Full Transcript: 2021 Distinguished Leadership Awards honor bold visionaries in challenging times

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FREDERICK KEMPE: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight for the Atlantic Council’s 2021 Distinguished Leadership Awards, which is at the same time our sixtieth-anniversary celebration. Welcome also to the Andrew Mellon Auditorium for the Atlantic Council’s first in-person awards dinner in more than two years.

To kick things off this evening, I’d like to turn over the floor to our chairman, John F.W. Rogers, who is joining us remotely this evening. He’ll explain that. Mr. Chairman, John, the floor is yours.

JOHN F.W. ROGERS: Good evening. Ladies and gentlemen, dignitaries, and distinguished honorees, as chairman of the Atlantic Council it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Distinguished Leadership Awards. I wish that I could be there with you, but a succession of events—not the least of which has been air transportation—have conspired to keep me from arriving on time.

But please do not let my absence lessen the sincerity of my very best wishes to our honorees and the warmest welcome to the Andrew Mellon Auditorium. It was in this very room that President Truman hosted the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, just four short years after the culmination of the Second World War. As the Atlantic community came together at this historic inflection point, it became evident that a clear, coherent, and more effective voice was needed to address the challenges that lie ahead.

It was against this backdrop that the Atlantic Council was founded in 1961, bringing together the transatlantic community to navigate times of crisis. Sixty years later, the transatlantic spirit lives on, stronger, certainly, more global than ever before.

As we gather on the eve of Veterans Day, I want to offer a special salute to our nation’s armed forces who have dedicated their lives to this great country so that we may live in freedom and prosperity and in the enduring gratitude that we have for the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And on behalf of the entire Atlantic Council community, we thank you.

I would like to offer a salute to the previous Atlantic Council chairmen who have come before me, including General James L. Jones, Governor Jon Huntsman, Secretary Chuck Hagel, and General Brent Scowcroft, whom we lost in August [2020] at the age of ninety-five. I deeply appreciate their immense contributions to the Atlantic Council.

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic over the past two years, this evening’s honorees have demonstrated their own extraordinary approach to global leadership, which have united communities around the world at a time when it is needed most. And thanks to their vision, the strength of their character, and their commitment to a more secure future, we honor Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission; Dr. Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer; Professor Sahin and Dr. Türeci, the co-founders of BioNTech; and Dua Lipa, a Grammy Award-winning artist and activist. Congratulations once again.

And before I close, I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to the entire Atlantic Council staff, the board of directors, and the International Advisory Board for making tonight and so much more possible. I am deeply proud to work with each of you and thank you and enjoy the evening.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you also to Adrienne Arsht, the executive vice chair of the board, who is here, of course, this evening, and to Dave McCormick. A little bit of applause for Adrienne, I heard there. And to Dave McCormick, the chair of our International Advisory Board. We’re so happy to have you here as well, Dave. And it really does make me so happy to see you all.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, please turn your attention and you’ll see—you’ll hear from Dave and you’ll hear from me a little bit later on various things this evening. With that, ladies and gentlemen, please turn your attention to the screens as we begin tonight’s Distinguished Leadership Awards.

PHIL MURPHY: Good evening, everybody. It is an incredible honor to be a part of tonight’s event and I must begin by congratulating the Atlantic Council on achieving its sixtieth anniversary.

Many of our European colleagues refer to the United States as the place across the pond from Europe, but the work of the Atlantic Council has helped shrink the figurative size of an ocean and, with it, the distances between our continents, our governments, and our people. So I want to give John Rogers—a dear friend—and the distinguished board a big shoutout, and Fred Kempe and the incredible staff. Congratulations on your sixtieth.

Now onto the task at hand. By the way, very rare for me, even having lived in Germany, that the Scorpions are playing before I got out here. And I’m opening for both Ursula von der Leyen and Dua Lipa. So I want to—I’ve got to pinch myself here. I salute each of tonight’s outstanding awardees and I am so privileged to introduce the recipient of this year’s award for Distinguished International Leadership, someone who, from our very first moments when I served as the United States ambassador in Germany, my wife, Tammy, who’s with me tonight—we bonded with our honoree tonight instantly and became dear friends. And she’s someone with whom I have found so much both professional and personal common ground. For those of us who have dedicated parts of or all of our careers in service to the preservation and strengthening of the transatlantic partnership, Ursula von der Leyen needs no introduction, but given that this is an awards ceremony and I’m expected to fill up three minutes of the program, she’s going to get one.

