The bids are coming in faster than Mike Sandler’s voice can keep up with, one almost has to worry about how it rolls over in two-hundred-thousand increments. Twelve million dollars, twelve million and two hundred thousand, four hundred, six, eight… thirteen million dollars. “Wow,” says the auctioneer, “I should have brought more water.” When, three minutes later, a helper comes to his desk and hands him supplies for his dry throat, the figure has already reached 15 million. At 16.6 million, when someone in the floor in Manhattan, phone to ear, gets up and places the final bid, you’re obviously a brand new bidder. Sandler asks him to take off the mask and say the amount again, as if to make sure he got every penny of the incredible number right: $103,500,000.
Nick? Alice? The auctioneer asks the bidders in the hall one last time. Jessica, just asking for fun, any higher bid? But no, nobody wants or can do more.
$103.5 million. So that’s what a Nobel Peace Prize is worth, at least this Nobel Prize medal of the Russian journalist and regime critic Dmitry Muratov. Only last year the committee in Oslo had the editor-in-chief of the Novaya Gazeta with the award – for the difficult work in an increasingly repressive state, for the fight for freedom of expression. At that time, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was still a distant nightmare. And in the end, not even a Nobel Prize could protect the newspaper from what this nightmare brought with it for the editors: On March 28, the Novaya Gazeta its publication in Russia has been suspended for the time being because war in Putin’s empire cannot be called war and journalists are not allowed to be journalists. The newspaper had received a warning from the media regulator on the same day, the second this would have threatened to have her license revoked. The editors had previously tried to defy the censorship by consistently putting the “special military operation,” as the Russian media has to describe the war, in quotation marks.
Six journalists from the newspaper were killed at work
The was founded Novaya Gazeta 1993, in the wake of the end of the Soviet Union. Even then, Muratov was part of the editorial team, and the journalists were repeatedly under pressure in the years that followed. For example, Anna Politkovskaya, who reported on the war in Chechnya and was one of the newspaper’s most prominent voices for a long time, was shot dead in October 2006 in her apartment building in Moscow. Noisy Novaya Gazeta a total of six of their journalists have been murdered so far. Most recently, the violence also hit the editor-in-chief Muratow. At the beginning of April, shortly after the newspaper had anticipated its closure by the authorities, an unknown perpetrator said he was showered with caustic red paint on a train journey. Noisy Gazeta the Russian authorities refused to investigate the attack.
Part of the editorial staff is now continuing to work abroad. In April, the team launched a website from the EU, which was blocked by the authorities in Russia just a few days later. To support the escaped editors, journalists have now founded an association in Switzerlandalways hoping that at least some of the coverage of the Novaya Gazeta from exile will survive censorship in Russia and convey the truth about the crimes happening in Ukraine to the people of Putin’s state.
And Muratov, the editor-in-chief, decided to send another signal against the war: he put his prize medal up for auction, 175 grams of gold with the likeness of the founder Alfred Nobel and a Latin saying engraved on the back. “Pro pace et fraternitate gentium”, for peace and brotherhood of men. The material value is according to the AP news agency at around $10,000, a fraction of the price for which the medal has now gone under the hammer at Heritage auction house. The proceeds are intended to support the work of the UN children’s charity Unicef for young Ukrainian refugees.
How urgently the help is needed was underlined by Muratov in a short speech at the beginning of the Monday evening in New York auction broadcast online. Two-thirds of all children in Ukraine lost their homes within a few weeks, 40 percent of the 16 million displaced people are minors: “Something like this has never happened before.” And then Muratov told the story of a child from bombed Mariupol whose prayer was: Dear God, help me charge my phone so I can call my mom.
As simple and close as the wish may seem, it is as big and unfulfillable in these times: the children’s words triggered a short laugh from the audience in the auction room in expensive Manhattan – which immediately got stuck in their throats. “I would ask you all to imagine for a moment that it is your child,” Muratov said.
Nobel Prize medals most recently fetched $2.2 and $4.7 million
While Muratov’s fundraiser is unusual, the journalist is not the first to offer his Nobel Prize for sale at auction. In 2013, molecular biologist Francis Crick’s medal was sold at auction, also at Heritage Auctions. Crick shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with James Watson in 1962 for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. After Crick’s death, the medal brought in $2.2 million, with the proceeds donating to science.
The following year, Crick’s fellow laureate Watson’s medal was auctioned off at Christie’s in New York for $4.7 million. Incidentally, the record sum is said to have been bid by Alisher Usmanov, the Russian oligarch who founded the newspaper in the early 2000s Kommersant had bought, possibly even, as some suspected at the time, at the behest of the Kremlin, which wanted to bring the liberal business paper, which had been critical of the government until then, into line. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the West also imposed sanctions on Putin confidante Usmanov and froze his assets.
Even if it’s only symbolic: Against this background, it should be a source of particular satisfaction for some people that the previous record sum for which a Nobel Prize medal was auctioned off has now been clearly topped. In his words, the prizewinner Muratov only focused on the refugees from Ukraine, whose need is acute. “I will not see that medal again,” he said, “but I would like to see the future of the people who will benefit from the auction.” It was not initially known who bought the medal. However, the auction house confirmed the same evening that the money had already been transferred.