The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in Oslo on 10 December on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, was awarded this year to three voices fighting for the defense of human rights: Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Belarusian association Viasna , currently in prison; the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties; Memorial, an organization born in the 80s to keep alive the memory of Stalin’s repressions and denounce the victims of subsequent persecutions, those of today. A commitment put to the test, in all three cases, by the Russian aggression in Ukraine – which has been going on for ten months now – and by the increasingly violent repression of civil liberties in Russia and Belarus.
The denial of memory and freedom is the starting point of a book, “Proteggi le mio parole” (published by Edizioni E/O), in which Sergej Bondarenko and Giulia De Florio – members of Memorial – collected the speeches given in court by today’s victims, 25 people put on trial in Russia between 2017 and 2022 for expressing ideas contrary to those in power. The Russian judicial system grants defendants a “last word” in support of their innocence: none of them has the illusion of being able to convince the judges and influence sentences already written.
Last words of testimony
In fact, many are tempted to give up: but in the end their last words become a precious testimony. A challenge to the regime, a test of courage, an act of hope for the Russia to come. Speeches delivered a few minutes before the sentence, in a “last border of freedom”. Students, journalists, activists, historians, artists. Portraits of famous opponents such as Aleksej Navalnyj, of lesser-known boys branded as extremists and terrorists for one sentence too many posted on the internet. For saying the word “war”.
“Russian history is full of these voices”, writes Marcello Flores in the preface of the book. But in particular, the words of the defendants in the trials held following the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th shed light on the state of mind of a public opinion on which the world is wondering. Resignation? Indifference? The voices collected in this book reveal the courage of even very young opponents, who in many cases already have months of detention and violence behind them. They talk about the solidarity that surrounds them. They reveal the poverty and desperation of many Russian regions, the increasingly suffocating repressive climate around those who protest, the lack of prospects, the denial of change. But at the same time, most of these speeches are imbued with strength in the face of the senselessness and brutality in which those who pronounce them have found themselves immersed, with values impermeable to fear, with love for one’s country. Confidence in the possibility that Russia can have a more dignified future. A normal future. “The next generations will want an answer,” says Volodya Metelkin, a student, in his harsh indictment of the government for the war in Ukraine.
This year the Nobel Peace Prize also goes to each of them.