The thirteenth president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen counts ancestors across generations in public service—and, by the way, on both sides of the Atlantic—and she is the daughter of an esteemed German civil servant who also served as minister president of Lower Saxony in Germany. That is, for those of you who don’t know the German system, the equivalent of an American governor, and therefore, I know that Ursula also understands the excitement and relief after a successful governor’s reelection. Just making sure you’re paying attention out there.

One could rightfully say that Ursula was born to lead, and certainly, that would be correct. But you could also be incorrect in that assertion, given all that she has done herself throughout her own distinguished career in public service. A doctor and public-health expert by profession, she’s had an even larger impact on our world by answering the calling of public service. Across a distinguished fourteen years in the Cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel, another extraordinary champion of the transatlantic partnership, Ursula compiled a unique portfolio that has directly improved the lives of literally tens and tens of millions of German citizens—minister of family affairs and youth, minister of labor and social affairs, minister of defense. But now, as the president of the European Commission, her work is impacting hundreds of millions of European lives and, in turn, billions of lives around the world. Her tenure has also coincided with one of the most challenging periods in our long transatlantic partnership, even beyond the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. But President von der Leyen’s unwavering commitment to strong US-European relations is ensuring that we are not letting anything as wide as an ocean keep us from achieving our shared goals.

So perhaps leadership is in Ursula von der Leyen’s DNA after all, or as my friend Albert Bourla and the other medical leadership, outstanding leaders here tonight might say, it’s in her mRNA. Either way, the seventy-five-year economic and security partnership between the United States and Europe is returning to full strength, and so much of this is due to one person in particular: Liebe Ursula, meine damen und herren, ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to present the Atlantic Council’s 2021 Distinguished International Leadership Award to my dear friend, President Ursula von der Leyen.

PRESIDENT URSULA VON DER LEYEN: … Thank you very much. Thank you, Phil, for your kind words.

And I must say, ladies and gentlemen, I feel incredibly honored by this award. The fact that the Atlantic Council is awarding me, as a European and transatlantic citizen, means so much to me. This is exactly how I feel: A European and a transatlantic citizen.

My great-grandmother was born here in the United States in 1883. When she was nineteen years old, she married a German merchant, my great grandfather, and she moved to Bremen—that is a city in northern Germany—and spent there the rest of her life.

My father —and thank you, Phil, for mentioning him—was fifteen years old when World War II ended. He saw all the atrocities and horrors of war as a boy, but then he also made the overwhelming experience of liberation thanks to the United States and their allies. And after the war, he was one of the first German students awarded a Fulbright US scholarship. He studied at Cornell University, and for him, a completely new world opened up through the generosity and the foresight of a US politician. He never forgot this great experience throughout his life, and he passed on the typical American “why not” and “can do” spirit to his children.

And, my dear friends, around about forty-five years later I fell in love with the United States during the years I spent as [a] trailing spouse in Stanford. My husband was a postdoc and later a faculty member at the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Stanford, headed at that time by Dr. Victor Dzau, who is with us tonight. So we moved to California with our at that time three children.

You must know that in Germany in the early 1990s—in the early 1990s, it wasn’t that common to be a mother while having a professional career too. Then coming to the United States felt like a breath of fresh air for me. No one questioned my choice of being a working mom. Everyone expected both me and my husband to work and take care of the kids. I felt supported and empowered like never before. Two more children were born. And thus, since then, my husband and I are proud parents of two American citizens.

The story of the transatlantic ties is made of millions of stories like mine, but most importantly it’s made of shared values and interests between the two sides of the ocean. And this was true when the Atlantic Council was created exactly sixty years ago and it is still true today, in an entirely different world compared to the era of the Cold War. Yes, the European Union and the United States are still natural partners. And even if recently we may have disagreed on some difficult choices, our interests and values converge on all of the most crucial issues of our times. For example: Shaping the economy and the recovery while fighting climate change; rewriting modern rules for the global economy; and protecting our democracies.

And I would like to briefly address these three issues tonight because all of them—on all of them, the United States and the European Union are on the same side of the table and surely on the same side of history.

