Nobel Foundation Withdraws Invitation to Russia and Belarus

By John Mercury September 3, 2023

The Nobel Foundation reversed course on Saturday and said it would not invite the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus to the Nobel Prize award ceremony, acknowledging that an earlier decision to extend invitations had prompted a backlash.

Both Russia and Belarus were disinvited from the ceremony last year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The exclusion was part of a diplomatic campaign by the West to isolate the government of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The organization also retracted Iran’s invitation after a harsh government crackdown on anti-government protests that erupted after the death of a young woman who had been detained by the country’s morality police. Hundreds were killed and around 20,000 were arrested in the clampdown, according to the United Nations.

But this past week, the foundation said it would again invite representatives of the three countries to the December ceremony in Stockholm. Vidar Helgesen, the executive director of the Nobel Foundation, initially said the decision to resume inviting Russia and Belarus aimed to increase dialogue between states amid deepening geopolitical division.

“The world is increasingly divided into spheres, where dialogue between those with differing views is being reduced,” Mr. Helgesen said in a statement. “To counter this tendency, we are now broadening our invitations.”

The move drew immediate backlash both in Sweden, where the Nobel Foundation’s headquarters are based, and in Ukraine. Several Swedish lawmakers vowed to boycott the ceremony, saying they could not share the room with representatives of Russia.

“I looked forward to participating in the Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet,” Muharrem Demirok, the leader of Sweden’s Center Party, wrote on social media. “But as long as Russia wages its war against Ukraine I cannot participate in the same celebration as their ambassador.”

On Saturday, the Nobel Foundation backpedaled, saying in a statement that the decision to reinvite the three countries this year had been based on a desire “to reach out as widely as possible.” But the foundation acknowledged that it had “provoked strong reactions” that had “completely overshadowed this message.”

As a result, the foundation said, it would “repeat last year’s exception to regular practice — that is, to not invite the ambassadors of Russia, Belarus and Iran” to the main awards ceremony in Stockholm.

The Nobel Foundation bestows some of the world’s most prestigious prizes each year in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, economics, literature and peace. The prize for peace is awarded at a separate ceremony in Oslo, which envoys from Russia, Belarus and Iran are still invited to attend, the foundation said.

Ukrainian officials hailed the decision to again revoke Russia and Belarus’s invitation to attend the ceremony. Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, called the decision “the restoration of justice” and said representatives of the two countries should also be barred from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.

Last year, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Memorial, a Russian research and human rights organization; Ales Bialiatski, a Belarusian human rights activist; and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine.

Mr. Bialiatski was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March, months after receiving the decoration, in what rights groups called an attempt to punish him for agitating against Belarus’s longtime authoritarian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leading Belarusian opposition figure, slammed the Nobel Foundation for inviting representatives from Mr. Lukashenko’s regime. In a social media post on Friday, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya said the foundation should instead demand Mr. Bialiatski’s immediate release from prison.

On Friday, the Russian authorities designated Dmitri A. Muratov, a journalist and a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, as a “foreign agent.” The Kremlin frequently slaps critics with the label in an attempt to muzzle dissent.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Western powers have sought to diplomatically isolate Mr. Putin’s government, imposing sanctions and curbing the country’s links to the international banking system, for example.

Cultural institutions have also followed course. The governing body of world soccer indefinitely suspended the Russian national team. And in late July, the International Olympic Committee said it would not invite Russia and Belarus’s national teams to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, although some citizens of both countries may be allowed to participate as independent athletes.


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