Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech delivered by Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1983, Oslo, December 10, 1983.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Thus begins the text of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration which, with its definition of the concept of peace, forms the basis of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to the Polish trade union leader, Lech Walesa.

The campaign for human rights is, necessarily, an inseparable part of the struggle for peace. The selection of a Peace Prize winner on these grounds is not new: laureates such as the South African Albert Lutuli, Martin Luther King from the U.S.A., Andrei Sakharov from the U.S.S.R., and the Argentinian Adolfo Pérez Esquivel received, their awards on just these grounds. The Committee believes that this year’s prize winner can justly take his place among this gathering of campaigners for human rights.

Consideration of the question of human rights raises the well known problem: “Why does humanity advance so slowly?” It has, however, become more generally recognised that a peace which is won and defended through the violation of human rights, is a peace which neither can nor ought to be permanent.

The present generation has perhaps learned this in a way no previous generation experienced. Military occupation and foreign domination, together with the associated evils of physical and mental terror, have led more and more people to understand the great truth – that “freedom and life are one”. Peace is created where people live and breathe in freedom, and where one does as one would be done by.

We can assume that such thoughts lie behind the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights – which the world community has adopted as the basis for peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations. For the Norwegian Nobel Committee it was a natural development to consider the Peace Prize in the light of this declaration. Through the presentation of this year’s award the Committee once again draws the attention of the world community to its own definition of the concept of peace.

It follows from this that the Committee’s deliberations and decisions are necessarily independent of national and political boundaries. The guidelines given to the Committee in Alfred Nobel’s will stipulate that the presentation of the Peace Prize is the responsibility of the Committee alone, and cannot be influenced by outside forces. Thus the Nobel Peace Prize can never be more – or less – than a hand stretched out to individuals or groups who give expression to the longing for peace and freedom felt by all the peoples of the world, wherever they live. We believe that it is in the spirit of Alfred Nobel’s legacy that the Peace Prize should be a gesture of solidarity with those who, in the service of peace, campaign for humanity’s highest ideals.

Human dignity is an important concept in this connection. The phrase has two central connotations: firstly, that the dignity of humanity is inviolable, and, secondly, that each and every human being has the same, everlasting value. A natural corollary of this is that we all have a common duty to defend human dignity. All thoughts of solidarity – even the command to love one another – have their foundation here. Human dignity is humanity’s shared possession, a possession which we all have both a part in and a responsibility for. We are bound together in a common lot which makes it impossible for us to be unaffected by the fate of others.

Another Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway, opens one of his novels with a famous quotation from the English poet John Donne which illustrates this point with an almost shocking clarity:

“No man is an island, intire of its self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were; as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

This is the way in which we ought to experience humanity’s oneness. “Any man’s death diminishes me.” Every brother being in chains is my shame. Every longing for freedom which is suppressed, every human right which is violated is a personal defeat for me – because we are united in human kind and share one another’s fate.

Up from this ideal of human oneness this year’s prize winner has raised a burning torch, a shining name, the name of Solidarity. He has lifted the torch unarmed; the word, the spirit and the thought of freedom and human rights were his weapons. And, as is so often the case, the struggle involved great personal sacrifice, even though the object was something as simple as the workers’ right to establish their own organisations. This is a right which, again, is confirmed in the world community’s declaration of human rights.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has evaluated Lech Walesa’s contribution in this field as being of essential importance in the campaign to establish the universal freedom of organisation in all countries. It is in just this context that the name “Solidarity” has its deepest and most wide- ranging meaning. Lech Walesa’s contribution is more than a domestic Polish concern; the solidarity for which he is spokesman is an expression of precisely the concept of being at one with humanity; therefore he belongs to us all. The world has heard his voice and understood his message; the Nobel Peace Prize is merely a confirmation of this.

Lech Walesa has made the name “Solidarity” more than an expression of the unity of a group campaigning for special interests. Solidarity has come to represent the determination to resolve conflicts and obliterate disagreement through peaceful negotiation, where all involved meet with a mutual respect for one another’s integrity.