First, on a green recovery, what are the European Union’s and the United States’ interests? We both want to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius while at the same time relaunching the economy both domestically and around the world. And this means on one hand decarbonizing our economies, investing in green innovation and clean technologies, and in high-quality infrastructure at home; and on the other hand, it means supporting developing countries to leapfrog to a carbon-neutral future. And as President Biden and I demonstrated at the COP26 in Glasgow last week, the European Union and the United States are fully aligned on this. We initiated together [the] Global Methane Pledge and got more than one hundred countries to join. We are working on a circular economy that gives back more to nature than it takes. We are both working on a pilot with South Africa to help them close their coal plants and create new green jobs instead. And at the G20 summit in Rome, we agreed not only to pause our disputes on steel and aluminum but to join our efforts to decarbonize these two crucial industries. The United States and the European Union are exactly where they should be: Showing global leadership to [ensure] nothing less than the survival of our planet at stake.

Second, on rewriting modern rules for the global economy, the challenge we face here is clear. Fast technological change and shifting economic forces need a modern rulebook and effective international action. Take tech policy. Both the European Union and the United States want to become less dependent on international supply chains for critical technologies. We can help each other to diversify and improve resilience.

For example, on critical issues like semiconductors, here at the Atlantic Council you have recently argued that it is time for transatlantic digital policy. Well, with the EU-US Trade and Technology Council we are taking crucial steps in absolutely the right direction.

And I imagine us cooperating also on the rules for digital platforms. We have a convergent vision on how digital platforms should work in open societies and open economies.

And then let me touch on building the networks we need for the global economy. We in the European Union are about to present a new strategy to connect the world. We call it Global Gateway. Like President Biden’s Build Back Better for the World, Global Gateway will seek to be a multiplier for high-standard investment in infrastructure around the world. Our initiatives will help build much-needed networks for transport, energy, trade, data, and people while insisting on the highest environmental and labor standards, and on financial transparency. It will forge links, not create dependencies. And when the European Union and the United States come together, we have the power to shape the world of tomorrow from 6G to green finance.

And therefore, finally, this year has reminded us that we must stand up for democracy every day. Democracy is being challenged from both inside and outside. Authoritarian regimes try to influence the outcomes of our democratic elections. In the United States, hundreds of people attacked the Capitol, the heart of your democracy. In the European Union, some are questioning basic democratic principles upon which our union is built. It is time again to stand up for the values that define our democracies. We believe in the freedom of citizens with both rights and responsibilities. We believe in the rule of law. Every human being is equal before the law. We believe in the dignity of every person, and thus fundamental rights. It is again time to speak up for our democracies.

I know we can count on the Atlantic Council for this. And I want to thank you not just for this award, but for keeping alive the flame of transatlantic cooperation towards a new day in our deep friendship. Thank you so much.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accepted the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Award on November 10, 2021. Photo via Elman Studio/for the Atlantic Council.

[President Ursula von der Leyen receives the award]

PRESIDENT URSULA VON DER LEYEN: Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, I first spoke to Albert Bourla ten months ago. When the pandemic hit the world, Albert decided to take a gamble. Together with President Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, he decided to invest billions on a promising yet untested technology, and this is how the success story of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine started.

A vaccine based on mRNA technology had never been approved before, nor had it been produced on a mass scale. But you, Albert, trusted your work, and we trusted each other. And after you developed your vaccine against COVID-19, you launched mass production immediately without waiting for its approval, a choice that was described as risky and unorthodox. You chose to put billions of dollars at risk, because if you didn’t try, the whole world would pay the price. And by doing so, you and your team might have saved millions of lives.

The first time we met in person, after months of virtual contacts, we were in Puurs in Belgium at Pfizer’s main manufacturing site in Europe. And right there in Puurs, you have achieved what seemed unthinkable: Not only did you deliver on our initial contract —that’s a lot already—no, month after month, you started delivering ahead of schedule. It is also thanks to this that today, three European adults in four are fully vaccinated. But there is more. Pfizer’s European sites are producing vaccines for the whole world. In fact, more than half of the European vaccine production has been exported to the rest of the world, more than 860 million doses of BioNTech-Pfizer to more than 150 countries. This is serving the world, and you can be so proud of that, and we thank you for that.

