Schedule/Location Change, National Endowment for Democracy to Honor Russian Democracy Activists

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) will present its Annual Democracy Award to the leaders of four of Russia’s most outstanding nongovernmental groups that are working to advance and preserve democratic reforms in that country. The time and format and location of the ceremony have been changed so they will not conflict with events surrounding the mourning of President Ronald Reagan. The Democracy Award presentation will now take place in conjunction with a roundtable discussion to be held Wednesday, June 9, 2004 in room 216 of the Hart Senate Building from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

The ceremony and panel will be a fitting tribute to President Reagan, who 22 years ago today proposed the creation of an international democracy promotion institution, which became the NED, in his now famous speech at Westminster Palace, in which he also predicted the demise of Soviet communism. Reagan’s most famous speech calling for Soviet leader Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall was also made 17 years ago this week, on June 12, 1987. This year’s Democracy Award honorees, most of whom were Soviet dissidents, are now calling attention to threats to human rights, democracy and individual freedoms in today’s Russia.

The recipients of the 2004 Democracy Award are:

  • Ludmilla Alekseeva, a founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group that survived persecution under communism and has reemerged today, under her leadership, as Russia’s leading human rights organization;
  • Arseny Roginsky, the Chairman of the International Memorial Society that protects refugees and victims of political persecution in Chechnya and other zones of armed conflict in Russia, and also commemorates the millions who perished under Stalinism;
  • Aleksei Simonov, the President of the Glasnost Defense Foundation, the principal Russian organization that defends freedom of the press, trains journalists to work in war zones and protects their rights; and
  • Mara Polyakova, the Director of the Independent Council for Legal Expertise, which mobilizes the best legal minds in the country to review and analyze legislation affecting basic rights and provides legal assistance in defense of these rights.

A roundtable discussion on, “Prospects for Democracy and Human Rights in Russia” will precede the award presentation beginning at 3:30 p.m. The discussion will be moderated by Librarian of Congress James Billington, with presentations by Russian Human Rights Activist and widow of Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner and Russia expert Michael McFaul. Commentators at the roundtable include U.S. Senator John McCain (R. -AZ), Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl, and Russia expert Stephen Sestanovich.

Commenting on the choice to honor the Russian activists, NED President Carl Gershman said, “More than a decade after the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Russia is at a crossroads. Either it can move forward toward democracy, economic prosperity, and the rule of law; or it can move backward toward state domination of society and the economy, restrictions on basic freedoms, corruption and autocracy. These groups are in the vanguard of those working to make sure that democracy and freedom are Russia’s future and they deserve our utmost support.”

For more information contact Jane Riley Jacobsen at (202) 293-9072 or