Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Gidske Anderson, Chairperson of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has made this award in recognition of the leading role he has played in the radical changes that have taken place in East-West relations. President Gorbachev has undoubtedly cooperated with other persons and other nations. But we recognise quite clearly that his manifold personal contributions and his efforts on behalf of the Soviet Union have proved decisive. For this reason the Nobel Committee has in 1990 decided to honour him.

We are experiencing dramatic changes in a world that is still rent with conflict. Nevertheless, we also have clear evidence that a peace process has started. East and West, the two mighty power blocs, have managed to abandon their life-threatening confrontation and have, instead, embarked on the long and patient road to cooperation on the basis of negotiation. The task now is to create a peaceful framework for the far-reaching transformation which will inevitably continue to take place in our part of the world.

We have already seen the fruits of this new climate between East and West.

Ancient European nations, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and now East Germany too, have regained their freedom and have, for better or for worse, assumed responsibility for their own national destiny. Even though this process of detente still has its problems and is yet not terminated in all parts of our continent of Europe, it is nevertheless possible today, maybe for the first time in many hundreds of years, to envisage a Europe of the people and, we hope, also a Europe at peace.

This is due not least to the fact that the armaments race is ebbing out in our part of the globe.

In mistrust and fear this race has been going on for close on half a century. The result has been a terrifying waste of intellectual and material resources on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Here too, we now at last see a change.

Comprehensive negotiations, bilateral as well as multilateral, accompanied by concrete and realistic compromise, have led to a process involving substantial reductions in standing armies and death-dealing armaments. Within the last few months disarmament agreements have been reached which are without parallel in our part of the world, in this or indeed in previous centuries.

In making this year’s award of the Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee wishes to emphasise the tremendous potential which is now available for a more secure world, and for a more responsible and rational use of our resources.

The way in which confrontation has been replaced by cooperation has also had its consequences in other parts of the world. Several regional conflicts have been resolved, or at least come closer to a solution. The uncompromising attitude of the Cold War has given way to a pattern of negotiation, in which the interests and responsibility of the regional communities themselves have replaced old ideological considerations, or the all-too-often ruthless laws of the balance of power.

These changes have given the United Nations a new lease of life: for the first time since its creation after the Second World War this organisation has been able to play the role for which it was originally intended. It can now start to exercise its supremely important responsibility for the creation of an international community based on the rule of law and the establishment of peace between nations.

The award this year of the Peace Prize to the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is an historic event not least because some of the previous awards made by our Committee – for example to the great champion of human rights Andrei Sakharov in 1975, and to the trade union leader Lech Walesa in 1983 – were received with cool hostility in the Soviet Union and in Poland at the time, involving the rejection, in these countries, of all that the Norwegian Nobel Committee stood for. On these grounds too the award constitutes a landmark. The Norwegian Nobel Committee considers that there is thus a historical link between today’s event and December 10th, 1975, and 1983, which augurs well for the future.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is an independent organisation answerable neither to the Government nor to the National Assembly (the Storting) of our country. The five members of the Committee are only answerable to their own consciences, and their decisions are based on the personal political judgment and sound common sense of each one. The guidelines governing our work are nevertheless clearly set out: these are to be found in Alfred Nobel’s testament, written nearly a hundred years ago.

The award this year is very much in line with Alfred Nobel’s own wishes and desires. Nobel wanted the prize to be awarded to someone who had worked to promote “fraternity between nations”. That was the expression generally used in his day to denote the substitution of international cooperation for conflict. Nobel also wished his prize to be given to someone who had actively promoted a reduction in “standing armies” and worked for the “holding of peace congresses”, what we today would call disarmament and negotiation.

Seldom has our Committee felt more in tune with Alfred Nobel’s wishes than this year.

It is with a special sense of satisfaction that we award the Peace Prize to President Gorbachev. Each one of us, maybe in our different ways, has experienced the tension and threat of war that have cast a dark shadow over all the post-war years. The new-found openness and willingness to cooperate shown by the Soviet Union, and its readiness to accept realistic compromise, have created fresh hope under his leadership.

