Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1975
Peace, Progress, Human Rights*
Honored members of the Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: it is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored. This is the dominant idea that provides the main theme of my lecture. I am grateful that this great and significant prize, the Nobel Peace Prize, has been awarded to me, and that I have been given the opportunity of speaking to you here today. It was particularly gratifying for me to note the Committee’s citation, which emphasizes the defense of human rights as the only sure basis for genuine and lasting international cooperation. I consider that this idea is very important; I am convinced that international confidence, mutual understanding, disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, and the right to travel and choose the country in which one wishes to live. I am likewise convinced that freedom of conscience, together with the other civic rights, provides the basis for scientific progress and constitutes a guarantee that scientific advances will not be used to despoil mankind, providing the basis for economic and social progress, which in turn is a political guarantee for the possibility of an effective defense of social rights. At the same time I should like to defend the thesis of the original and decisive significance of civic and political rights in moulding the destiny of mankind. This view differs essentially from the widely accepted Marxist view, as well as the technocratic opinions, according to which it is precisely material factors and social and economic conditions that are of decisive importance. (But in saying this, of course, I have no intention of denying the importance of people’s material circumstances.)
I should like to express all these theses in my lecture, and I should like in particular to dwell on a number of concrete problems affecting the violation of human rights. It seems to me that a solution of these problems is imperative, and that the time at our disposal is short.
This is the reason why I have called my lecture “Peace, Progress, Human Rights”. There is, naturally, a conscious parallel with the title of my article of 1968, Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom, with which my lecture, both in its contents and its implications, has very close affinities.
There is a great deal to suggest that mankind, at the threshold of the second half of the twentieth century, entered a particularly decisive and critical period of its history.
Thermonuclear missiles, which in principle are capable of annihilating the whole of mankind, exist; this is the greatest danger threatening our age. Thanks to economic, industrial, and scientific advances, the so-called “conventional” arms have likewise grown incomparably more dangerous, not to mention chemical and bacteriological instruments of war.
There is no doubt that industrial and technological progress is the most important factor in overcoming poverty, famine, and disease. But this progress leads at the same time to ominous changes in the environment in which we live and the exhaustion of our natural resources. In this way mankind faces grave ecological dangers.
Rapid changes in traditional forms of life have resulted in an unchecked demographic explosion which is particularly noticeable in the developing countries of the Third World. The growth in population has already created exceptionally complicated economic, social, and psychological problems, and will in the future inevitably pose still more serious problems. In a great many countries, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the lack of food will be an overriding factor in the lives of many hundreds of millions of people, who from the moment of birth are condemned to a wretched existence on the starvation level. In view of this, future prospects are menacing, and in the opinion of many specialists tragic, despite the undoubted success of the “green revolution”.
And yet in the developed countries, too, people are faced with serious problems. One of these is the pressure resulting from excessive urbanization, all the changes that disrupt the community’s social and psychological stability: the incessant pursuit of fashion and trends; over-production; the senseless and crazy tempo of life; the increase in the number of nervous and mental disorders; the growing number of people deprived of contact with nature and of normal human lives in the traditional sense of the word; the dissolution of families and the loss of simple human joys and delights; the decline in the community’s moral and ethical principles; and the sense that more and more people no longer feel that they have any reasonable goal in life. Against this background we witness a whole host of disquieting phenomena: an increase in crime, in alcoholism, in drug addiction, in acts of terror, and so forth. The imminent exhaustion of the world’s resources, the threat of overpopulation, the constant and deep-rooted international, political, and social problems are making a more and more forceful impact on the developed countries too, and will deprive – or at any rate threaten to deprive – a great many people who have long been used to abundance, affluence, and creature comforts.
