Welcoming Remarks by NED President Carl Gershman at 2019 NED Democracy Award

The United States Capitol         June 4, 2019

It’s my great pleasure to welcome you to the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award ceremony, which this year is taking place on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.  Our event this evening is intended as a demonstration of solidarity with the continuing struggle for freedom and democracy in China, and also as an act of remembrance of those Chinese citizens, most of them very young, who gave their lives in the hope that China would become a democratic country, respectful of human dignity and the rule of law.  We are here to testify that they did not die in vain.

I want to thank the many donors who have made this event possible and who are listed in your program, among them Eileen Donahoe, Mano Kampouris, Marlene Colucci, Michele Dunne, Bob Tuttle, and George Weigel – all current and former members of the NED board; the John Hurford Foundation,  the Bricklayers and Steelworkers unions, and Ambassador Stanley Kao from the TECRO office of Taiwan.  We’re grateful to them all.

We’re also honored to be joined this evening by many Members of Congress and human rights defenders.   I want to especially welcome Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been so incredibly devoted to the cause of human rights in China and Tibet, as well as Liz Cheney, the House Republican Conference Chair;  Jim McGovern, Mike McCaul, and and Tom Suozzi, who will be presenting the Awards this evening; Chris Smith, who co-chairs with Jim McGovern the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; John Moolenaar and Sheilah Jackson-Lee; former Cong. Frank Wolf who was such a passionate advocate for human rights during more than three decades in the U.S. Congress; and not least former Cong. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, also a great defender of human rights when she was in the Congress and who is now a member of the NED board.

I also want to recognize Wu’er Kaixi, one of the key student leaders of the Tiananmen protests who took part in the abortive negotiations with Li Peng and other Chinese officials, before the Chinese regime chose the path of repression over dialogue.   [and Rabiya Kadeer, an exiled Uyghur prisoner of conscience who has fought to bring the world’s attention to the terrible crimes being committed against her people].

Finally, you’ll see on the screens around the room photographs from the mass candlelight vigil for the Tiananmen massacre that was just attended by 180,000 people in Hong Kong.  We see our event as linked to theirs.

The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre takes place at a moment when Americans and others around the world have come to the realization that China’s dramatic economic growth has not produced a more liberal and open country, as so many people had hoped that it would, but rather a more closed and increasingly repressive authoritarian state that poses a growing danger to democracy in the world.

The late Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo foresaw this danger and warned about it, for which he paid a very heavy price.  His message to us was that it is in the vital interest of all democratic countries and freedom-loving people to rescue “the world’s largest hostage population from enslavement.”  

Within that hostage population, no groups are more threatened than those represented here this evening by our three awardees – the Tibetan and Uyghur peoples, who are victims of what the Dalai has called “cultural genocide,” and religious believers among the Han majority, especially the House Church movement and the rural Christian underground.

The fact that each of these groups faces a common existential threat to its culture, language, identity, and faith reveals what is the central feature of the Chinese state – that it sees anything it cannot control as a threat to its power.

Such a system is inherently insecure and unstable, which calls to mind Ronald Reagan’s statement in his Westminster Address that the innate human desire for freedom will leave such a closed and oppressive system “on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”  

As difficult as conditions are today, we must never forget what Liu Xiaobo said in the closing statement at his trial – that “China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme.”

Since 1991, the NED has given as its Democracy Award a replica of The Goddess of Democracy, the 33 ft statue that was unveiled in Tiananmen Square a few days before June 4 to shouts of “Long live democracy!”  The replica is the work of sculptor Tom Marsh, who is with us this evening. The statue was destroyed when the Chinese tanks attacked the protestors on June 4, but its image lives on, and it has since become a symbol of the universality of the democratic idea.  Resembling our own Statue of Liberty, it affirms that democracy is an idea that transcends cultural differences, and it repudiates the notion that China and the United States are at odds because of a clash of civilizations.

The clash is not one of tradition, religion, or culture.  It is about the values of freedom and human dignity. Speaker Pelosi, whom we will hear from in a moment and who has participated in nine Democracy Award events, has presented the Goddess to four Chinese activists since 1993 – to the labor activist Han Dongfang, to the intellectual dissidents Wang Dan and Wei Jingsheng, and in absentia to the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre.  

All of them exemplify universal democratic values, as do our awardees this evening.  Our country was founded upon these values, which is why it is so appropriate to present – in our nation’s Capitol – the Goddess of Democracy to freedom fighters from Tibet, East Turkestan, and China.

It is now my honor to invite Andy Card, the Chairman of the NED board and a great democrat with a small “d,” to introduce Speaker Nancy Pelosi and to manage the rest of this evening’s program.