On November 14, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) commemorated 40 years of supporting freedom around the world with an inspiring evening and special presentation of the Democracy Awards and Democracy Service Medals.
“We gather tonight to recognize creative and courageous honorees with our Democracy Awards and Democracy Service Medals; to pay tribute to those who have contributed to NED’s legacy; and to commit to work together in common cause in support of democratic renewal,” said NED President and Chief Executive Officer Damon Wilson.
Keynote speaker Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield congratulated NED on four decades of work, reflected on her time as a NED Board member, and reiterated the importance of upholding universal human rights. “We must once again ask ourselves; do we look the other way or look authoritarians squarely in the eye?” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. “Do we retreat to our corners, or do we put aside political differences and work together to advance democratic values? Do we lose hope, or do we Inspire it?”
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia spoke about the need to continue this fight for freedom, no matter the odds. “The bottom line is that democracies and securing freedoms need constant care and defense,” said Kallas. “If we wish to continue to live free, we must show a willingness to protect it.”
NED’s 2023 Democracy Awards represented the breadth of the work of NED’s partners standing up for a better, more democratic future. NED honored Afghan independent media, NetFreedom Pioneers, the women of Iran, and individuals imprisoned or killed for their democratic activism. [Learn more about the Democracy Awards and past honorees.]
“This recognition holds a special significance for us,” said Amu TV journalist Nazia Hashimyar, who accepted the Democracy Award on behalf of Afghan independent media. “It is a powerful reminder to us journalists that our voices are vital and that our contributions to the fabric of Afghan society are priceless.”
Nicolas Opiyo, head of Chapter Four Uganda, jointly accepted the Democracy Award for Individual Courage on behalf of individuals imprisoned or killed with Venerable Golog Jigme, a Tibetan activist. “We dedicate this award to all activists across the world who are working every single day to ensure a more just society,” Opiyo said. “We know that even though this work is tough, many times rough, and comes at great personal cost, that we are on the right path of history.”
The event included the presentation of NED’s Democracy Service Medal to Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega, O.C.D. of Nicaragua for his work for religious freedom, and recognition of President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who received the medal in July 2023 for her leadership safeguarding democracy. [Read more about the Democracy Service Medal.]
The event concluded with a special tribute to the citizens of Ukraine. Anna Bondarenko, head of Ukrainian Volunteer Service and one of the 2022 Democracy Award honorees, gave an update on her effort and resolve to keep working for freedom one year later. She was joined by Ukrainian singer and Eurovision winner, Jamala.
“Our common goal is a victory, but not only on a battlefield, but also in building a nation where people can breathe free, a nation that is a beacon for democracy, for justice, and for resilience for the entire world,” said Bondarenko. “Thank you so much for your ongoing support, for your efforts, and together let us continue to go on this journey to protect to strengthen and to fight for democracy.”