However, in the pattern of problems facing the world today a more decisive and important role is played by the global political polarization of mankind, which is divided into the so-called First World (which is conventionally called the Western world), the Second World (socialist), and the Third World (the developing countries). Two powerful socialist states, in fact, have become hostile, totalitarian empires, in which a single party and the state exercise immoderate power in all spheres of life. They possess an enormous potential for expansion, striving to increase their influence to cover large areas of the globe. One of these states – the Chinese People’s Republic – has as yet reached only a relatively modest stage of economic development, whereas the other – the Soviet Union – by exploiting its unique natural resources, by taxing to the utmost the powers of its inhabitants and their ability to suffer continued privation, has today built up a tremendous war potential and a relatively high – though one-sided – economic development. But in the Soviet Union, too, the people’s standard of living is low, and civic rights more restricted than in the smaller socialist countries. Highly complicated global problems are also involved in the Third World, where a relatively stagnant economy may be seen hand in hand with growing international political activity.
Moreover, this polarization further reinforces the very serious dangers threatening the world – the danger of nuclear annihilation, famine, pollution of the environment, exhaustion of resources, over-population, and dehumanization.
If we consider the whole of this complex of urgent problems and contradictions, I am convinced that the first point that must be made is that any attempt to reduce the tempo of scientific and technological progress, to reverse the process of urbanization, to call for isolationism, patriarchal ways of life, and a renaissance based on a return to sound national traditions from times long past, would be unrealistic. Progress is indispensable, and to bring it to a halt would involve the decline and fall of our civilization.
It is not so very long since men were unfamiliar with artificial fertilizers, mechanized farming, toxic chemicals, and intensive agricultural methods. There are voices calling for a return to more traditional and possibly less dangerous forms of agriculture. But can this be put into practice in a world in which hundreds of millions of people are suffering the pangs of hunger? On the contrary, there is no doubt that we need increasingly intensive methods of farming, and we need to spread modern methods all over the world, including the developing countries. We cannot reject the idea of a more and more widespread use of the results of medical research or the extension of research in all its branches, including bacteriology and virology, neuro-physiology, human genetics, and gene surgery, no matter what potential dangers lurk in their abuse and the undesirable social consequences of this research. This also applies to research which aims at creating systems for imitating intellectual processes and research involving the control of mass human behaviorism, the setting up of a unified global system of communication, systems for selecting and storing of information, and so forth. It is quite clear that in the hands of irresponsible, bureaucratic authorities operating under cover of secretiveness, all this research may prove exceptionally dangerous, but at the same time it may prove extremely important and necessary to mankind, if it is carried out under state control, testing, and socio-scientific analysis. We cannot reject the wider and wider application of artificial materials, synthetic food, or the modernization of every aspect of life; we cannot object to the growing automatization and increase in industrial production, irrespective of the social problems these may involve.
We cannot object to the construction of bigger and bigger thermonuclear power stations or research into nuclear physics, since energetics is one of the bases of our civilization. In this connection I should like to remind you of the fact that twenty-five years ago I and my teacher, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Igor Jeugenivich Tamm, laid the basis for nuclear physical research in our country. This research has achieved a tremendous scope, extending into the most varied directions, from the classical setup for magnetic heat isolation to methods for the use of lasers.
We cannot object to the exertions which aim at control not only of those parts of the universe that surround our earth, as well as other sections of the cosmos, including the attempts to intercept signals from civilizations outside our own earth. The chance of experiments of this kind proving successful is probably small, but precisely for this reason the results may well be tremendous.
I have only mentioned a few examples, but there are undoubtedly many others. In actual fact all important aspects of progress are closely interwoven; not one of them can be dispensed without a risk of destroying the entire setup of our civilization. Progress is indivisible. But intellectual factors play a special role in the mechanism of progress. The attempt to underestimate these factors is particularly widespread in the socialist countries, no doubt owing to the populist-ideological dogmas of official philosophy, and may well result in a distorted picture of progress or even its cessation and stagnation. Progress is possible and innocuous only when it is subject to the control of reason. The highly important problem involving the preservation of the environment is one of the examples in which the role of public opinion, the open society, and freedom of conscience is particularly obvious. The partial liberalization that took place in our country after the death of Stalin made it possible for us to engage in public debate on this problem during the early sixties. But an effective solution of the problem demands increased tightening of social and international control. The military application of scientific results and controlled disarmament are an equally critical area, in which international confidence depends on public opinion and the open society. The example I mentioned involving the control of mass human behaviorism is already a highly topical one, even though this may appear far-fetched.
