Nobel peace prize auctioned by Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov fetches record $103.5m

July 28, 2022
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The Nobel Peace Prize that Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov was auctioning off to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees has sold for $103.5m (£84.5m), shattering the record for a Nobel.

“I was hoping that there was going to be an enormous amount of solidarity,” Muratov said after the sale. “But I was not expecting this to be such a huge amount.”

Previously, the most ever paid for a Nobel prize medal was in 2014, when James Watson, whose co-discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a Nobel prize in 1962, sold his medal for $4.76m. Three years later, the family of his co-recipient, Francis Crick, received $2.27m in bidding run by Heritage Auctions, the same company that auctioned off Muratov’s medal on Monday, World Refugee Day.

Muratov, who was awarded the gold medal in October 2021, helped found the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was the publication’s editor-in-chief when it shut down in March amid the Kremlin’s clampdown on journalists and public dissent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It was Muratov’s idea to auction off his prize, having already announced he was donating the accompanying $500,000 cash award to charity. The idea of the donation, he said, “is to give the children refugees a chance for a future”

Muratov has said the proceeds will go directly to Unicef in its efforts to help children displaced by the war in Ukraine. Melted down, the 175 grams of 23-karat gold contained in Muratov’s medal would be worth about $10,000.

The medal was sold to an unidentified phone bidder. The auction in New York City was spirited, with lots of applause and bidders egging one another on to increase the total. Muratov was seen recording videos of the bidding screen and those in the room.

When the final bid came in, at tens of millions of dollars more than the previous offer, many in the room expressed shock, including Muratov. “I’m just like you in that regard,” he said through a translator after the sale.

Asked why he chose Unicef as the recipient of the funds, Muratov said: “It’s critical to us that that organisation does not belong to any government. It can work above government. There are no borders for it.”

In an interview with the Associated Press before the auction, Muratov said he was particularly concerned about children who have been orphaned because of the conflict in Ukraine. “We want to return their future,” he said.

He added that it was important international sanctions levied against Russia did not prevent humanitarian aid, such as medicine for rare diseases and bone marrow transplants, from reaching those in need.

“It has to become a beginning of a flashmob as an example to follow so people auction their valuable possessions to help Ukrainians,” Muratov said in a video released by Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale but is not taking any share of the proceeds.

Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year with journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines. The two journalists, who each received their own medals, were honoured for their battles to preserve free speech in their respective countries, despite coming under attack by harassment, their governments and even death threats.

Muratov has been highly critical of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war launched in February that has caused nearly 5 million Ukrainians to flee to other countries for safety, creating the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the second world war.

Independent journalists in Russia have come under scrutiny by the Kremlin, if not been outright targets of the government. Since Putin came into power more than two decades ago, nearly two dozen journalists have been killed, including at least four who had worked for Muratov’s newspaper.

In April, Muratov said he was attacked with red paint while aboard a Russian train.

Muratov left Russia for western Europe on Thursday to begin his trip to New York City, where live bidding began on Monday afternoon. Online bids began on 1 June to coincide with the International Children’s Day observance.

As of early Monday, the high bid was $550,000. The purchase price had been expected to spiral upward, but not over $100m.

“I can’t believe it, I’m awestruck,” Joshua Benesh, the chief strategy officer for Heritage Auctions, said after the auction. “Personally, I’m flabbergasted … I don’t really know what happened in there.

“We knew that there was a tremendous groundswell of interest in the last couple of days by people who were moved by Dimitry’s story, by Dimitry’s act of generosity, that the global audience was listening tonight.”

Since its inception in 1901, there have been nearly 1,000 recipients of the Nobel prizes honouring achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and the advancement of peace.

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