Conflicts and disagreements can be various, and can lead to many different reactions. Those involved will inevitably be faced with complicated decisions. This was the situation one August day in 1980, when Lech Walesa climbed over the steel fence of the Lenin yards in Gdansk, took the microphone and at a stroke became the leader of Polish solidarity. He was faced with overwhelming difficulties; the choice of strategy was not easy. The goal was clear enough: the workers’ right to organise and the right to negotiate with the country’s officials on the workers’ social and economic situation. But which of the many available paths would lead him to this goal?

This is not the occasion to evaluate the political situation Lech Walesa found himself in. Suffice it to say that it was difficult. More interesting to us now is the fact that Walesa’s chosen strategy was that of peace and negotiation. And, as always in such situations, the willingness to negotiate implied the willingness to compromise – here because it was obvious that the opponent was also fighting adverse conditions, both economic and political. Solidarity came to represent, as a result of a mobilisation of the national will – the so called “Polish social opposition”, the possibility of a solidarity of opinion in the whole nation. This was not an opposition which involved the use of physical power. Rather, it was a question of a spiritual or intellectual power which, because of its universal acceptance in the populace, would permeate the system and dissolve conflicts from within.

By following this peaceful course, without resorting to violence, Solidarity became a rapidly expanding movement. The courage which Lech Walesa showed in stepping forward openly and unarmed was overwhelmingly rewarded by the millions of Polish workers and farmers who joined him in his struggle.

Thus, in awarding the Peace Prize to Lech Walesa today, the Committee wishes it not only to be seen as a token of respect, but also as an expression of gratitude for the peaceful courage he showed when choosing his course.

That Walesa and the movement he leads are in keeping with the highest of human ideals is confirmed not least by the close connections which have existed between Solidarity and the Polish church. This interdependence is based not on common political interests, but rather on an ideological unity in the perception of human value and human rights.

It has not escaped the Committee’s notice that the Polish church, which is a popular church in a way that few European churches are, has been so consistent in its support of Lech Walesa; this has given Solidarity an invaluable moral strength. One has great expectations of the role the church can come to play in Polish society given its standing among the people.

As outsiders we are particularly aware of the way in which Solidarity – also through its attachment to the church – has shown its willingness for peace and reconciliation. We have seen them gather in their tens of thousands in and around the churches in prayer for their land and cause. We have seen them water with their tears the wreaths of the victims of the fight for freedom. And we have understood that their unarmed battle is a battle they fight not only for their own sake, but also for all liberty-loving people the world over.

It is in this perspective that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has seen Lech Walesa’s contribution. The way he chose was the way of negotiation, peace and reconciliation.

In the world we live in it is shockingly clear that détente and the peaceful resolution of conflicts is more necessary than ever before. We have seen too much of what the brutal use of power can lead to. If history has taught us anything, it is that the use of violence and power can, in the long run, only mobilise the powers of death.

Unfortunately, we have also learned that the voice of history does not always tell of victory for humanity and peace. It is pertinent to ask whether idealistic and morally sound attitudes do, in fact, have any chance of success.

This question can, of course, also be raised in the case of Lech Walesa. True enough, it would be strange if the causes he represents did not succeed, if only in the long run. He was not a political trouble maker: his concerns were rather the Polish workers’ interests and current demands. But such demands are not always successful, even when they are as justified as they are in Lech Walesa’s case.

No, Lech Walesa raised no revolutionary banner, and espoused no other weapon than the peaceful strike weapon which is recognised by the world community. Neither did he claim support from the declarations of human rights emanating from the United Nations and the Helsinki agreement. He wished only to negotiate. Two things alone were of pressing interest: the workers’ social conditions and their right to negotiate.

The background to this singlemindedness was the simple fact that these rights were not recognised. This had led to outbreaks of universal bitterness on several occasions previously – in 1956, in 1970, and so again in 1980. All of these outbreaks were concerned with precisely these problems: social conditions, freedom of expression and the right to organise.