Freedom of conscience, the existence of an informed public opinion, a system of education of a pluralist nature, freedom of the press, and access to other sources of information, all these are in very short supply in the socialist countries. This is a result of the economic, political, and ideological monism which is characteristic of these nations, At the same time these conditions are a vital necessity, not only if all abuse of progress, witting or unwitting, is to be avoided, but also if we wish to strengthen it. It is particularly important that an effective system of education and a creative sense of heredity from one generation to another is only possible in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom. And conversely: intellectual bondage, the power and conformism of a pitiful bureaucracy which from the very start acts as a blight on humanist fields of knowledge, literature, and art, results eventually in a general intellectual decline, bureaucratization and formalization of the entire system of education, a decline of scientific research, and the thwarting of all incentive to creative work, to stagnation, and to dissolution.
In the polarized world the totalitarian states, thanks to détente, enjoy the opportunity today of indulging in a special form of intellectual sponging. And it seems that, if the inner changes, which we all consider necessary, do not take place, they will soon be forced to adopt an approach of this kind. This is precisely one of the many results of détente. If it does take place, the danger of an explosion in the world situation will merely increase. Cooperation on a wide front between the western countries, the socialist countries, and the developing countries is a vital necessity for peace, and it involves an exchange of scientific results, technology, trade, and mutual economic aid, particularly where food is concerned. But this cooperation must be based on mutual trust between open societies, or – to put it another way – with an open mind, on the basis of genuine equality, and not on the basis of the democratic countries’ fear of their totalitarian neighbors. If that were the case, cooperation would merely involve an attempt at ingratiating oneself with a formidable neighbor. But a policy of this kind would merely mean postponing the evil day, which would soon return, through another door, in tenfold strength. This is simply another version of the Munich policy. The success of détente can only be assured if from the very outset it goes hand in hand with continual observation of openness on the part of all countries, an aroused sense of public opinion, free exchange of information, absolute respect in all countries for civic and political rights. In short: in addition to détente in the material sphere, with disarmament and trade, détente should take place in the intellectual and ideological sphere. The President of France, Giscard d’Estaing, expressed this in an admirable fashion during his visit to Moscow. It was worth listening to criticism from shortsighted pragmatists among one’s own countrymen when the maintenance of an important principle was at stake!
Before dealing with the problem of disarmament, I should like to take this opportunity once again of reminding you of some of my proposals of a general nature. This applies first and foremost to the idea of setting up an international consultative committee for questions related to disarmament, human rights, and the protection of the environment, under the aegis of the United Nations. In my opinion a committee of this kind should have the right to receive binding replies from all governments to their enquiries and recommendations. A committee of this kind could become an important working body in securing international discussion and information on the most important problems affecting the future of mankind. I am waiting for this idea to receive support and to be discussed.
I should also like to emphasize that I consider it particularly important for United Nations armed forces to be used more generally for the purpose of restricting armed conflicts between states and ethnic groups. I have a very high regard for the United Nations’ potential and necessary role, and I consider the institution to be one of mankind’s most important hopes for a better future. Recent years have proved difficult and critical for this organization. I have written on this subject in my book My Country and the World, but after it came out a deplorable event took place: the General Assembly adopted – practically without any real debate – a resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism and racial discrimination. All impartial persons know that Zionism is the ideology of a national rebirth of the Jewish people after two thousand years of separation, and that this ideology is not directed against any other people. The adoption of a resolution of this kind has, in my opinion, dealt the prestige of the United Nations a hard blow. But despite motions of this kind, which are frequently tabled as the result of insufficient sense of responsibility among the leaders of some of the younger member nations of UNO, I believe nevertheless that the Organization may sooner or later be in a position to play a worthy role in the life of mankind, in accordance with the clause in which the Organization’s aims are set forth.
Let me now tackle one of the central questions of the present age, the problem of disarmament. I have described in detail just what my position is in the book My Country and the World. It is imperative to promote confidence between nations and carry out measures of control with the aid of international inspection groups. This is only possible if détente is extended to the ideological sphere, and it presupposes greater social openness. In my book I have stressed the need for international agreements on the limitation of arms supplies to other states, a halt in the production of new weapon systems based on a mutual agreement, treaties banning secret rearmament, the elimination of strategically uncertain factors, and in particular a ban on multi-warhead nuclear missiles.
