Remarks by Dr. Judy Shelton
Vice Chairman, NED
Library of Congress
Thank you, James Billington, our distinguished Librarian of Congress, for those warm words of welcome. And what a marvelous privilege to be here this morning in the world’s largest library, our nation’s oldest cultural institution – an institution dedicated to preserving a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.
It is my pleasure, as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, to likewise welcome you all for this very special presentation today. Our Chairman, Richard Gephardt, was unable to be here, to his great regret, as he would have loved to greet our guest of honor, with whom he’s had the opportunity to meet on several occasions during his tenure as Majority Leader, and Minority Leader, of the U.S. House of Representatives. Chairman Gephardt has long been a powerful voice for fairness, justice, and tolerance. He is committed to the belief that basic human rights are not a mere cultural preference, but rather the reflection of universal aspirations toward the attainment of individual dignity.
The National Endowment for Democracy was founded in 1983, and since then, the Endowment has supported the work of democrats throughout the world. That’s with a small “d”…. The Endowment is absolutely bipartisan; truly bipartisan. Our funding comes from the American citizenry, and is provided to us through the U.S. Congress, for which we are most grateful. Our grants program today supports over 1200 projects annually covering a full range of activities related to democratic development and the establishment of democratic institutions.
I am proud to report that “NED” – the acronym by which we are known – has supported the democratic aspirations of the Tibetan people for more than 20 years. Our projects have been related to building democratic awareness and institutions on the part of those in exile – and to increase meaningful interaction between Tibetans and Chinese.
In short, it is NED’s mission – worldwide – to help people who embrace democratic values, who are peaceful advocates for fundamental human rights, and who share a common desire to live in a world that is free and democratic..
The Democracy Service Medal was created by the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world. It was first presented in April 1999 on the Tenth Anniversary of the Roundtable Agreement that led to Poland’s peaceful transition to democracy.
The medallion is made of cast bronze, the engraving on it reads simply, “For Service in the Cause of Democracy.” It was awarded to Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity Trade Union movement who became President of Poland – and to Lane Kirkland, the former AFL-CIO President, who was also a principal founder of the National Endowment for Democracy.
The medal has since been awarded to a very select few of exemplary individuals, here and abroad, who have demonstrated their dedication to the advancement of freedom, and human rights – and to the expansion of democratic institutions such as freedom of the press; freedom of assembly; honest and open elections; rule of law.
And now, before proceeding to the presentation of the medal to our honored guest, I would like to take a few moments to recognize some people in our audience today and to express our thanks, our deep thanks, to the Hurford Foundation for sponsoring this event. We are honored to have with us the Foundation’s president, Robert Miller, who is also a member of NED’s Board of Directors and an officer. And we would like to say thanks, too, to Jayne Kurzman, who serves with Bob on the Hurford Foundation’s Board. Will both of you please stand and be recognized?
I would also like to recognize Will Taft, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Freedom House (if he would please stand). Will Taft is a man who has been at the center of U.S. decisionmaking, and he’s a principled advocate for freedom. For the past two days, Freedom House has been co-sponsoring a human rights summit together with the organization, Human Rights First, chaired by William Zabel (please stand.) And also with us today are Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, and Elisa Massimino, the President and CEO of Human Rights First. In fact, we offer a warm welcome to the human rihts defenders from around the world who have gathered for that summit and who honor us with their presence today.
I would also like to recognize Allen Weinstein, the distinguished former Archivist of the United States (if he will stand, please.) Allen Weinstein has done so much to ensure free and fair elections in the Philippines, in Central America, and throughout the world – helping struggling democracies to meet the standards of electoral integrity. And he played an important role in the founding of NED.
Paula Dobriansky…a remarkable woman (please stand). Paula was the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs from 2001 to 2009, during which time she was also Special Coordinator for Tibet. Paula Dobriansky is the recipient of the State Department’s highest honor – the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Medal. And we’re proud to note that Paula served as Vice-Chair of the NED Board. Thank you so much.
Let me mention, too, that Will Taft’s late wife, Julia, was known for her outstanding work on issues related to refugees and disaster relief. She served as the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibet. And she was a highly-valued member of NED’s Board of Directors from 1994 to 1998.
And finally, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to recognize someone who…well, he’s instantly recognizable to millions…the esteemed actor Richard Gere (please stand). Who also happens to be one of the most loyal and influential activists dedicated to the well-being of the Tibetan people. Richard Gere chairs the International Campaign for Tibet, an organization that works tirelessly to promote human rights and democratic freedoms for the people of Tibet. A well-known humanitarian, Richard Gere is a poignant speaker on behalf of human rights, cultural preservation, and helping disadvantaged communities worldwide. Wonderful to have you here with us today and we appreciate working closely with our good friends at the ICT in organizing this event.
There are so many accomplished and truly distinguished guests in our audience today – it’s an embarrassment of riches – and I hope you will forgive me for not being able to properly acknowledge your presence. But we have a very special purpose before us today.
And we now proceed to the presentation of the Democracy Service Medal to our most honored guest, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama – who has very kindly consented to take written questions after the awarding of the medal and foling his initial comments.
The President of the National Endowment for Democracy – Carl Gershman – will offer the democracy tribute. And it’s very fitting that he do so. For under Carl’s leadership, NED has grown into the premier democracy promotion organization in the world.
Carl Gershman is the epitome of a grass-roots democracy activist on a global scale – quite literally. He is one of the founders of the World Movement for Democracy and is himself a past recipient of the Light of Truth Award presented by the International Campaign for Tibet. In accepting that award, five years ago, Carl made this observation, and I quote:
“There has sometimes been a tendency to forget that aiding democracy is fundamentally a moral vocation, a calling that involves helping people who are fighting for freedom and the right to fulfil their potential as human beings. Our connection with the Tibetan movement, and through it with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the values he defends and embodies, helps remind us of who we are, what we’re all about, and why we do what we do.”
Anyone who knows Carl Gershman knows that he does what he does out of deep compassion, steadfast commitment – and an innate sense of justice. Carl, if you would please come to the podium now to make the award.
Conclusion of the Event
Your Holiness, we thank you for your wonderful and enlightening comments. We’re all very grateful that you chose to be here with us this morning. And we thank you for your willingness to take questions from our audience. If you will permit, I will read the first one and ask for your response, please.
I very much regret to say, that, due to the fact that His Holiness has a tight travel schedule he must adhere to, we cannot ask any additional questions. We thank you so much for your generous time spent here. What a privilege it’s been, amazing. Reading your wonderful book, The Art of Happiness, many years ago…like many of you, I’m sure, I never dreamed I would get to hear you in person. But I remember what you stated in that book: That love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness. You’re given us a great deal of happiness here today, and we thank you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re going to let the Dalai Lama’s entourage exit first, so if you would please stay in your seats. As a special gift to each one of you, our partners at the International Campaign for Tibet have arranged to give all those present today a beautiful calendar with exquisite photographs. Let me take this opportunity to thank Dr. Billington and his staff here at the Library of Congress for their warm hospitality. It’s been delightful. I understand, too, that the Library has arranged to display some of its extraordinary Tibetan collection down the hall, so in a few moments (and thank you again for waiting) you’ll have the opportunity to view those treasures on your way out.
Thank you all. Good afternoon.