Dmitri Strotsev Wins the 2021 Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation announced today that the winner of the 2021 Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk is Belarusian poet and publisher Dmitri Strotsev.

Since the mid-2000s, Strotsev has chronicled state repression in Belarus in poetic form. Strotsev has helped lead the unprecedented popular movement that emerged in 2020 to challenge the repressive regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, often called Europe’s last dictator. He describes the political crisis in Belarus in his poetic cycle Belarus Overturned, which is written in a unique style that he calls “poetic reportage.” Strotsev’s cycle has been a sensation in both Belarus and internationally and has been translated into more than fifteen languages.

In October 2020, Strotsev was kidnapped and interrogated by the Belarus KGB. He was sentenced to thirteen days of administrative arrest and confined to a punishment cell. Since his release from prison, Strotsev has continued to work on Belarus Overturned. He received the Norwegian Authors’ Union Freedom of Speech Award with Belarusian poet Hanna Komar in 2020.

Strotsev is the author of seventeen books of poetry. He has published samizdat literature of the Soviet period and works by Minsk poets, including Belarusian and Yiddish authors of the interwar period and victims of Stalinist repression.

Dmitri Strotsev will receive the Disturbing the Peace Award from Polish writer and former dissident Adam Michnik during the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation gala evening on September 23, 2020, at the Bohemian National Hall in New York City.

About the Award

The Vaclav Havel Library Foundation’s annual Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk recognizes writers who share President Vaclav Havel’s passionate commitment to human rights and have suffered unjust persecution for their beliefs. The award is given each year to a writer of a distinguished work of fiction, literary nonfiction, biography, memoire, drama, or poetry who is courageous in dissent and has been punished for challenging an oppressive regime. The award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize, supports talented individuals who embody Havel’s legacy while drawing attention to the many writers worldwide who bravely fight human rights violations.

Nominations for the Disturbing the Peace Award are collected each year from international institutions prominent in literature and human rights. A short list of nominations is prepared by the VHLF Award Committee and forwarded to a small group of jurors, who select the awardee. The previous recipients of the Disturbing the Peace Award are Cuban author Angel Santiesteban Prats (2020); Turkish writer and journalist Asli Erdogan (2019); Chinese author, reporter, musician, and poet Liao Yiwu (2018); Kurdish novelist Burhan Sönmez (2017); and Burmese writer Ma Thida (2016).

In 2021, the foundation received nominations from Amnesty International, PEN International, Vaclav Havel Library, and Words without Borders.

Members of the jury for 2021 were:
Angel Santiesteban Prats, a renowned Cuban writer and social commentator. His short story collections include The Children Nobody Wanted and Blessed Are Those Who Mourn. He is also co-author of the screenplay for the film Plantados. Santiesteban is the recipient of the 2020 Disturbing the Peace Award for a Courageous Writer at Risk, the 2001 Alejo Carpentier Award of the Cuban Book Institute, and the 2006 Casa de las Americas Award. Since 2009, he has produced a popular political blog. Camila Acosta Rodriguez, an independent Cuban journalist and Havana correspondent of the Spanish daily newspaper ABC. She has worked at the Habana Channel of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. Her articles have appeared in Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, OnCuba, and other publications.

Jiri Pehe, a faculty member at New York University’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and director of NYU Prague. Pehe was the director of President Vaclav Havel’s political department and later served as a presidential advisor. He also led Central European research at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich. Pehe has written a number of books and articles on current events in Eastern Europe as well as four novels.

Lila Azam Zanganeh, a professor of literature and cinema at Harvard University. Zanganeh was born in Paris to Iranian parents. She has contributed articles on literature to publications such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Le Monde, La Repubblica, and The Paris Review. Her first book, The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness, received the 2011 Roger Shattuck Prize and was published in thirteen languages.

The other nominees for the 2021 Disturbing the Peace Award were Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu (Eritrea), Oleg Sentsov (Ukraine), Anand Teltumbde (India), and Marcia Tiburi (Brazil).

The members of the VHLF Award Committee are Tamar Newberger, computer scientist and activist;
Pavla Niklova, VHLF executive director; Martin Palous, former ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Nations and the United States and president, VHLF board of directors; Lise Stone, vice-chair, VHLF board of directors; Salil Tripathi, chair, Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International; and
Marilyn Wyatt, vice-chair, VHLF board of directors.

Press release: DISTURBING THE PEACE, Havel Foundation Award 2021