One can reasonably wonder why it should be so difficult to achieve recognition for such aims. Those who know but a little of the history of the international labour movement will be aware that such difficulties have always been present. It is still remarkable, however, that working people’s elementary rights can be denied, irrespective of to which ideology or economic system the respective countries belong. One ought, perhaps, to be able to believe that there are boundaries behind which it is not necessary to campaign for workers’ rights; such boundaries obviously don’t exist.

It is clear that, although Lech Walesa primarily campaigned for elementary social rights without challenging the established power structure, his campaign had inevitable political and ideological overtones. His campaign has also been necessarily a campaign for human rights, and, as such, inevitably interpreted as an obstruction against the system by the political authorities.

As the political opposition to Solidarity grew, its own consciousness of standing for humanity and human rights became clearer. It became increasingly obvious that Lech Walesa’s campaign for workers’ rights was from the very beginning a contribution to the general campaign for human rights in the world. This connection was emphasised more and more – especially by intellectual groups within the movement, and also by the Polish church.

Campaigners for human rights, independent of where in the world they have lived and worked, have always had one common problem: How can the idealistic goal be realised when one is obliged, at the same time, to take into account the practical possibilities in the given situation. Is it wise to moderate demands and campaign for a step-by-step improvement?

This problem faced Lech Walesa. Was a cautious course – with the possibility of gaining some ground – the right one? Or should one risk – and stand to loose – everything? It is impossible to understand the Polish Solidarity movement without being aware of this problem.

A realistic evaluation of the existing situation would suggest that the best course was to aim for a combination of the existing one party government with a social pluralism which permitted the freedom to organise and negotiate – at any rate in the future. Such a solution was the first negotiating model.

We know now that even this moderate strategy failed. Solidarity is today a forbidden organisation. The negotiations and the strikes which were designed to emphasise the seriousness of the negotiations led to the state of emergency and the arrest and imprisonment of Lech Walesa.

And, even though the state of emergency is rescinded and Walesa is freed, his freedom is limited. His own evaluation of the situation has not permitted him to be present here today. The Peace Prize laureate’s seat is empty; it won’t be his voice we hear. Let us therefore try even harder to listen to the silent speech from his empty place.

At the present time, Lech Walesa cannot be presented as a victor at the end of a struggle full of sacrifice. His chosen course was not as short and easy as that. And it could seem that the goals he set himself are just as distant still.

But is Lech Walesa really silent today? Is he completely without victory? Has his cause suffered defeat? Many are of the opinion that his voice has never been stronger and reached further than it does now. The electrician from Gdansk, the carpenter’s son from the Vistula valley has managed to lift the banner of freedom and humanity so high that the whole world can once again see it. The power of his belief and vision is unweakened. His actions have become a chapter in the history of international labour, and the future will recognise his name among those who contributed to humanity’s legacy of freedom. Once again the stone rejected by the builder has become a cornerstone; this time a cornerstone in the building of freedom and democracy which humanity, with varying degrees of success, is attempting to raise in our world.

It is in any case certain that Lech Walesa’s efforts have an important message for our times. It is the Committee’s opinion that he stands as an inspiration and a shining example to all those who, under different conditions, fight for freedom and humanity.

If, in a future which we hope is not too distant, there should again be attempted a compromise between the Polish authorities and the country’s workers and farmers, Lech Walesa’s participation will be both necessary and indispensable.

For he is a victor in the eyes of the ordinary worker or farm labourer; he is a victor in the eyes of the people and their church. And he is one of the great spokesmen in the world today for the longing for freedom that can never be silenced.

Lech Walesa has made humanity bigger and more inviolable. His ambivalent good fortune is that he has won a victory which is not of this, our political, world. The presentation of the Peace Prize to him today is a homage to the power of victory which abides in one person’s belief, in his vision and in his courage to follow his call.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1983, Editor Wilhelm Odelberg, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1984


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1983

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