What do I consider would be the ideal international agreement on disarmament on the technical plane?
I believe that prior to an agreement of this kind we must have an official declaration – though not necessarily official in the initial stages – on the extent of military potential (ranging from the number of nuclear warheads to forecast figures on the number of personnel liable for military service), with, for example, an indication of areas of “potential confrontation”. The first step in this agreement would be to ensure that for every single strategic area and for all sorts of military potential an adjustment would be made in every case to iron out the superiority of one party to the agreement in relation to the other. (Naturally this is the kind of pattern that would be liable to some adjustment.) This would in the first place obviate the possibility of an agreement in one strategic area (Europe, for instance) being utilized to strengthen military positions in another area (e.g. the Soviet-Chinese border). In the second place, potential injustices based on quantitative comparison with regard to the significance of different types of potential would be excluded. (It would, for example, be difficult to say how many batteries of the ABM type would correspond to a cruiser, and so on.)1 The next step in disarmament would have to be proportional and simultaneous de-escalation for all countries and in all strategic areas. A formula of this kind for “balanced” two-stage disarmament would ensure continuous security for all countries, an interrelated equilibrium between armed forces in all areas where there is a potential danger of confrontation, while at the same time providing a radical solution to the economic and social problems that have arisen as a result of militarization. In the course of time a great many experts and politicians have launched similar views, but hitherto these have not made much significant advance. However, now that humanity is faced with a real threat of annihilation in the holocaust of nuclear explosion, I hope that human reason will not hesitate to take this step. Radical and balanced disarmament is in effect both necessary and possible, constituting an integral part of a manifold and complicated process for the solution of the menacing and urgent problems facing the world. The new phase in international relations which has been called détente, and which appears to have culminated with the Helsinki Conference, does in principle open up certain possibilities for a move in this direction.
The final agreement reached at the Helsinki Conference has a special claim on our attention, because here for the first time official expression is given to a nuanced approach which appears to be the only possible one for a solution of international security problems. This document contains far-reaching declarations on the relationship between international security and the preservation of human rights, freedom of information, and freedom of movement. These rights are guaranteed by solemn obligations entered into by the participating nations. Obviously we cannot speak here of a guaranteed result, but we can speak of fresh possibilities that can only be realized as a result of long-term planned activities, in which the participating nations, and in particular the democracies maintain a unified and consistent attitude.
This is in particular bound up with the problem of human rights, to which I have devoted the final portion of my lecture. I should like to speak mainly of my own country. During the months that have ensued since the Helsinki Conference there has been absolutely no real improvement in this direction. In fact in some cases attempts on the part of hardliners can be noted to “give the screw another turn”.
This also applies to important problems involving an international exchange of information, the freedom to choose the country in which one wished to live, travel abroad for studies, work, or health reasons, as well as ordinary tourist travel. In order to provide concrete examples for my assertion, I should like to give you a few instances – chosen at random and without any attempt to provide a complete picture.
You all know, even better than I do, that children, e.g. from Denmark, can get on their bicycles and cycle off to the Adriatic. No one would ever think of suggesting that they were “teenage spies”. But Soviet children are not allowed to do this! I am sure that you can all find analogous examples of this and similar situations.
As you know, the General Assembly, as a result of pressure on the part of the socialist countries, resolved to restrict the liberty to make TV transmissions via satellite. I believe, now that the Helsinki Conference has taken place, that there is every reason to deal afresh with this problem. For millions of Soviet citizens this is both important and interesting.
In the Soviet Union there is a great shortage of artificial limbs and similar aids for invalids. But no Soviet invalid, even though he may be in receipt of a formal invitation from a foreign firm, is allowed to travel abroad in response to an invitation of this kind.
Soviet newsstands do not sell foreign anti-Communist papers, and it is not even possible to buy every issue of the Communist periodicals. Even informative periodicals such as America are in very short supply. They are on sale only in a very small number of kiosks, and are immediately snapped up by eager buyers, generally with a “makeweight” of non-saleable printed matter.