With this prize, dear Albert, we celebrate your achievements and your entrepreneurial spirit. But we also celebrate your incredible partnership with Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci. You have teamed up as scientists and as fellow human beings, working together for the sake of all humanity. You have added yet another success story to the great history of our transatlantic partnership.

So let me conclude by borrowing a quote from your late mother, dear Albert. During World War II, when the Nazis occupied Greece, your mother narrowly escaped execution. And whenever she told you, Albert, that story, she would conclude, “life is miraculous, nothing is impossible, you can do anything in life.” Indeed, dear Albert, nothing is impossible. Your achievements are the best testimony for your mother’s words.

Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating Dr. Albert Bourla on the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Business Leadership Award.

ALBERT BOURLA: I’m speechless. Thank you, Ursula, for these very kind words. You almost made me cry. I will try to do it later.

Let me start by and also to congratulate you for being a fellow honoree this evening. The European Union is really blessed, blessed that the person leading through the pandemic is not only a strong and effective leader but also someone with a deep background in medicine and in public health. This rare combination of skills has made you an invaluable, invaluable partner in ensuring that both Europe and the world [have] the tools they need in the battle against this virus.

Working together often, as you said, communicating very late when your time would allow, or very early in the morning, we found a way to help protect Europeans across the continent, but just as important, to help ensure that vaccines produced in Europe, as you said, are arriving safely and swiftly to the destinations around the world.

I have greatly enjoyed and valued our collaboration. And I’m grateful that I met you in life, Ursula.

Speaking of enjoyable and valuable collaborations, I also want to congratulate my fellow honorees and very, very, very good friends Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin.

The first time I spoke with Ugur on the phone, it was clear to me that we share the same values, the same urgency about the virus, and the same unwavering belief in our people and our science. I told my wife the same night, Myriam, it was love at first sight with this guy. And later, when I had the opportunity to meet Özlem, I knew instantly that she shared those things as well. Actually, I realized that the common saying, behind every great man there is a great woman, in their case applies to ahead of every great man is a great woman.

The pandemic has taught us that we can accomplish great things when we are united by a common purpose. The virus knows no geographic borders. It does not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, financial condition, or political affiliation, which is a mistake that we greatly make, particularly in this country.

So to defeat it, we must be united. And I can’t think of a better example of this unity than the strong relationship enjoyed by the leaders, the humans, of the two companies. Think about it. One, a Jew from Greece, immigrated to America; the other, a Muslim from Turkey, immigrated to Germany. Some might consider this an unlikely pairing. I consider it a very good fortune.

Our other fellow honoree, Dua Lipa, who I had the pleasure of meeting her today, and it was my dream—I’m going to call my daughter—also understands the power of collaboration. Her recording of “Cold Heart” with Elton John, which some also might consider an unlikely pairing, like me and Ugur—is proof that artists from different genders and different generations can collaborate to create something special.

But, of course, tonight we are honoring Ms. Lipa not only as a great artist, but also for her efforts as the founder of Sunny Hill Foundation, which works to reduce poverty, injustice, and inequities in Kosovo, a country very close to my country in Greece. And so, I want to thank and congratulate her for using her time, talent, and resources to make the world a better place.

I want to thank the Atlantic Council for this honor, which I proudly accept on behalf of Pfizer’s 80,000 talented and purpose-driven colleagues around the world.

As someone born in Europe and now an American citizen—I used to say I’m Greek by birth, American by choice—I have great respect for the work you do not only to foster the transatlantic cooperation, but also to promote our shared values: global engagement, free and fair trade, intellectual property protection, democracy, equity, and justice, to name just a few.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a great example of the power of transatlantic cooperation. In addition to US-based Pfizer and German-based BioNTech collaboration to deliver a breakthrough vaccine in record-breaking time, our manufacturing facilities in Belgium and our manufacturing facilities in the United States are poised to produce three billion doses of the vaccine by the end of this year, in a month and a half, and another four billion at least next year, in 2022.

Private-public partnerships also have been critically important. For example, Pfizer is providing one billion doses of our vaccine—or, our BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine—we are providing to the government at the not-for-profit price so they can, in turn, donate these doses to the poorer countries of the world—one billion doses. And we are working with the EU on not only supply agreements, but also the very important education campaigns to help address vaccine hesitancy not only in the EU, but around the world. These are just a few examples of how transatlantic partners are helping lead the battle against this deadly virus.

