Inga Bostads tale til Sonja Biserko 8. november 2010
Dear Sonja Biserko,
Dear distinguished guests and colleagues
Many, many years ago, I was on Interrail hitchhiking through Europe and I met this Yugoslavian girl, Vlada, whom I became close friends with, we discussed politics and the meaning of life, and wrote to each other for many years. Then I forgot all about Vlada. Until this year when we started discussing the nominations for the Human rights prize of the University of Oslo. Sonja Biserko reminded me of Vlada in the way that they both spoke with continuous analytical engagement; they had this calm authority and courageous view of the world. And today, when Sonja Biserko ended her lecture at the National center for Human rights, at the University of Oslo, she talked about remembering her own history as a Yugoslav and about the necessity of addressing the past – and telling the young generations about mistakes and successes and common shared moments.
The University of Oslo has been deeply involved in Human Rights since the early days of Fritjof Nansen, who combined his work as a scientist with humanitarian efforts. Nansen was an explorer and an intellectual who considered the duties of an academic to go far beyond the world of research to social and human rights commitments, an academic should be courageous and be involved in society at large.
“Integrity” and “courage” are also two words that come to mind at the mention of Sonja Biserko.
Human rights are violated all over the world. Also in our country the authorities receive complaints about violations of universally agreed international standards of human rights – especially in cases of refugees and asylum. But in Norway there is a will to correct such breaches when they are pointed out. As we know this is not always the case.
Sonja Biserko has already received prizes and much deserved honor for standing up for the truth and the fundamental values of the Declaration. We are deeply honored to receive her here at the University of Oslo and demonstrate our solidarity with her vital engagement for human rights in the Balkan region. Sonja Biserko was born in Belgrade in Serbia in 1948. She holds a degree from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Belgrade. For over 20 years she served as a diplomat for the former Yugoslavia in London and at the United Nations in Geneva. But the policies of Slobodan Milosevic fostering an “ethnically purified” Greater Serbia were impossible for her to tolerate. She therefore chose to leave her diplomatic career in 1991.
Since 1994 her base of operation has been the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia which she founded, and she is still holding the position as the President of the organization. Furthermore, Biserko holds amongst others an academic position as a researcher at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.
Sonja Biserko and the committee has throughout the years worked tirelessly challenging nationalist dogma, documenting war crimes and acting as advocate for the victims of these views and offences. She not only has documented the crimes of the past, but also disclosed the resurgence of Serbian nationalism that followed the armed confrontation by NATO forces in Kosovo.
She warned the mainstream Serbian political elite and society against the continuing ethno-nationalistic ideas of the state, emphasizing the struggle for territory and notion that Serbs cannot live with other people. She has even questioned if Serbia is able to deal with its fundamental problems.
Biserko and her organization have taken great risk of supporting minorities and refugees within Serbia and Kosovo and have worked hard to establish a dialogue between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.
This has not been a quiet operation behind scenes. The prize winner has been a vocal and controversial advocate through an impressive number of publications and interventions at international conferences. Among these she addressed the Conference on Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War in 1997, sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley Human Rights Center.
Biserko has been blunt in accusing the Serbian political elite that they remain (as she phrases it) “a prisoner of Great Serb ethnocentric myths” and that they still carry the conception of Serbia being (quote) “the victim of an international conspiracy”. According to Biserko it is the consequences of such theories that have slowed down the process of Serbia’s integration with Europe.
Our guest of honor today has disclosed that the prevailing nationalist aspirations in large segments of the Serbian public have created a hostile view on all non-nationalistic values. This includes human rights. She has called for a “moral minimum” that also comprises an earnest co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Biserko strong engagement has not only resulted in fierce arguments from the nationalists. She has experienced physical assaults and unmistakable death threats, lived with and endured physical and psychological aggression and daily threats of violence.
Sonja Biserko is an outstanding representative for the many brave individuals around the world who find truth and human dignity, freedom and moral integrity worthwhile fighting for. And it is of vital importance to continue the struggle for human rights as an international undertaking, carried out in solidarity. Today, her voice is first of also a reminder to all of us present, what may we accomplish in the name of human rights, as well as we must ask ourselves, what may Norway contribute to when it comes to following up war crimes.
Some of the people I talked to in the process of the nomination, said to me that Biserko, well she is the Brand of today! Ibsen’s Brand is a pure idealist ready to save the world, a person who takes the consequences of his choices and is deeply bound to doing the "right thing". According to Brand belief and actions must be deeply connected.
Through her work related to refugees, women's rights and documentation of war crimes, Biserko has made a decisive difference in the safeguarding of human rights both in Serbia and in the international arena. Biserko has stood steadfast against war, ethnic cleansing, strongly nationalistic currents and corruption of power. Sonja Biserko is today considered to be the strongest voice for human rights in the Balkan region.
The University of Oslo has ambitions in the field of research on human rights, peace studies and solution of conflicts; we want to state more clearly our own responsibility towards our students, our colleagues and the international community. We are for instance actively supporting Science Diplomacy as well as engaging in Scholars at risk. Just to mention one example, Our Norwegian Center for Human Rights has over the years had intensive courses in human rights for over 400 Chinese professors of law.
In the light of this common cause the University of Oslo is honored to award this human rights prize – Lisl and Leo Eitingers prize – to Sonja Biserko for her strong witness and bold actions on behalf of the disenfranchised in the Balkan region.