(HN, December 10, 2011) - ...And take home the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace. On Saturday December 10, the traditionally sanctioned date on which the Nobel Committee awards the world’s highest peacemaking honor, three proud women – from Africa and the Middle Eastern – strode onto the stage at Stockholm’s `Concert Hall’ to take their place in history.
The women - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman - won the coveted prize for their efforts to peacefully bring change to their countries.
But President Sirleaf who called the prize a “wonderful recognition” said it really belongs to many more oppressed women around the world who have “suffered inequalities”.
"This award belongs to the people whose aspirations and expectations for a better world we have the privilege to represent and whose rights we have the obligation to defend," said Sirleaf. She went on, "History will judge us not by what we say in this moment in time, but what we do next to lift the lives of our countrymen and women who face a lack of access to those basic things that allow the comfort of life".
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Liberia's first elected female president in 2006. Fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee is an activist recognized for uniting women against the country's warlords.
Leymah Gbowee, who led a group of women in white t-shirts who stared down warlords to help turn the tide of her country's civil war, also spoke about the millions of others who were on stage Saturday.
"I believe that the prize this year recognizes not only our struggle in Liberia and Yemen, it is in recognition of the struggle of grass-roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Tunisia, Palestine and Israel and in every troubled corner of the world," said Gbowee. Adding, "victory is still afar...there is no time to rest."
Royal trumpeters heralded the beginning of the annual ceremony, as Norway's royal family and this year's Nobel laureates entered the hall.
Both Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee become the seventh and eighth African recipients of the Nobel prize – following successively Albert John Lutuli, South Africa, 1960; Desmond Tutu, South Africa, 1984; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1993; Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana, along with the UN itself in 2001; sustainability advocate Wangari Maathai, Kenya, 2004 (deceased in September 2011 from a long battle with cancer).
Co-recipient of this year’s Peace Prize Yemeni activist and journalist Tawakkol Karman becomes the first Arab woman and youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for her country’s freedoms earlier this year in Sana'a's Tahrir Square. On the Nobel stage she said, “The prize will lift the spirits and support the aspirations of Arabs who are struggling peacefully to improve their lives. This year's Arab revolutions confronted tyrants who went too far in depriving their people of freedom and justice. The international community must do more to fulfill its pledges and resolutions for peace, freedom and women's rights.”
The three Nobel Peace Prize winners each received a medal and a diploma, and will share the $1.5 million US prize. The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature - and the related prize in economics - were presented later Saturday in Stockholm as well.
These awards for 2011 were given in Physics, jointly to Saul Perlmutter, Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess of the US and Australia; the Prize for Chemistry to Dan Shechtman of Israel; the Prize for Medicine jointly to Bruce A. Beutler, Ralph M. Steinman and Jules A. Hoffmann respectively of the US and Luxembourg; the Prize for Literature to Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden; and the Prize for Economics to Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims of the US.
Since the Nobel Peace Prize was first annually awarded in 1901, a total of 15 women have received it. The first was Austrian writer and peace activist Bertha von Suttner in 1905. Later the late Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun won in 1979 for her humanitarian work. 1991's recipient was Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003. The most recent woman to receive the prize was Wangari Maathai in 2004.
Women have also won Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature, with one woman, radiation researcher Marie Curie, honored twice, first in physics and years later in chemistry.
Norwegian Nobel panel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says women are critical to peace. "We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Jagland.
IN A RELATED EVENT:
China’s Alternative Nobel Prize Honours Russia’s Vladimir Putin as Thousands Take to Streets to Protest Recent Elections
In Beijing on Friday, two exchange students accepted a Chinese peace prize on behalf of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Confucius Peace Prize was hastily launched last year as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize which in 2010 honored imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. A group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners including Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams as well as former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, Reporters Without Borders and others have urged China to release Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subverting state power in China by co-authoring an appeal for political reform. The International Committee of Support to Liu Xiaobo said in an email that Liu is the only Nobel laureate currently in prison, following the release of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010.
The Confucius Prize sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of China’s government. Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize went ahead with this year's awards against the wishes of the Ministry of Culture who ordered the group to shut down saying they did not have official permission to run the awards. Undeterred, the original masterminds of the award set up a new organisation called China International Peace Research Centre before quickly announcing this year's winner.
Lien Chan, former chairman of the Kuomintang, ruling party of Taiwan, was the winner of the first Confucius Peace Prize in 2010. He did not attend the award ceremony, so a little girl was selected by organisers to accept the award in his place. Similarly, Putin, was honored for `enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya’ organizers said because during his 2000-2008 term as president Putin “brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia”. The 2011 prize ceremony took place one day before this year’s annual Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, and two Russian female exchange students were selected to stand in for Putin where they accepted a statue of the Zhou Dynasty sage on his behalf.
The Prize came as thousands of people have taken to Russian streets for a week protesting authoritarian trends in Putin’s policies, his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics. Demonstrations in Moscow over last week’s parliamentary elections which were believed to be tainted by fraud have raised the biggest ever challenge to Putin who is seeking to return to the presidency next year; currently serving as the country’s Prime Minister, having spent two terms as the country’s former President.
Putin, who recently led the United Russia party to its worst ever showing at the polls, beat seven other nominees -- Gyaltsen Norbu (the "Chinese Panchen Lama"), Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma, former UN chief Kofi Annan, Yuan Longping a Chinese agricultural scientist known as the "father of hybrid rice", German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Taiwanese politician James Soong -- to clinch the highly-uncoveted title of Confucious Prize winner.
IN RUSSIA, MEANWHILE PROTESTORS CHANT, `PUTIN OUT’
In the largest public display of mass discontent in post-Soviet Russia, an anti-government demonstration brought tens of thousands of Moscow citizens out to the packed streets near the Kremlin to protest alleged electoral fraud by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party `United Russia’ on Saturday. Protestors gathered in other cities across this huge country with clashes reported in St. Petersburg, the Pacific city of Vladivostok, the Siberian city of Perm and the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk among others.
(Video, Al Jazeera) City officials in Moscow had given unusual permission for a rally of up to 30,000 people, and by the time the rally started, with periodic wind-blown snow, police said there were at least 25,000 while protest organizers claimed 40,000.
In smaller gatherings earlier in the week hundreds of people were arrested or hospitalized after violence broke out, including prominent opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, and Sergei Udaltsov.
On Saturday people chanted, “Putin Out”; saying things such as "Everyone is sick of living under this regime which forbids freedom of expression” and holding signs with "Putin's a louse" and banners such with the United Russia party emblem, reading "The rats must go". The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and who has been Prime Minister under current President Dmitry Medvedev’s government, will seek a third term as President in nationwide elections on March 4, 2012.
Putin’s power however was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament. Protestors allege that even that showing was inflated by massive vote fraud, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations. Earlier in the week Russian President Medvedev conceded that election law may have been breached and Putin suggested "dialogue with the opposition-minded". It is known that on Election Day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.
The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure which called the vote unfair, urging an investigation into fraud; Putin has specifically said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US are intentionally fomenting protests and trying to undermine Russia. Recently, U.S. Sen. John McCain tweeted to Putin that "the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you".
---HUMNEWS staff, with contributors