Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Mrs. Aase Lionaes, Chairman of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting


Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1975 to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.

In the will and testament that Alfred Nobel drew up prior to his death in 1896, he directed that the Peace Prize should be awarded to the person who had “done the most or the best work for fraternity between peoples, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

As is only to be expected, the Nobel Committee’s interpretation of these premises has varied in accordance with changing attitudes to the concept of peace over the years.

In the ranks of Peace Prize laureates during these last seventy-four years examples of this are readily available. The Committee has rewarded:

champions of the ideas of international law;
champions of social justice, such as Léon Johaux;
for humanitarian achievements, such as Albert Schweitzer;
for pacifist work, such as Bertha von Suttner and Carl von Ossietzky;
for the promotion of human rights, such as Réne Cassin, Martin Luther King, and Albert Lutuli.

From the very start the decisions made by the Committee have frequently been the subject of criticism and debate. This need not, however, mean that they were incorrect.

The Nobel Committee is an independent body, independent of any state authority, party, group, or individual. The basis of its decisions rests exclusively on the directions and intentions contained in Alfred Nobel’s will and testament.

For the Committee to allow its work to be influenced in any way by fear or to be dictated by convenience or opportunism would constitute an unforgivable dereliction of its duties.

This year the Nobel Committee has awarded its Peace Prize to one of the great champions of human rights in our age.

In setting forth its reasons for its present choice the Committee states inter alia:

“Sakharov’s fearless personal commitment in upholding the fundamental principles for peace between men is a powerful inspiration for all true work for peace. Uncompromisingly and with unflagging strength Sakharov has fought against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity, and he has fought no less courageously for the idea of government based on the rule of law.

In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasised that Man’s inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation.

In this way, in a particularly effective manner, working under difficult conditions, he has enhanced respect for the values that rally all true peacelovers.”

We were repeatedly told during the great war that raged between 1940 and 1945 that this war was being fought in order to safeguard the human rights of future generations. Those who fought for this noble ideal, and the many millions who gave their lives to achieve it, won the war on the field of battle; but their great goal, the enduring establishment of human dignity, was not achieved.

During the post-war years the United Nations has worked energetically and untiringly to draw up and gain universal acceptance for a global declaration and two conventions on fundamental human rights. It has done so in the conviction that these rights and freedoms are absolute imperatives for the maintenance of lasting peace in the world. Most countries have accepted this line of thought.

And yet today – despite all the sacrifices and efforts that have been made – in every part of the world there are millions of people who cannot be said to enjoy the most elementary human rights; there are even regions where people previously enjoyed these rights, and where, after the conclusion of the last war, they forfeited them.

Réne Cassin, the architect of the global declaration and one-time Peace Prize laureate, is fully aware of this. He has the following comment to make on the present situation:

“The declaration sets up an ideal for us to follow, and it lays down guidelines for our actions.

Yet a glance at the world of today is sufficient to show that we still have a long way to go before we can achieve this ideal. Not a single country, even the most advanced, can pride itself on fulfilling all the articles of the declaration.

We witness violations of the right to live. Murder and massacre are allowed to pass unpunished. Women are exploited, there is widespread famine, contempt for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, widespread racial discrimination – all these evils are far too widespread to be overlooked.”

Yet this tragic situation must not lead to resignation. On the contrary, it is a challenge to all responsible people, irrespective of national boundaries, to intensify their struggle to establish respect for human dignity and to rally around the courageous individuals who refuse to bow their necks to the yoke.

This year’s prizewinner, Andrei Sakharov, was born in Moscow in 1921. He studied physics at the University of Moscow, and attracted considerable attention at an early age with the publication of a number of scientific treatises.

During the years from 1948 to 1968 Sakharov worked at an institute for nuclear research, secret as a member of a team of scientists engaged in the development of nuclear arms.

Sakharov himself emphasises that his own contribution to the work of this team of scientists was not directed solely to military ends, but aimed as well at the harnessing of nuclear power for other purposes, e.g. in industry and in the production of energy.

Although the Soviet Union in 1949, in common with the United States of America, had produced her own atom bomb, nevertheless the United States was far more advanced than the USSR in nuclear technology. Sakharov was of the opinion that, in the interests of peace, it was important to narrow this lead, in order to establish a balance in the arms race capable of deterring both parties from initiating a war.

At the age of thirty-two Sakharov was elected to the Russian Academy of Science, of which he was the youngest member. For his scientific work on behalf of his country he has twice been awarded the Order of Lenin, on one occasion the Stalin Prize, and on three separate occasions he has been nominated a Hero of Socialist Labour.

In 1968, however, a significant change occurred in his status and way of life. He was removed from his research post and allocated to work in the Physics Institute of the Academy of Science.

This change in Sakharov’s circumstances and standing was a direct result of a change in his way of thinking, and his frank admission of this.

He describes this in his book “Sakharov Speaks”:

“Beginning in 1957 (not without the influence of statements on this subject made throughout the world by such people as Albert Schweitzer, Linus Pauling, and others) I felt myself responsible for the problem of radioactive contamination from nuclear explosions.”

Sakharov made no secret of the fact that he had arrived at these conclusions; in fact, he expressed himself frankly to the authorities in letters, in which he set forth his ideas on the situation. He hoped that this might provide a basis for a free and open exchange of opinion, but in this he was profoundly disappointed.

