Remarks by Carl Gershman at the Foreign Policy Association 95th Anniversary Dinner, Including Tribute to Bob Miller

I’m honored to have been invited to present Bob Miller, on behalf of the Foreign Policy Association, with this tribute.  Bob served nine years on the Board of the National Endowment for Democracy, and it was in that context that I got to know and become friends with him.  I know how much Bob valued his service on the NED Board, and I want to use the opportunity of introducing and honoring Bob tonight to say a brief word about NED – I know that Bob would like me to do that – and about the enormous contribution that he made, both to our work and to the development of NED as a global institution.

For those who don’t know much about the National Endowment for Democracy, it is a congressionally-funded but private grant-making institution that has the mission of supporting people around the world who are struggling for freedom and working to build successful democratic societies.  We carry out this mission primarily by making grants with congressionally appropriated funds to NGOs in almost a hundred countries, and also by supporting the work of four U.S. institutes – representing our two political parties as well as our labor movement and business community — that provide training and assistance in their respective sectors.

John Hurford, who was a colleague of Bob’s, joined the NED Board some two decades ago and took it upon himself to encourage us to undertake activities, in addition to our grant-making, that would strengthen the bonds linking activists around the world to each other.  He also helped us begin to raise independent resources – meaning non-US Government funds — to support those activities.

Working with John, the NED created a global network of democracy activists and thinkers called the World Movement for Democracy, which held its founding Assembly in New Delhi in 1999.  We were really only getting started in that work when John suddenly — and tragically — died the following year at the age of 62.  
It was then that I met Bob.  It was clear from the very start that Bob shared John’s commitment to the values and goals of NED, and that he wanted to carry on what John had started.  He has done that and much more.

Working with Bob and the Hurford Foundation, we established as part of the World Movement’s biennial world assembly – which is attended by more than 500 democracy activists from all over the world – the John B. Hurford Memorial Dinner, at which Democracy Courage Tributes are presented to civil-society leaders and movements that have demonstrated exceptional courage in their work and that have struggled for the most part outside the spotlight of world attention.  The last two assemblies – held in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Lima, Peru — have honored the human rights movement in Syria, the student movement in Venezuela, the women’s movement in Iran, the human rights defenders in the violent North Caucasus region of Russia, the pro-democracy movement in Cuba, the human rights defenders in Bahrain, and the advocates for the rights of sexual minorities worldwide.  Bob has opened each of these dinners with eloquent remarks expressing his own and the foundation’s support for the aspirations of the awardees and for the democratic ideals of the World Movement and of all of the assembled activists.

Bob didn’t stop there.  At the  Fifth Assembly held five years ago in Kyiv, Bob came up to me quite concerned about what he felt was a deficit of young people at the meeting.   As a result, the World Movement established an essay contest in which over 500 young people all over the world competed for the privilege of attending the next Assembly by writing short essays on the state of democracy in their countries and what they could do to strengthen it.  Bob introduced each of the fifteen regional winners and presented awards to the two global winners, one from Egypt and the other from Ukraine. 

For the next Assembly there was a “Snapshot of Democracy” contest in which thousands of young people participated in submitting, selecting, and voting on photographs capturing images of democracy in their respective countries and communities.  One result of all this work was the creation of the World Youth Movement for Democracy that connects over 400 leading young democracy activists around the world.  To strengthen this youth wing of the World Movement, the Hurford Foundation, under Bob’s leadership, has supported Hurford Youth Fellows from Ethiopia, Liberia, Pakistan and El Salvador to spend four months in Washington at the World Movement secretariat expanding their knowledge of democracy and preparing to play a leadership role in their movements.

One of the young people who worked on this initiative with Bob explained to me how passionate Bob is about “empowering young people in democracy movements and ensuring that they can play a leadership role.  There have been countless occasions,” he added, “when Bob has sat down with young activists to listen to their stories, encourage them, and sometimes have drinks with them for hours and hours.” Editorial comment: Bob has always remained sober at these events.  This young person went on: “His very attentive, friendly, and approachable personality has given young activists the feeling that he genuinely believes in the value that the dynamic energy of young people can bring to the cause of democracy.”

Bob has done much more than that at the NED, playing an active role on our Budget and Audit Committee and also taking the lead in the creation of the New York Democracy Forum, which is a program of lectures and dinners that NED has undertaken jointly with the Foreign Policy Association.  Participants in the Forum have included John Whitehead, who is with us tonight and who first proposed that NED and the FPA establish this partnership; Henry Kissinger, the late Richard Holbrooke, the former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Dick Gephardt, Mary Robinson, and state presidents from Chile, Mongolia, and Kyrgyzstan.

Those who know Bob should not be misled by his droll sense of humor and wry insights.  Beneath the surface of this New York sophisticate, one will find an almost Lincolnesque commitment to democracy and human equality. It says a lot about what is really meaningful to Bob that when he retired from the NED Board after completing the maximum nine years of service – I should note how delighted we are that Jayne Kurzman, who is also with us tonight, was elected to fill Bob’s seat – Bob described his service on the Board “as among the most fulfilling experiences of my lifetime.”  He’s not a neocon – he likes Maureen Dowd too much for that — but he’s definitely an American exceptionalist with a passion for universal human freedom.

And so it’s with great pleasure that I now present the Foreign Policy Association’s Medal to my dear friend, Bob Miller.