on the day-to-day running of the organisation, he says.

“Because of the war a lot of people from Memorial had to leave the country and they emigrated to Europe. Some people who stayed in Russia tried to do something, but it’s really hard.”

However, Černoušek says, Memorial Czech Republic are trying their best to continue their work and support their Russian colleagues as best they can.

“We connect our Russian colleagues with Czech specialists and historians and we advertise their projects in the Czech Republic, because it’s very important work. For example, thanks to the work of Memorial, we have information about Czechoslovak citizens who were repressed in the Soviet Union and that’s important for Czech people to know. We try to support our colleagues in Russia as much as possible.”

The Nobel Prize ceremony will take place on December 10, the anniversary of the death of the Swedish scientist and founder of the award, Alfred Nobel.