Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has expressed “personal joy” at receiving the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature and said the award means recognition for her entire nation.
“It’s not an award for me but for our culture, for our small country, which has been caught in a grinder throughout history,” she told a press conference in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, after the announcement of the prestigious prize.
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Alexievich, 67, was born in Soviet Ukraine to a Belarusian father and Ukrainian mother and writes in Russian.
She has used her journalistic skills to chronicle major tragedies that have affected Belarus throughout the 20th century, including Nazi occupation, the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
The Swedish Academy commended her “polyphonic writings” and described her work as “a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”
“By means of her extraordinary method — a carefully composed collage of human voices — Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” it said.
The academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, said Alexievich had “mapped the soul” of the Soviet and post-Soviet people and called her work “absolutely brilliant.”
Alexievich’s first novel, War’s Unwomanly Face, is based on previously untold stories of women who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II.
It was published in 1985 under the perestroika reforms after being barred from publication for years because it highlighted personal tragedies rather than the role of the Communist Party.
It has since sold more than 2 million copies.
“These people were already old,” she told RFE/RL earlier this year about the women she interviewed for her book. “But they didn’t want to depart without fully expressing themselves.”
One of her most famous novels, Voices From Chernobyl, published in 1998, details the psychological and physical ordeal of people who took part in the cleanup of the 1986 nuclear disaster.
Although the nuclear accident took place in Ukraine, its fallout affected Belarus more than any other country.
Her most recent book, Second-Hand Time, examines the post-Soviet mentality two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It was awarded France’s prestigious Prix Medicis essai in 2013.
Alexievich’s novels have been published in 19 countries. She also has written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.
Her works, however, have not been published in Belarus since authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994.
Alexievich has periodically lived abroad in a number of European cities but is now based in Minsk.
Like many intellectuals in Belarus, she is strongly criticial of Lukashenka, who is widely expected to win a fifth presidential term on October 11.
She has called his 2011 reelection “a humanitarian catastrophe for the entire Belarusian society.”
Speaking to journalists in Minsk on October 8, she called on people not to submit to totalitarian systems.
“In our time, it is difficult to be an honest person,” she said. “There is no need to give in to the compromise that totalitarian regimes always count on.”
Lukashenka has yet to congratulate her on her Nobel win.
Alexievich has also backed the pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and openly criticized Russia’s democratic backslide under President Vladimir Putin, whom she has accused of overseeing a revival of Stalinism.
“I love the Russian world, but the kind, humane Russian world,” she told journalists in Minsk. “I do not love Beria, Stalin, Putin…how low they let Russia sink,” she said, referring to the former Soviet leader and the head of his feared secret police.
The free-speech writers’ group English PEN welcomed Alexievich’s Nobel victory and voiced hope it would “further highlight the civil and political injustices in Belarus and go some way to bringing about the restitution of free speech and freedom of expression for all Belarusians.”
The 8 million-Swedish-crown ($972,000) literature prize was the fourth of this year’s Nobel prizes.
Last year’s literature award went to French writer Patrick Modiano.
The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature, and peace in accordance with his will.
With reporting by Reuters. AP, AFP, and dpa.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.