Good afternoon, everyone!
It is a great pleasure for me to be here and to have the honour of handing out The Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression Award for 2021. It is also a cause for great humility. The Freedom of Expression Award is important. It makes us reflect, and it makes us strive to achieve the society we wish to create. For all of us.
Here in Norway, mutual trust is one of our core values. We have a strong sense of community which ties us together. Freedom of expression has a strong position. There are relatively small differences between the citizens and democracy is strong.
These are qualities of society which the government is working to secure and strengthen. Cultural policies, media policies and literary policies play crucual roles in this effort.
These are also qualities of society which those of us living here often take for granted. We are able to think and express whatever we want. Different opinions are being debated in the public space. All voices should be heard, and opinions and arguments are put to the test. This is the very foundation of democracy.
Because society is constantly changing, the ways we express ourselves also change over time. This was the underlying reason why the previous government formed the Freedom of Expression Commission. The commission will review the status of freedom of expression in Norway. Among other things, they will consider measures to promote an open and enlightened public debate, measures to maintain the safety of journalists, and measures to protect and promote artistic freedom of expression.The commission will present a Norwegian Official Report (NOU) in August this year.
Freedom of expression is an individual human right, and a necessary foundation for a functioning democracy. And, as I’ve already stated – a lot of us take freedom of expression and other basic democratic rights for granted.
But these rights are not a matter of course. In many places and for many people this is very far from reality. Censorship and restricted access to information, freedom of press and freedom of expression have all been made current in the worst possible way this last month, in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
For people living under authoritarian or strictly controlled regimes, this is precisely what marks their day-to-day lives; lack of information, lack of freedom of press, lack of freedom of expression. This is the case for the winners of the award 2021.
This is why The Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression Award is so important. The award contributes to highlighting and bringing forward individuals who have excelled in the struggle for freedom of expression and tolerance. These are often individuals living under strict regimes, who defy prohibitions and figth to be heard.
I believe that the contribution of individuals in the struggle for freedom of expression makes a difference. We listen to brave voices. Words are powerful, and one brave voice can create a movement. If enough people mobilize, the world will change for the better. Freely shared expressions can change the world and carry us forward.
Which brings me back to the actual award ceremony. When The Norwegian Authors Union celebrated their 100 year anniversary in 1993, the Ministry of Culture gave the union an annual gift in the form of the Freedom of Expression Award. Today, the award is worth 200 000 Norwegian kroner. The award is awarded annually to a Norwegian or foreign author who has excelled in their work for freedom of expression and tolerance in the broadest sense. The winner of the award is selected by The Norwegian Authors Union Literary Council.
It is my great pleasure to announce that the Freedom of Expression Award of 2021 is shared between the Turkish author Ahmet Altan and the Kurdish author Ilhan Çomak.
Unfortunately, neither of the winners are able to receive the award in person, but I would ask the representatives of the award winners to come forward to allow The Norwegian Authors Union’s International committee to present the reasoning for their selection.