Nominations were made yesterday (23 September) for the European Parliament’s 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Among them is the Ukrainian EuroMaidan movement, which led to the overthrow of the regime of Viktor Yanukovich. The winner will be announced in October.
Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who is also a Vice President of the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) and 52 other MEPs made the nomination for EuroMaidan. The pro-European Ukrainian movement is represented by the journalist Mustafa Nayem, the musician and Eurovision winner Ruslana Lyzhychko, activist Yelyzaveta Schepetylnykova and journalist Tetiana Chornovol.
The Sakharov Prize, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in 1988 by the European Parliament. The last recipients were the Russian civil rights society Memorial in 2009, the Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas in 2010, representatives of the Arab people in recognition of their role in the Arab spring, for 2011, imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi for 2012 and young Pakistani Malala Yousafzai for 2013.
Saryusz-Wolski, who has invested personal energy in putting the Sakharov Prize on a par with the Nobel Peace Prize, makes nominations regularly and has an impressive rate of successful proposals.
The other nominations for 2014 are, in alphabetical order:
- Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor from the University of Mosul who stood up for Christian rights and was killed last July, and Louis Raphael Sako, the Iraqi-born patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, nominated for their defence of religious freedom in the country by the ECR group, Anna Záborská and 66 other MEPs.
- The rappers Mouad Belghouate (also known as El Haqed from Morocco) and Ala Yaacoubi (also known as Weld El, from Tunisia) and the Egyptian blogger and political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, nominated by the GUE/NGL group.
- CHREDO, Open Doors, Oeuvre d’Orient and Aid to the Church in Need, organisations for the protection of Christian minorities, nominated by Philippe Juvin (EPP, France) and 60 other MEPs.
- The Somali-born American activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, defender of women’s rights in Islamic societies, known for her opposition to female genital mutilation, nominated by the Europe of freedom and direct democracy group (EFDD).
- Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist specialised in the treatment of rape victims and founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic Congo, nominated by the S&D and ALDE groups and MEP Barbara Lochbihler (Greens, Germany).
- Leyla Yunus, imprisoned Azerbaijani human rights activist and director of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, nominated by the Greens/EFA group and MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (ALDE, Germany), MEP Marietje Schaake (ALDE, the Netherlands) and MEP Ramon Tremosa (ALDE, Spain).
In the past, some nominations have divided the European Parliament across party lines. All major European political families support the European course of Ukraine, which was illustrated by the recent ratification by MEPs of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Those who voted against them are largely extreme-left and extreme-right MEPs.
The EuroMaidan protests started last November after then-President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign the EU-Ukraine association agreement and instead took a course of rapprochement with Russia. Maidan is the central square of Kyiv, but EuroMaidan-type protests took place in other cities as well.
Against all odds, the Maidan protests continued over the winter, despite fierce attempts by pro-government Berkut special forces to shut them down. The EuroMaidan has been repeatedly characterised as an event of major political symbolism for the European Union itself, particularly as “the largest ever pro-European rally in history”.
On the negative side, the EuroMaidan movement has also been accused of tolerating fringe groups such as the Right Sector, largely seen as extremists. The movement started peacefully, but didn’t end up that way.
The award ceremony takes place in Strasbourg on 10 December, the day on which the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought has been awarded by the European Parliament every year since 1988 to individuals or organisations that have made an important contribution to the fight for human rights or democracy.
The award is accompanied by a stipend of €50,000.
Andrei Sakharov, who gave his name to the “European Prize for Freedom of Thought” was a Soviet dissident and physicist, who “sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race”. He defended political prisoners and victims of political trials.
Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, but he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect it.
- October: The Parliament will announce the winner
- 10 Dec.: Award ceremony in Strasbourg.