Rewards for freedom of thought

By the Monitor's Editorial Board

If the North Korean regime ever collapses on its own, the Nobel Peace Prize ought to go to this group: older people in North Korea. According to Radio Free Asia, these citizens are now banned from parks and other public places because they criticize the regime too much during their daily chats. After decades of forcefully stifling dissent, the regime can’t seem to banish freedom of thought.

That such a freedom exists widely in North Korea is a testament to the power of universal truth in individual conscience and to the liberty that enables each person to see others as free. Those who practice and advocate for such freedoms are often awarded with international prizes.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, for example, went to two journalists, one in Russia and the other in the Philippines, for publishing under repressive regimes. Now the European Parliament has given its annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to another Russian: Alexei Navalny, the country’s leading pro-democracy dissident and corruption fighter.

According to the BBC, the award took “the Russian blogosphere by storm.” Despite being poisoned twice and then thrown in prison earlier this year, Mr. Navalny remains a moral center to many Russians who oppose President Vladimir Putin and the country’s massive corruption – which Mr. Navalny frequently exposed.

He won the award for “great courage in his attempts to restore the freedom of choice to the Russian people.” But as his Anti-Corruption Foundation tweeted Oct. 20, the award is for “all caring people who, even in the darkest times, are not afraid to tell the truth.”

One possible effect of the award might be that it keeps Mr. Navalny from harm. Mr. Putin may not be able to hold him or let him die now that the European Union has firmly embraced the dissident and his cause.

Repression is often driven by a leader’s fear of losing power, either over people or over ideas. The EU’s award is named after a famed dissident during the Cold War, Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet nuclear scientist and human rights advocate. He wrote that freedom of thought is the only guarantee against the mass myths spread by dictatorships.

Even older people in North Korea know that, despite decades of attempted brainwashing. Liberty of conscience is liberation from fear. The more prizes the better for the champions of this simple idea.

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