Vin Weber’s Presentation of NED’s Democracy Service Medal to Václav Havel


Mr. Havel, will you please come forward? I’d also like to ask our dissident friends to join me here on the podium.

The Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy created its Democracy Service Medal to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world.

The medallion we are about to present you was first awarded eight years ago to the former Polish President and founder of the Solidarity trade union movement Lech Walesa and former AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the roundtable agreement that led to the peaceful transition to democracy in Poland.

It has since been presented to a select group of individuals who have demonstrated, through personal commitment, their dedication to the advancement of freedom, human rights, and democracy.

As many in this room are well aware, this year marks the 30th anniversary of Charter 77, the dissident movement you helped bring into being that was instrumental in setting the stage for democracy in your native Czechoslovakia.

But Charter 77 was far more than a movement of a single country, indeed, it has served as an inspiration to dissidents throughout the world, such as those we have heard from so eloquently tonight and who are joining me here at this time.

In your writings you have emphasized the fragility of democracy, noting that it is a never ending challenge, and you have cautioned us that effective democracy requires critical examination. At the same time, you have taught us that the ideas of human rights, civil society, and the free market carry with them the potential seeds of our salvation.

And while you have warned us against regarding democracy as something given, finished, and complete that, in your words, “can be exported like cars or television sets,” you have also pointed out that [and I quote] ” it is both a moral responsibility, and in the vital interests of everyone who lives in democratic or free conditions not to be indifferent to the fate of people who do not enjoy the same good fortune, and to offer a wide spectrum of help to those who have the courage, even in un-free conditions, to behave freely and, under the rule of lies, to serve truth.”

In this single phrase, sir, you have captured the philosophy that guides our work at NED.

– For your courage in facing down totalitarian oppression and speaking out against it on behalf of others;

– For your wisdom in creating an enduring body of literature ranging from the imaginative realm of drama to the organizational and political work of promoting democracy and human rights;

– And for your unique sense of solidarity that has bound you to dissident movements the world over;

The National Endowment for Democracy is proud and honored to present you with its Democracy Service Medal.