In one important respect, however, Sakharov believes that his views have had some effect. This was when the USA and the Soviet Union completed an agreement in 1963 on a ban on nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in space, and in the ocean.

In 1968 Sakharov issued his famous “Manifesto on progress, co-existence, and intellectual freedom”. Sakharov’s “Manifesto” is not based only on conditions in his own country; it is written from a global point of view and constitutes an earnest appeal for peace to responsible men and women in every country.

The principal problem with which he deals here is the threat of the total annihilation of our civilisation which would result from a nuclear war. He maintains that this danger can only be averted by means of worldwide cooperation transcending national and ideological boundaries.

In this connection he is particularly concerned with close contacts between the USA and the Soviet Union. It is his belief that peaceful co-existence between these two super powers could be achieved if some measure of approximation were to take place between the political systems of these two states.

Sakharov believes that this form of cooperation offers the only alternative to a nuclear war which he describes as collective suicide.

As far as his own country’s contribution to this convergence is concerned, he emphasises reforms such as democratisation, debureaucratisation, demilitarisation, and social and scientific progress.

In close cooperation between these two super powers Sakharov also envisages a possibility for a tremendous joint approach to a solution of world hunger, overpopulation, and pollution.

In his opinion, too, a substantial aid programme might provide a lasting foundation for a harmonious social and economic development of the third world.

The wholesale contributions made by the industrial countries would, Sakharov believes, involve a considerable reduction in the amount of money spent by these countries on armaments.

As we all know, these are ideas that have been repeatedly debated in the United Nations. The philosophy at the back of this line of argument has, inter alia, found expression in the appeal which the United Nations made in 1970 in rich member-countries allocate one per cent of their gross national product for aid to the developing countries.

Sakharov’s “Manifesto”, which caused such a stir in large parts of the world, was the first publication in which he gave a cohesive presentation of his views on the conditions necessary to a policy of détente and intellectual freedom.

In subsequent publications, such as “Sakharov Speaks” and “My Country and the World”, his views on some of the problems he dealt with in his “Manifesto” have undergone a change. The reason for this, he says, is to be found in the dramatic international development of recent years, in conversations he has had with people from his own country and abroad, as well as in his own widened personal experience. It is not so much the dream of the future with which he is preoccupied, as all the dangers that threaten, those that interpose themselves between the dream and reality.

In assessing the ideas set forth in his “Manifesto” Sakharov personally emphasises that at the time he wrote it, he was still living in an isolated and highly privileged scientific milieu, without any contact with the community outside.

This is how he describes his life at this time:

“I was isolated from the people.”

And in an interview he continues:

“Thus, in evaluating my essay of 1968 you must understand this and take into account the route I followed from work on thermonuclear weapons to my concern about the results of nuclear tests – the destruction of people, genetic consequences, and all these things.

My life has been such that I began by confronting global problems and only later on more concrete, personal, and human ones.”

It was his intimate contact with the daily life of fellow human beings and his concern that compelled him to commit himself to an intense struggle to find a solution for problems which he indicated openly in letters written to the authorities, and for which he demanded reforms.

In an attempt to submit his proposals to a wider public, Sakharov founded the “Committee for Human Rights” in 1970, together with some friends and colleagues.

The aim of this committee was to work, within the framework of the law, to institute constructive reforms for the promotion of human rights, in accordance with the humanist principles formulated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Sakharov maintained that they should strive to achieve the following chief aims: the abolition of secret trials; a new press law ensuring that people would have full information; reforms in the prison system; the amnesty of political prisoners; the abolition of the death penalty; open frontiers; and a ban on the use of psychiatric institutes for political ends.

It must be gratifying for Sakharov to know that his ideas on the conditions necessary for peace and détente have found an echo in the “Agreement on Security and Cooperation in Europe”, which was signed on August 1 this year by thirty-five different nations in Helsinki.

Section VII of the Helsinki Agreement states:

“The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”

It goes on to state:

“They will promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and other rights and freedoms all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person and are essential for his free and full development.”

It is an historic event that the leading states of the world should have established in this document that human rights are an essential factor in détente between nations.

No state and no single politician can suppress or evade the moral and political obligations that these Articles impose by taking refuge in formalistic arguments couched in terms of international law. To do so would be a betrayal of mankind and of peace.

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov has shown that he is prepared to bear his share of the burden.

In the words of the Nobel Committee:

“Andrei Sakharov’s great contribution to peace is this, that he has fought in a particularly effective manner and under highly difficult conditions, in the greatest spirit of self-sacrifice, to obtain respect for these values that the Helsinki Agreement here declares to be its object.”

Sakharov’s struggle for human rights, for disarmament, and for cooperation between all nations has peace as its final goal. For his endeavours to improve the lot of people in every country we pay our tribute to him here today in awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize for 1975.

The Nobel Committee deeply deplores the fact that Andrei Sakharov has been prevented from being present here today in person to receive the Peace Prize.

This is a fate he shares with the man who, forty years ago in 1935, was awarded the Peace Prize. His name was Carl von Ossietzky.

The title page of Sakharov’s celebrated “Manifesto” of 1968 carries these words of Goethe as its motto:

“Only the man who has to fight for them daily deserves freedom and life.”

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov has in truth fulfilled Goethe’s conditions for possessing both freedom and life.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1975, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1976


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1975

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