Let me close by thanking, of course, my fellow Pfizer colleagues for their innovative and tireless efforts over the past twenty months. Recognizing it will take a combination of treatment and protective measures to bring an end to this pandemic, they continue to follow the science. And I’m proud to say that just last week we announced clinical trial results demonstrating that an antiviral candidate—that hopefully will be approved—prevented approximately nine out of ten hospitalizations in high-risk adult patients. Clearly, news that [has] the potential to be a real game-changer, but in all cases should not be news that will feed vaccine hesitancy. Vaccines are very important.

And lastly, of course, I want to thank my family for their love and support, which brightens my every day, particularly during this pandemic. I had to work there in an office torturing people on the other part of the line—why they are not moving fast and listening [to] my wife cooking in the kitchen next door—and having my daughter… and my son… and of course my lovely wife, Myriam, coming and comforting me when I was really pissed or angry—because we were not moving fast.

And to my fellow Pfizer colleagues that are sitting on those tables, thank you. I love you.

Albert Bourla at the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Awards on November 10, 2021. Photo via Elman Studio/for the Atlantic Council.

DAVID MCCORMICK: Good evening. What a spectacular night to be with you all.

My name’s Dave McCormick, and I’m the chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council. And tonight’s about innovation and tonight’s about inspirational leadership, and the Atlantic Council has a long tradition of honoring and being inspired by military leaders.

There was Brent Scowcroft, who was the two-time chairman, who we lost, sadly, last year—who was the two-time chairman of the Atlantic Council and really, for me, represented the heart and soul of what this place is all about.

And there’s Colin Powell, who we lost last month. Colin Powell was the 2005 award winner of the Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award and an honorary board member. I mean, what a life. What an inspiration. And our respect and condolences go out to Alma and the Powell family.

And in this audience tonight we have three very distinguished military leaders who are also Atlantic Council board members in General Jim Jones, who is [a twice-former] chairman; Curtis Scaparrotti, who was a former Distinguished Leadership Award winner; and Wes Clark, all of whom were former Supreme Allied Commanders in Europe. Thank you guys for being here.

But tonight’s tribute is not about any individual man or woman, and it’s not about any general or admiral. It’s about a group of people to whom we—heroic people to whom we owe our appreciation, our respect, and our honor. The men and women of the armed forces have been at the core of the work of the Atlantic Council for sixty years. And as an Army veteran, it’s such an honor for me to be here tonight to pay tribute to the veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

DAVID MCCORMICK: Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re a veteran, please stand. And ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating our veterans. Thank you. Thank you all.

This is hard for me to say as an Army guy, but as a final special end to my part of the evening, we are going to have a Navy man, Chief Petty Officer Cory Parker, help us with a beautiful rendition. He’s a member of the US Navy Official Chorus. Chief, take it away.

[Dinner break]

FREDERICK KEMPE: … So it was sixty years ago, in July 1961, when Dean Rusk, President Kennedy’s secretary of state, summoned the great and good of American foreign policy to his seventh-floor conference room at Foggy Bottom. The group included the great Dean Acheson, Christian Herter, Mary Pillsbury Lord, Henry Cabot Lodge, and General Lucius Clay, the hero of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift.

Kennedy was the youngest US president in history at age forty-three. He’d been in office only six months, and he was already reeling from the Bay of Pigs crisis and a disastrous Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June. Soviet leader Khrushchev was testing him. Rusk told this group of fifteen that he needed their urgent help. They were members of a disparate array of Atlanticist organizations, and he wanted them to combine forces and rise to the historic challenge.

He told them that the US had lost its nuclear monopoly in its competition with the Soviet Union, that he anticipated a crisis in Berlin by the end of that year. It actually came in August 1961 with the building of the Berlin Wall. I can recommend a really good book about that if you’re interested.

Moscow was spreading its communist ideology and influence across the developing world, [and] Rusk said, and I need your help. It was a defining moment in history, very similar to our time now, when the global tectonic plates were shifting and it was unclear how the world would unfold and it was unclear how America would lead, just like today.

By year’s end, the Atlantic Council was born, with Acheson, Herter, and Lord among its leaders; so September 1961. Exactly six decades later, the Atlantic Council has emerged from the worst pandemic in a century operationally stronger, substantively more vigorous, and financially more robust.

