Russia’s first post-Soviet Peace Prize winner Navalny’s allies are bitter, the Kremlin’s pundits are grumbling, and the winner says he would have awarded it to Navalny
Dmitry Muratov, the editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, sharing the award with Maria Ressa, the CEO of Rappler, a news outlet critical of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Ressa and Muratov were honored “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.” The Norwegian Nobel Committee credited Ressa with “using freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in the Philippines” and recognized Muratov for “decades [of defending] freedom of speech in Russia under increasingly challenging conditions.” “They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” the Nobel Committee explained in its prize announcement.
Muratov says the award belongs first and foremost to his deceased colleagues. He’s promised to use his $595,000 prize money to assist a federal foundation that funds treatment for children with spinal muscular atrophy (an organization that Novaya Gazeta’s reporting has criticized in the past for incompetence) and to support journalism in Russia generally, including help for reporters who have been designated as “foreign agents.” “We will bear the weight of this award on behalf of Russian journalism, which now faces enormous pressure,” Muratov said on Friday, adding that Novaya Gazeta’s newsroom will make the final decision on how the prize money is distributed.
In 2000, Novaya Gazeta journalist Igor Domnikov was killed by several men wielding hammers. A year later, journalist and activist Viktor Polkov (who also wrote for the newspaper) died in Chechnya during an artillery attack. In 2003, Novaya deputy chief editor Yuri Shchekochikhin died from a mysterious illness that resembled poisoning by radioactive materials. Three years later, journalist Anna Politkovskaya was found shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building. In 2009, freelance correspondent Anastasia Baburova was shot and killed together with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who provided legal services to the newspaper. That same year, human rights activist and Novaya Gazeta collaborator Natalya Estemirova’s body was found in the woods of Ingushetia, riddled with bullets. Over the years, there have also been several attempts on the lives of other journalists at Novaya Gazeta.
Ekho Moskvy deputy chief editor Vladimir Varfolomeev worries that the Nobel committee’s prize money could constitute formal grounds to declare Novaya Gazeta a “foreign agent.” On the other hand, The New Times editor-in-chief Evgeniya Albats has argued that the prize actually protects Muratov’s newspaper against government pressure. Albats also said that she hopes the prize becomes “a kind of defense for Russian journalists who are being declared ‘foreign agents’ and members of ‘undesirable organizations’ en masse.” Earlier this year in June, pro-Kremlin activist Alexander Ionov (the same man who advocated Meduza’s designation) asked federal officials to review Novaya Gazeta’s compliance with Russia’s “foreign agent” laws.
The Kremlin congratulated Muratov on the award. “He’s been working tirelessly according to his own ideals, and he’s committed to his own ideals. He’s talented and brave. This is, of course, a high distinction,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told journalists on Friday. At the same time, Peskov was unable to say if the president would congratulate Muratov personally. Russia’s new Nobel laureate has already received congratulations from Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Russian Accounts Chamber Chairman Alexey Kudrin, Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova, Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Veneditkov, and many other journalists.
Muratov was not considered one of the main contenders for the Peace Prize; most observers in Russia expected the award to go to either Alexey Navalny or Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya). Tikhanovskaya congratulated Muratov almost immediately. Meanwhile, several members of Alexey Navalny’s team, including Lyubov Sobol and Ruslan Shaveddinov, expressed disappointment that the prize didn’t go to Navalny. Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, repurposed a biting phrase that Muratov addressed to him a day earlier, tweeting, “And I, as a champion of human freedoms, support your inalienable right to puke, of course.” Writer Boris Akunin and economist Konstantin Sonin also criticized the fact that Navalny wasn’t selected for the award. Muratov has said that he would have chosen Navalny, too. Speaking to Ekho Moskvy in the aftermath of comments like Volkov’s, however, Muratov added that he feels no guilt about winning the prize. “Am I to blame for the award going to [Novaya Gazeta] and not Navalny? Up yours,” he told listeners.
Muratov’s award managed to disappoint pro-Kremlin journalists, as well. “The Peace Prize is one of the Nobel committee’s most controversial categories. Decisions like this one devalue the prize itself, and it’s already hard to make sense of it,” mused television pundit and Rossiya Segodnya state news agency head Dmitry Kiselyov. Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan congratulated Muratov but said she preferred to imagine that he received the prize because of his “active and passionate” assistance to sick children, “and not for the usual.”
Novaya Gazeta has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past six consecutive years, the newspaper’s executive producer Pavel Kanygin told the television network 360. It’s unknown who kept nominating Novaya; the Nobel committee does not disclose the names of nominees or nominators (though we know that 329 individuals and organizations were nominated for the prize in 2021). According to Evgeniya Albats, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (who won the prize in 1990 and now owns 10 percent of Novaya Gazeta) has nominated Muratov and the newspaper multiple times. After the committee announced this year’s winners, Gorbachev congratulated Muratov, calling him “a wonderful, courageous, and honest journalist and my friend.”
Dmitry Muratov is the fifth Russian citizen to become a Nobel laureate and the first to receive the Peace Prize. The two previous winners from Russia — dissident Andrey Sakharov in 1975 and Mikhail Gorbachev, 15 years later — were both Soviet citizens. Since 1901, when the Nobel Peace Prize was first introduced, there have been 137 laureates, including 26 organizations. Last year, for example, the award went to the World Food Programme for its work addressing hunger and promoting food security. Before this year, Peace Prize recipients have been associated with journalism only a handful of times. This includes Austrian Jewish pacifist Alfred Hermann Fried in 1911, German anti-fascist pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935, and Yemeni human rights activist Tawakkol Karman in 2011.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock