The Oslo Freedom Forum 2016, an annual gathering of human rights activists, journalists, former heads of state and sympathizers, took place in Oslo from May 23 to 25th 2016. This year, the Oslo Freedom Forum was dedicated to CATALYSTS: women and men who know that while individuals can’t change the world on their own, the world can’t change without individuals. A remarkable three-day event focused on advancing human rights around the globe.
In his opening remarks to the forum, Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation Garry Kasparov, declared:
This year’s theme is “Catalysts” – illustrating that all of us, no matter our background or role, can be agents of positive change, and inspirations for others who are fighting for freedom.
The goal of the Freedom Forum is to be a catalyst itself by bringing people together. Together we can share our stories, our ideas, our expertise, and our strength.
“Catalyst” means that our courage and resistance grows and multiplies like a chemical reaction when we are together here in Oslo. Every story, every person-to-person combination makes something new, something brighter, better, and in turn causes a new series of reactions with everyone who comes into contact.
It takes people from every walk of life to bring about lasting change. Artists and programmers, writers and politicians, journalists and business leaders, workers and students. Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone must contribute to make our movement stronger.
Every story matters. Thank you all for helping every story be told and for helping every story be heard here in Oslo and around the world. You are all catalysts!
In his Facebook post dedicated to the award, Kasparov noted:
“It is good news and bad news that there are so many people deserving of the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent every year. Freedom is on the decline in the world today, in ways large and small. But we see here in Oslo that many people are resisting this decline, standing their ground for the freedom to express what makes us human.
I am honored to present this Havel Prize to my Russian countryman Petr Pavlensky today. Like so many of our little victories, there is bitter with the sweet of this award. It brings me great sorrow that the state of freedom in Russia is in such crisis that radical dissent like Petr’s is so necessary. But at the same time it gives me great pride that, even after so many years of repression, Russia is still capable of producing someone as brave and honest as Petr Pavlensky.
Like any inspired artist, Petr speaks with powerful images. Unlike most artists, Petr has also willingly sacrificed the only weapon he has, his body, his flesh and blood, in his acts of artistic rebellion. His latest act was less bloody—but just as unforgettable. He set fire to the door of the infamous building of the state security services, the FSB, formerly the KGB, and took a self-portrait in front of what he called “the gate to Hell.”
This extraordinary image was a blow against fear and the agents of fear by an individual who lives without fear. It also reminded us that we should have burned down the entire damned building in 1991 when we had the chance! But when the Soviet Union fell, we were told to forgive and forget. We were told there shouldn’t be any witch hunts after decades of totalitarian brutality. And today, because of our weakness, the witches are back—and they are hunting us.
Like too many of our award winners and invitees here in Oslo, Petr is a prisoner of the state he so boldly defies and so he is unable to be here with us today. We will ensure that his prize finds its way to him and his family. Congratulations to him, and to all the winners, and my personal thanks to them for inspiring me and for inspiring us all with their creativity and bravery.”
Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is a series of global conferences run by the New York-based non-profit Human Rights Foundation under the slogan “Challenging Power.” OFF was founded in 2009 as a one-time event and has taken place annually ever since. One of the key objectives of the conferences is to bring together notable people, including former heads of state, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, prisoners of conscience, as well as of other public figures in order to network and exchange ideas about human rights and exposing dictatorships.