I think that was probably my finance chair, George Lund, applauding the financially more robust one.

That is due to the contributions of so many of you in this room—board members, International Advisory Board members, friends, partners, center directors, and staff. Because of you, the Atlantic Council has never been more robust.

At the same time, the global challenges we face have perhaps never been as complex. We see them in six categories of our work that the board and the staff itself, in retreats, has settled upon.

Number one, we confront a new era of major competition.

Number two—and I was so happy to hear President von der Leyen underscore this—democracies have frayed, autocracies have strengthened, and we must strengthen our democracies.

Thank you. By the way, I’m pretty proud that the number two at the Atlantic Council for the last nine years is now the presidency over the National Endowment [for Democracy]. A hand for Damon Wilson. Thanks, Damon. And you’ll hear from him in a few minutes.

Number three, the global order of rules and institutions that the Atlantic Council founders helped create is in question. It requires reinvigoration.

Number four, rapid technological change must be harnessed for good. Again, President von der Leyen talked about that. And we can do this across the Atlantic as a basis for standards globally.

Number five: We have also greatly expanded our work to take on climate change, mitigation, and adaptation. I was just in Glasgow with the teams from our Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center [and] our Global Energy Center working [on] these issues. This is a new frontier for us.

But most importantly, and throughout our history, we exist to promote constructive US leadership along our partners and allies to ensure that we don’t lose the global gains in peace, democracy, individual rights, and open markets that we achieved in the years, the seventy-plus years, after World War II. We need to build upon that, all that, and that’s what we’re about, particularly about US leadership alongside partners and allies. If there’s anything else you need to remember from this evening is that is our unique selling proposition. And that is why we are all here together understanding the historic imperative of our times now is no less than at the time of our founding, and perhaps even greater.

Within The Atlantic Council, we like to quote the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And you’re not such a small group.

So it’s in that spirit I want to thank just a few people in the room tonight who helped make this possible, and actually so much more possible.

First, I’ll call your attention to our previous Distinguished Leadership [awardees] with us… General Jim Jones, General Curtis Scaparrotti, and Adrienne Arsht.

By the way, I’m very proud that President von der Leyen is here, but I’m also delighted that she met with another former Distinguished Leadership awardee this morning, President Joe Biden. We gave him our award when he was vice president.

Next up are the Atlantic Council leaders who have pushed the organization forward throughout its history, including General Jones, who served as our chairman twice, and Mrs. Wendy Makins—and Wendy, if you could stand up—whose late husband, Christopher Makins, served as president from 1999 to 2005.

Wendy, that I had Christopher’s blessing to succeed him will mean a lot to me the rest of my life. My thanks to both of you.

Finally, I’d like to salute the co-chairs of tonight’s dinner. I’d like to ask those co-chairs in attendance to stand as I read out their names, and it’s a really impressive list but it’s a bit of a long list; again, my finance chair, George Lund, will be very happy that it’s a long list. I’m happy it’s a long list. But please stand and then hold your applause until I’ve gone through the list.

So join me in thanking Robert J. Abernethy; Adrienne Arsht; Majid Al Futtaim represented by Alain Bejjani; Rubicon Founders represented by Adam Boehler; Pfizer represented by Dr. Albert Bourla; Ahmed Charai; SK Group represented tonight by Richard Chin and Erin McGrain; Bank of America represented by Larry Di Rita; Penguin Random House represented by Markus Dohle—and don’t forget—Markus, it’s great to see you as always, and please take your gift bags at the end of the night; you’ll see in the back page of your program, Markus always supports us but he always gives us a couple of really remarkable books, and you won’t want to leave without those; Edelman represented by Richard Edelman—let me also thank Richard Edelman and Edelman for the pro bono help they give us for this dinner and many other things; Dentons represented tonight by Chris Fetzer—let me also thank Dentons for the pro bono work you do for all of our legal issues; Laurel Strategies represented by Alan H. Fleischmann and Dafna Tapiero; Mapa Group represented by Mehmet Nazif Günal; Hunt Consolidated represented by Hunter Hunt—there’s a Texas constituency here; Nicole and Andre Kelleners; Airbus [Americas] is represented by Jeffrey Knittel; Chevron represented by Karen Knutson; George and Kristen Lund; Leonardo DRS, represented by William J. Lynn III; SICPA, represented tonight by Jane Holl Lute and Greg Dunn; William Marron; David McCormick and Dina Powell McCormick; Dr. Alexander V. Mirtchev; Textron, represented by Mary Claire Murphy; Squire Patton Boggs, represented by Edward Newberry; Franco Nushese; Ahmed M. Oren; Thales, represented by Alan Pellegrini; Goldman Sachs, represented, of course, by Atlantic Council Chairman John F.W. Rogers; S&P Global, represented tonight by Darlene Rosenkoetter; BioNTech, represented by our honorees Professor Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci; Ivan Schlager; Olin Wethington; And then, finally, Dr. Guang Yang. Thank you so much for your support for this dinner.

