Hannes Richter

First Woman Nobel Peace Prize

Hannes Richter
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Bertha von Suttner

The year 2005 marks the commemoration of a Nobel Peace Prize winner who passionately believed that peace was achievable through ‘negotiation’ rather than by military offensives aimed at deterrence or outright war. While talk continues of revitalizing the effectiveness of international organizations such as the United Nations in settling disputes, this year celebrates a woman who was a moving force behind the creation of those very institutions.

This remarkable woman was Bertha von Suttner, born into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at a time when a world war was looming on the horizon. She was a renowned peace activist and one of the most famous women of her era. A prolific writer and speaker, she pushed decision-makers to adopt pacifism and settle disputes through negotiations and international law courts. Her message of "Lay down your arms!" which is also the title of her famous book of 1889, sounds simple on the surface yet is inherently complex. It continues to resonate today among peace movements in all parts of the world. A variety of events including symposia, concerts, lectures and an exhibition, will be held this year throughout Austria in remembrance of this extraordinary personality.

Ironic Facets
Bertha von Suttner was born in Praque in 1843 as Countess Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau. She was, however, treated as an outsider by the Kinsky family. Her father, a Field Marshall, had died before her birth while her mother was ‘only’ a cavalry officer’s daughter and had gambled away most of the little money she had. There were early signs that Bertha would try to compensate for her lowly state within the Habsburg Empire’s aristocrcy by a show of independence. She was determined to educate herself, to learn languages and to travel as much as her mother’s limited funds would allow. Still single at the age of thirty, she became a governess to the family of Baron von Suttner, with whose son, Arthur, she had an affair and later married. When Arthur's mother first discovered the relationship, she found a post for Bertha in Paris, as far away from Vienna as possible. There she was befriended by a man who manufactured dynamite and believed in its use as a military deterrent in preventing war. His name was Alfred Nobel and this friendship lasted a lifetime. Ironically, he became the man who was to honor her much later with the Nobel Peace Prize for her pacifist convictions.

The arguments she used to support her ideas were far ahead of her time. She urged again and again that Europe unite; she argued for free trade associations, limits to national sovereignty and in favor of international courts. She envisioned a future world where social progress would use technology to improve communication and growing economic interdependence would unite nations in replacing narrow nationalism. She died in 1914, two months before the outbreak of World War I, a war which contradicted everything she had held precious.

One cannot fail to recognize what President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said: "In the long run, people are going to do more to promote peace than our governments." Commemorating Bertha von Suttner is a reminder of the truth of this observation.

For more information, please visit the website http://www.berthavonsuttner2005.info