We fully realise that the Soviet Union is undergoing a dramatic period of transformation within its own borders: dictatorship is to be replaced by greater democracy, centralisation by the right of each republic for self-determination, a command economy by a freer market. This transformation is inevitably a painful process, involving great sacrifice. But we should like the many peoples of the Soviet Union to know that the respect and expectation of the outside world for their great country have never been as profound as today. There has been nothing comparable since the “Great Patriotic War”, which this country and our Western Allies fought together against the barbarism of National Socialism. At that time the road that led from world war to Cold War proved disappointingly short. It is our hope that we are now celebrating the end of the Cold War.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born in 1931 in a small village just outside Stavropol, north of the Caucasus Mountains, in a region that forms part of the Russian Republic, adjoining the ancient non-Russian countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, with their profound Christian and Muslim roots. Our laureate is in fact a native of the southern Soviet Union. He comes of peasant stock, and was born 14 years after the great revolution which shook not only the Russian Empire but the entire world. He was born during the dramatic collectivisation of Soviet agriculture, and grew up on a collective farm, where his father worked at a tractor station.

He was an eight-year-old schoolboy when the last world war broke out, and only 10 years old when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. His schooling was both sporadic and limited by wartime conditions: he was forced to work as a replacement for soldiers fighting at the front. When peace came he was 14 years old, and was able to continue his education, but, in common with most young people of his age, worked during his summer holidays. He was soon involved in the Communist Party’s youth organisation, and was rapidly promoted. As a matter of course he joined the Communist party at the age of 21.

Two years before, he had left his native village in the Northern Caucasus, and made his way to the capital to embark on the study of law at the University of Moscow. Here he not only met Raisa Titorenko, who subsequently became his wife, but was also active in the Communist Party student movement, with responsibility for ideology and propaganda among fellow students in his faculty. He took a degree in law and then returned to Stavropol, where he was employed full-time in the Communist youth movement. By the age of 25 he was in fact a member of the establishment, with agricultural questions as his chief concern. In 1967, he took a second degree, this time in agriculture, and was rapidly promoted in the local party hierarchy.

By the 1970s this year’s laureate was active politically on the national scene: his breakthrough came in 1978, when at the age of 47, he was given joint responsibility for the entire agricultural set-up of the Soviet Union in the Communist Party’s Secretariat in Moscow, which meant permanent residence in the capital. Seven years later he was elected leader of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party, the most influential post in the country. This was in 1985, by which time he was 54 years old. He is now a figure of international prominence. While still retaining the position of Party Secretary, he is also elected President of the Soviet Union by a reformed parliament.

Although Mikhail Gorbachev is a man of quite outstanding talent and ability, he insisted recently that the story of his own family is actually history itself or in other words the history of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev is in fact a child of the revolution and the world war, of Lenin’s, Stalin’s, Khrushchev’s and Breshnev’s Soviet Union. And like most people in this world he is a product of the society in which he grew up.

Today, this Soviet society is a historical experiment which is being shaken to its foundations, and this is so not least because Mikhail Gorbachev was also capable of breaking the mould of the society from which he sprang. Or as he personally expressed it in the televised interview, in which he spoke of the perestroika which he symbolises: “We came to the conclusion that we could no longer continue to live the way we were. We needed major changes in every department of life”.

Our laureate has in fact been a Communist all his life; and he still is to this day, even though this might shock us, as he declared in an interview he recently gave in the USA. We are not really so shocked. But this is neither the time nor the place to discuss the Soviet Union’s internal affairs. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has given President Gorbachev the Peace Prize for his leading role in international politics.

Our Committee has nonetheless observed one aspect of life in the Soviet Union – the much greater openness President Gorbachev has introduced. This has to a very large extent helped to promote international confidence. Greater openness has in many ways ensured a basis for the comprehensive agreements on disarmament and cooperation between East and West that we are witnessing today.

An entire world is today watching the Soviet Union’s dramatic and heroic struggle to overcome the awesome economic, social and political problems which shake the country. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, not least, is also watching.

It is our wish that the award of the Peace Prize to its President, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, will be recognised as a helping hand in an hour of need, as a greeting to all the peoples of the Soviet Union, as a sign that the outside world is watching their struggle with a sense of fellow feeling, and with a sense of participating in the historical events that are taking place.

It has been suggested that the award of this year’s prize to the President of the Soviet Union by the Nobel Committee was somewhat bold. Our boldness is, however, nothing like the boldness shown by Mikhail Gorbachev when he embarked on the course which has today led to the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, or the boldness shown by the many peoples of the Soviet Union too in rewriting history.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1990

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