Two other things I want to say before we move on.

One of them is a special thank you to the EU Delegation and Stavros Lambrinidis, the ambassador. It’s just been such a pleasure working with you elevating US-EU issues. This is one of our most important partnerships, and I really want to salute the director of our Europe Center, Ben Haddad, who’s just been a groundbreaker in this area as well.

We decided not to do an in memoriam for Colin Powell tonight. He was a dear friend. He was an advisor to me. I think it was lovely what Dave McCormick said. And he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to do anything to celebrate him.

I do want to share with you that any time we had an awardee—Placido Domingo, who do you want to introduce you? Colin Powell. Prince Harry, who do you want to introduce you? Colin Powell. Joe Dunford, who do you want to introduce you? Colin Powell. This man was loved, he was full of laughter, he was full of insights, full of friendship, and we miss him.

I’m going to ask two other people to stand. We launched the Atlantic Council’s first documentary this week, “Do Seagulls Migrate?” and it was about four Syrian refugee stories in Turkey. These were four Syrian women refugees who succeeded, were entrepreneurs. We know that wasn’t the general story, but we wanted to inspire people with their story. One of them is here tonight. Her name is Reem—like all great, famous people, one name like Madonna, Reem, and she’s in a dress that she designed. By the way, she’s a fashion designer who also designed the dress for an Oscar awardee from Syria… Reem, thank you for your courage. Thanks for your leadership.

What Syria experienced, no country should experience. What you experienced as a refugee, Reem, and then to rise above it, and then to come with your really inspiring attitude, thank you. And don’t miss the documentary. It’s really remarkable.

Finally—and this is the last and then we’ll move on to the next segment of tonight’s dinner—I really hope you’ll join me in applause. And I would like all members of our staff, center and program directors of staff—some of them are in the wings. You’re not going to see them. Maybe you can thank them on the way out. But if you could all stand so that we can applaud you.

Anyone who’s run any organization, whether it’s a Fortune 100/500 company or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, knows that in COVID-19 you would either become more relevant or less relevant. I think we’ve become more relevant, and it’s because of the work of this incredible team. Thank you very much.

VICTOR J. DZAU: Good evening. Good evening.

Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be with you at Atlantic Council’s sixtieth anniversary Distinguished Leadership Awards. First and foremost, I want to say how delighted I am to be joining you in person tonight after so many months of physical isolation and distancing.

Now, the distinguished scientists, Professor Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, both of whom I have the pleasure of introducing tonight, have much to do with why we can all get together tonight. And I’m so grateful.

Before I do that, I would like to congratulate the previous two awardees, my friend, Ursula von der Leyen, and Albert Bourla. They are people that I admire greatly. So thank you very much.

Now, it is a great honor to be presenting this award to two leaders who made the most impactful contribution in the global fight against COVID-19. I cannot think of any other individual who, through incredible foresight, scientific excellence, hard work, and risk-taking, have had such a beneficial effect on every one of us. Professor Sahin and Dr. Türeci are co-founders of BioNTech, the company that developed, in partnership with Pfizer, the world’s first safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

So earlier tonight, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla was honored. And their transatlantic partnership has played a pivotal role in the global response to COVID-19, saving millions of lives.

Ugur and [Özlem] met at Saarland University in Germany on a hospital cancer ward. They were driven by their passion to care for those who were suffering, and they co-founded the company in 2001 called Ganymed, focusing on developing antibody therapies for cancer.

BioNTech was their second company, which aimed to develop cancer treatments. But they leveraged a number of platforms, including the mRNA platform. Shortly after the emergence of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in January 2020, they had this incredible foresight to immediately pivot all their focus to creating an mRNA vaccine to target SARS-CoV-2. You know, within two months they had developed twenty vaccine candidates, four of which showed great promise. And as they say, the rest is history.

