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Anger in Sweden as Nobel Prize organizers invite Russia and Belarus to the award ceremonies

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Several Swedish lawmakers said Friday they will boycott this year’s Nobel Prize award ceremonies after the private foundation that administers the prestigious awards changed its position from a year earlier and invited representatives of Russia, Belarus and Iran to attend.

The Nobel Foundation said invitations were extended to all countries with diplomatic missions in Sweden and Norway since that “promotes opportunities to convey the important messages of the Nobel Prize to everyone.” It was unclear whether the invitations to the Dec. 10 events already went out.

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Swedish Employment Minister Johan Pehrson called the foundation’s decision “extremely injudicious.”

Last year, the diplomatic envoys of Russia and Belarus were barred from attending the prize ceremonies and related banquets because of the war in Ukraine.

Iran’s ambassador also was excluded, with the foundation citing “the serious and escalating situation” as anti-government protests and a security crackdown roiled the country.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told Swedish news agency TT he would not allow Russia to attend this year, if given the choice.

”To isolate Russia in every possible way — militarily, economically — it is necessary,” he told the news agency.

Kristersson did not say whether he would boycott prize ceremonies, but other Swedish politicians were more forthright.

Muharrem Demirok, the leader of the small opposition Center Party, said he had looked forward to the December festivities for the 2023 laureates “but as long as Russia is waging war against Ukraine, I cannot attend the same party as their ambassador.”

Märta Stenevi, of the Green Party, agreed, saying, “There is nothing to celebrate together with Russia’s ambassador.”

Nobel Foundation Executive Director Vidar Helgesen said in a statement Friday that there was a global trend in which “dialogue between those with differing views is being reduced.”

To counter that, he said, “We are now broadening our invitations to celebrate and understand the Nobel Prize and the importance of free science, free culture and free, peaceful societies.”

News that the envoys of Russia and Belarus were on the invitation list reached Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She called on the Swedish Nobel Foundation and the Norwegian Nobel Committee not to invite representatives of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s “illegitimate regime to any events.”

“It will be shameful if the regime’s ambassador is present at the Nobel ceremonies, and the Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski will be tortured in prison, kept in complete isolation, like thousands of other Belarusians,” Tsikhanouskaya said, referring to the jailed human rights activist who was a co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize

“Refusing to invite the regime would be a strong, albeit symbolic step,” she said.

Bialiatski shared the prize with the Russian group Memorial and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties. The choice of winners was seen as a strong rebuke to the authoritarian rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The foundation also announced that it was extending its invitation to all political parties in Sweden and Norway “that have parliamentary representation via democratic elections.”

In the past, the foundation snubbed the nationalist Sweden Democrats, a party whose policies are seen by some as a threat to the Scandinavian country’s fundamental values, including tolerance toward asylum-seekers from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. The party placed second in the 2022 parliamentary elections.

Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson quickly declined the invitation, saying on Facebook that “unfortunately, I’m busy that day.”

Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Graphic novels are displayed for sale at a bookstore in New York City on Sunday, October 8, 2023. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for September. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

This year’s Nobel prize winners will be announced in early October. The laureates are then invited to receive their awards at glittering prize ceremonies on the anniversary of award founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

All presentations take place in Stockholm except for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is presented in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. The Nobel Institute, which hands out the peace prize, said it would follow the decision of the Nobel Foundation.

____ Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Yuras Karmanau in Tallin, Estonia, contributed to this report.

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