Applause raged for several minutes as the petite woman stood behind the podium, remaining still, serious and dignified. Under arrest in Myanmar for decades, Aung San Suu Kyi had to wait a long time for this moment when she could receive the Nobel Peace Prize. When the Nobel committee granted the prize in 1991, she learned about it over the radio.
Now, 21 years later, it appeared difficult for her to put her thoughts from that time into words. She said of her time under house arrest that she often felt as if she wasn’t a part of the real world.
“There was a house which was my world. There was a world of others who also were not free, but who were together in prison as a community. And there was a world of the free,” Suu Kyi said.
What the Nobel Peace Prize did, Suu Kyi said, was restore a sense of reality for her.
‘Gift to the world community’
The head of the Nobel committee, Thorbjörn Jagland, described it as a very special day. Jagland said Suu Kyi’s “words bring new energy and hope” and that she has “become a moral voice for the whole world.”
Suu Kyi could be called the first person to whom the Nobel Peace Prize has been presented twice. In 1991, her sons – who at that time were living in England – accepted the prize in her stead. As a result, they feared for their ability to return to Myanmar, which had allowed their exit.
Suu Kyi continued to protest the arbitrary and violent rule in her home country. The decades also produced fruit for Suu Kyi’s labors for democracy, as this spring saw elections that allowed her to work freely as an opposition leader.
Since its inception in 1901, there have been a few other cases when Nobel Peace Prize winners were not able to personally accept the award.
The first was a German: Carl von Ossietzky, the former chairman of the German League for Human Rights. He had been suggested for the prize in 1934 and 1935, but the Norwegian government had caved to pressure from the Nazi government to not award it at that time.
At the end of 1936, due to a campaign by German-in-exile and future German President Willi Brandt, Ossietzky received the prize retroactively for 1935.
But the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, refused to allow Ossietzky to leave the country. Ossietzky died in 1938 due to complications from tuberculosis he contracted during earlier time spent in a concentration camp.
Albert Jon Luthuli was the first African to receive the prize, for his peaceful activism against apartheid. The government of South Africa in 1960 denied international travel for receipt of the prize. He was able to pick it up the following year.
Soviet dissident and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov should have, but was not able to travel to Oslo in 1975 to accept the award for his struggles for openness in the former USSR.
Lech Walesa, a leader of the anti-communist Solidarity union in Poland, had – like Suu Kyi’s children – feared not being able to return to his homeland. His wife accepted the prize for him in 1985, while he donated the award money to the headquarters of his union, at that time exiled in Brussels.
Hope for Chinese dissident
Most recently, Chinese writer and critic Liu Xiaobo, who was jailed in 2009, accepted