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Alexievich Says Nobel Literature Prize Awards Entire Belarusian Nation


Belarus's Svetlana Alexievich On Receiving Nobel Prize
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WATCH: Belarus's Svetlana Alexievich On Receiving Nobel Prize

Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich, a vocal critic of totalitarianism whose writing has chronicled the lives of ordinary people crushed in some of the 20th century's most tragic events, has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.

The Swedish Academy announced on October 8 that it had awarded the prize to Alexievich, calling her works "a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Alexievich proudly described herself as part of the broader “Russian world” but not that of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This is not my world,” she told reporters in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Alexievich, 67, was born in Soviet Ukraine to a Belarusian father and Ukrainian mother and writes in Russian.

Her works have not been published in Belarus since authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka came to power in 1994.

"They pretend I don't exist," Alexievich told an October 8 news conference. "I am not published [in Belarus], and I cannot speak publicly anywhere."

She said that the award is not “for me but for our culture, for our small country, which has been caught in a grinder throughout history."

ALSO READ: What She's Written And What She's Said

Alexievich has used her journalistic skills to explore major tragedies that have impacted Belarus throughout the 20th century. Some of her more notable works include testimonials from victims of the Nazi occupation, the nuclear disaster at Chornobyl, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Swedish Academy commended her "polyphonic writings" and said that "by means of her extraordinary method -- a carefully composed collage of human voices -- Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era."

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.

WATCH: The director of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, Alexander Lukashuk, who published Alexievich's books in the 1980s and '90s, says she was "like a confessor" who provided answers to people facing existential questions over the war in Afghanistan, the Chornobyl disaster, and the collapse of the Soviet Union:

'She Was Like A Confessor,' Says Alexievich's Ex-Publisher
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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 clean-up 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.

WATCH: Nobel-Winning Author Offers Readers 'A History Of The Soul'

Nobel-Winning Author Offers Readers 'A History Of The Soul'
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Alexievich's novels have been published in 19 countries. She also has written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.

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 critical of Lukashenka, who is widely expected to win a fifth presidential term on October 11.

She has called his 2010 reelection "a humanitarian catastrophe for the entire Belarusian society" and said that she would not vote in the upcoming presidential election.

"I will not vote in the elections because we know who will win, that Lukashenko will win," Alexievich told reporters in Minsk.

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."

Hours after Alexievich spoke following the announcement of her award, Lukashenka offered his official congratulations to the author.

"Your work has touched not only Belarusians, but also readers in many countries of the world,” Lukashenka said in a statement released by his press office. “I am sincerely happy for your success. I truly hope that your award will serve our state and the people of Belarus.”

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."

Alexievich has also backed the pro-democracy protests in Kyiv and openly criticized Russia's democratic backslide under Putin, whom she has accused of overseeing a revival of Stalinism.

Quiz: The Nobel Prizes

Quiz: The Nobel Prizes

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"I love the Russian world, but the kind, humane Russian world," she told journalists in Minsk. "I do not love Beria, Stalin, low they let Russia sink," she said, referring to the former Soviet leader and the head of his feared secret police.

At the October 8 news conference, Alexievich denounced Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula was annexed by the Kremlin last year and where Russian-backed separatists have fought Kyiv’s forces in the east of the country in a war that has killed more than 7,900 people since April 2014.

She said that she had wept when she saw photographs of those shot dead during the February 2014 street protests in Kyiv against then-President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally who subsequently fled the country.

"It is occupation, a foreign invasion," Alexievich said of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s current pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, congratulated Alexievich in a Facebook post, noting that she is a native of Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

"Wherever we are, whatever language we speak or write, we always remain Ukrainians! Congratulations!" Poroshenko wrote.

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
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