Any person wishing to emigrate from the Soviet Union must have a formal invitation from a close relative. For many people this is an insoluble problem, e.g. for 300,000 Germans who wish to travel to the German Federal Republic (the emigration quota for Germans is 5,000 a year, which means that one’s plans would have to cover a sixty-year period!). This is an enormous tragedy. The position of persons who wish to be reunited with relatives in non-Socialist countries is particularly tragic. They have no one to plead their case, and on such occasions the arbitrary behavior of the authorities knows no bounds.
Freedom to travel, freedom to choose where one wishes to work and live, these are still violated in the case of millions of kolkhoz workers, and in the case of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tartars, who thirty years ago were cruelly and brutally deported from the Crimea and who to this day have been denied the right to return to the land of their fathers.
The Helsinki Treaty confirms yet again the principle of freedom of conscience. However, a stern and relentless struggle will have to be carried on if the contents of this treaty are to be given reality. In the Soviet Union today many thousands of people are persecuted because of their convictions, both by judicial and by non-judicial organs, for the sake of their religious beliefs and for their desire to bring their children up in the spirit of religion, for reading and disseminating – often only to a few acquaintances – literature which is unwelcome to the State, but which in accordance with ordinary democratic practice is absolutely legitimate, e.g. religious literature, and for attempts to leave the country. On the moral plane the persecution of persons who have defended other victims of unjust treatment, who have worked to publish and in particular to distribute information regarding the persecution and trials of persons with deviant opinions, and of conditions in places of internment, is particularly important.
It is unbearable to consider that at this very moment that we are gathered together in this hall on this festive occasion, hundreds and thousands of prisoners of conscience are suffering from undernourishment, as the result of year-long hunger, and of an almost total lack of proteins and vitamins in their daily food, of a shortage of medicines (there is a ban on the sending of vitamins and medicines to internees), and of over-exertion. They shiver with cold, damp, and exhaustion in ill-lit dungeons, where they are forced to wage a ceaseless struggle for their human dignity and their conviction against the “indoctrination machine”, in fact against the very destruction of their souls. The very special feature of the concentration camp system is carefully concealed. All the sufferings a handful of people have undergone because they have drawn aside the veil to reveal this, provide the best proof of the truth of their allegations and accusations. Our concepts of human dignity demand an immediate change in this system for all interned persons, no matter how guilty they may be. But what about the sufferings of the innocent? Worst of all is the hell that exists in the special psychiatric clinics in Dnieperopetrovsk, Sytshevk, Blagoveshensk, Kazan, Chernakovsk, Oriol, Leningrad, Tashkent, … .
There is no time for me today to describe in detail particular trials, or the fates of particular persons, There is a wealth of literature on this subject: may I draw your attention to works published by the Chronica Press in New York, which specializes in off-prints of the Soviet Samizdat periodical Survey of Current Events, and which publishes similar bulletins of current information. Here in this hall I should just like to mention the names of some of the internees I am acquainted with. As you were told yesterday, I would ask you to remember that all prisoners of conscience and all political prisoners in my country share with me the honor of the Nobel Prize. Here are some of the names that are known to me:
Plyush, Bukovsky, Glusman, Moros, Maria Seminoova, Nadeshda Svetlishnaya, Stefania Shabatura, Irina Klynets-Stasiv, Irina Senik, Niyola Sadunaite, Anait Karapetian, Osipov, Kronid Ljubarsky, Shumuk, Vins, Rumachek, Khaustov, Superfin, Paulaitis, Simutis, Karavanskiy, Valery, Martshenko, Shuchevich, Pavlenkov, Chernoglas, Abanckin, Suslenskiy, Meshener, Svetlichny, Sofronov, Rode, Shakirov, Heifetz, Afanashev, Mo-Chun, Butman, Lukianenko, Ogurtsov, Sergeyenko, Antoniuk, Lupynos, Ruban, Plachotniuk, Kovgar, Belov, Igrunov, Soldatov, Miattik, Kierend, Jushkevich, Zdorovyy, Tovmajan, Shachverdjan, Zagrobian, Arikian, Markoshan, Arshakian, Mirauskas, Stus, Sverstiuk, Chandyba, Uboshko, Romaniuk, Vorobiov, Gel, Pronjuk, Gladko, Malchevsky, Grazis, Prishliak, Sapeliak, Kolynets, Suprei, Valdman, Demidov, Bernitshuk, Shovkovy, Gorbatiov, Berchov, Turik, Ziukauskas, Bolonkin, Lisovoi, Petrov, Chjekalin, Gorodetsky, Chjernovol, Balakonov, Bondar, Kalintchenko, Kolomin, Plumpa, Jaugelis, Fedoseyev, Osadchij, Budulak-Sharigin, Makarenko, Malkin, Shtern, Lazar Liubarsky, Feldman, Roitburt, Shkolnik, Murzienko, Fedorov, Dymshits, Kuznetsov, Mendelevich, Altman, Penson, Knoch, Vulf Zalmanson, Izrail Zalmanson, and many, many others. Among those in exile are Anatoly Martshenko, Nashpits, and Zitlenok.
