Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914)

Two lectures on the legacy of Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), pacifist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the invation of the International Criminal Court by Candice Alihusain, Peace Palace Library and Professor Hope May, Central Michigan University.

A fascinating account of the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary person who was the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. Her statue was unveiled in the Peace Palace on August 28 this year during the celebrations of the centennial of the Peace Palace.

How did she, born into the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy in 1843 in Prague as Countess Kinsky and daughter of a General-Field Marshall, become involved in national and international peace movements, eventually rising to be its undisputed leader?

Her anti-war novel “Die Waffen nieder” (Lay down your arms), published in 1889, described most vividly the horrors of war. It was a worldwide bestseller and brought her world fame. She hoped to influence public opinion by her writings, lectures and total commitment to the cause of pacifism. She strived to convince governments to pursue a policy of peace instead of war as a mean to settle conflicts. Especially during the first Hague Peace Conference in 1899, which she was not allowed to attend, she played an important role by receiving the delegates in her “salon” in the nearby Kurhaus Hotel persuading them to follow the course of peace. The result of the Conference was the creation of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Her finest hour was being present at the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913, a symbol of peace, and the seat of the permanent Court of Arbitration. She died shortly before the outbreak of the first World War. She slipped into oblivion but not quite.

Last year together with Hope May, professor at Central Michigan University, Candice Alihusain started “The Bertha von Suttner Project”. A website dedicated to the study of the life and works of Bertha von Suttner and to promote worldwide the ideas of pacifism, assisting researchers and students with material. Professor May was the second speaker on Bertha von Suttner at the ICC, elaborating on the legacy of Bertha von Suttner, with an emphasis on the educational aspect.

Bertha wanted to influence public opinion by writing and lecturing about the horrors of war by peace education in schools, and in America the response was great. There was a large peace movement, and many initiatives, such as a Peace Day on May 18, the opening day of the first Hague Peace Conference. The unveiling of the statue of Bertha von Suttner in the Peace Palace underlined the connection between Bertha von Suttner, Andrew Carnegie and was a clear sign of The Hague’s commitment to Peace and Justice. The Bertha von Suttner Project is an important step to educate people, fight apathy and ignorance, scepticism and pessimism, and further the responsibility to learn.

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