Mustafa Dziemilev, Kovalyev, and Tverdochlebov are awaiting their verdicts. There is no time to mention all the prisoners of whose fate I am aware, and there are still larger numbers whom I do not know, or of whom I have insufficient knowledge. But their names are all implicit in what I have to say, and I should like all those whose names I have not mentioned to forgive me. Every single name, mentioned as well as unmentioned, represents a hard and heroic human destiny, years of suffering, years of struggling for human dignity.
The main solution to the problem of persecuting persons with deviant views must be liberation on the basis of international agreements – a liberation of all political prisoners, of all prisoners of conscience in prisons, internment camps, and psychiatric clinics, if necessary on the basis of a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. This proposal involves no intervention in the internal affairs of any country. After all, it would apply to every country on the same basis – to the Soviet Union, to Indonesia, to Chile, to the Republic of South Africa, to Spain, Brazil, and to every other country. Since the protection of human rights has been proclaimed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, this cannot for this reason be said to be a matter of purely internal or domestic concern. In order to achieve this great goal, no exertions are too great, however long the road may seem. And that the road is long was clearly shown during the recent sitting of the United Nations, in the course of which the United States tabled a proposal for political amnesty, only to withdraw it after attempts had been made by a number of countries – in the opinion of the USA – to extend unduly the framework that would cover the concept of amnesty. I much regret what took place. A problem cannot be taken out of circulation. I am profoundly convinced that it would be better to liberate a certain number of people – even though they might be guilty of some offence or other – than to keep thousands of innocent people locked up and exposed to torture.
Without losing sight of an overall solution of this kind, we must today fight for every individual person separately against injustice and the violation of human rights. Much of our future depends on this.
In struggling to protect human rights we must, I am convinced, first and foremost act as protectors of the innocent victims of regimes installed in various countries, without demanding the destruction or total condemnation of these regimes. We need reform, not revolution. We need a pliant, pluralist, tolerant community, which selectively and tentatively can bring about a free, undogmatic use of the experiences of all social systems. What is détente? What is rapprochement? We are concerned not with words, but with a willingness to create a better and more friendly society, a better world order.
Thousands of years ago tribes of human beings suffered great privations in the struggle to survive. In this struggle it was important not only to be able to handle a club, but also to possess the ability to think reasonably, to take care of the knowledge and experience garnered by the tribe, and to develop the links that would provide cooperation with other tribes. Today the entire human race is faced with a similar test. In infinite space many civilizations are bound to exist, among them civilizations that are also wiser and more “successful” than ours. I support the cosmological hypothesis which states that the development of the universe is repeated in its basic features an infinite number of times. In accordance with this, other civilizations, including more “successful” ones, should exist an infinite number of times on the “preceding” and the “following” pages of the Book of the Universe. Yet this should not minimize our sacred endeavors in this world of ours, where, like faint glimmers of light in the dark, we have emerged for a moment from the nothingness of dark unconsciousness of material existence. We must make good the demands of reason and create a life worthy of ourselves and of the goals we only dimly perceive.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.