You know, there are so many remarkable aspects to this story—their love of and dedication to science and medicine, their partnership in life and in business, and their groundbreaking work on mRNA vaccines. You know, that would have allowed us to be all together tonight because of that.

And any part of the story would be worth celebrating. But their story is made even more inspiring when one considers the circumstances in their early lives and what they had to overcome, being raised in Germany by Turkish immigrants.

Tonight it’s great to see also Albert Bourla, who’s also an immigrant being celebrated. As an immigrant myself, I know first-hand how hard it is to leave everything you know, to adjust to a new culture, to overcome bias, and to be accepted in a new country. So if you consider Ugur and Ursula’s achievement, you know, they’re amazing… themselves, but even more incredible when one considers what they had to surmount in their lifetime.

And their work as scientists and humanitarians continues as they work to broaden their impact and the availability of their technology globally. BioNTech will begin construction in 2022 of a manufacturing site for mRNA-based vaccine in the African Union, providing infrastructure for that continent.

As if that’s not enough, they’re also currently developing mRNA vaccine for malaria, which, if successful, could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

So Professor Sahin and Dr. Türeci, I cannot think of two individuals more deserving of the 2021 Distinguished Business Leadership award. You embody two fundamental values upon which the United States and European Union have built their successes—the importance of diversity and immigration, and the belief in science.

Your ability to respond so quickly to the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 and the unprecedented speed in developing the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine and your astute partnership with Pfizer is truly a transatlantic success story that continues to save lives around the world.

For all these reasons, it’s my enormous pleasure and honor to present the 2021 Distinguished Business Leadership Award to the co-founders of BioNTech. Please join me in welcoming Professor Sahin and Dr. Türeci.

Victor Dzau, Özlem Türeci, and Ugur Sahin at the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Awards on November 10, 2021. Photo via Elman Studio/for the Atlantic Council.

ÖZLEM TÜRECI: First of all, I wanted to thank Victor. There he is. Thank you, Victor, for your generous words.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honor for Ugur and me to be among the laureates of this year’s Distinguished Leadership Award. And we would like to thank Atlantic Council for bringing us onto the same stage tonight with people we cherish, with Ursula von der Leyen, with Albert Bourla, and with Dua Lipa. This is really a great honor.

When we were notified about this privilege, we had two thoughts. Proud physicians that we are, our first thought was: Why a leadership, not a science award? Fuchan Yuan one said that the three essentials to leadership are courage, humility, and clarity. So it turns out that what is expected from leaders is not much different from the virtues on which the two of us seek to improve continuously, because we believe that they are the key [to[ turning science into survival. And they served us well when we were navigating the scientific and not-so-scientific challenges in this race against a pandemic.

The search for a COVID-19 vaccine, a quest deep in uncharted territory, required courage and also required humility, which means staying teachable. All stakeholders were open to [learning] from each other in the face of a global threat, and we all let science and data be our teachers. The pandemic came with many unknowns, and here is where clarify of communication helped to foster patience and trust in each other’s words.

That brings me to the second thought we pondered: What else beyond science and leadership is a success model for the two of us? There is a saying: Behind every successful man, there is a woman rolling her eyes. Well, that is definitely not—I have to disappoint you; that is not our model. Rather, our success model comes from being blessed with a tribe of comrades, of like-minded people who share our belief in science and its ability to help humanity. Our incredible team at BioNTech, our management board colleagues, our investors, our mentors… all have been with us in this journey of many, many years.

In 2020, our tribe of comrades has grown. Exhibit one, our transatlantic alliance with you, dear Albert, and your exceptional team at Pfizer. And exhibit two, all those trust-based, solution-seeking cooperations formed spontaneously across public- and private-sector boundaries with a shared sense of urgency. For example, with the European Commission, dear Ursula. Very special for Ugur and me because, when we founded BioNTech, our dream was not only to change treatment paradigms but also to contribute to public-private partnership models, to new ones that would enable also a new breed of companies to better serve [the] greater good.

With answers to our two questions, Ugur and I now understand and appreciate how this award celebrates leadership in science and encourages scientists to continue confronting the many challenges impacting the well-being of humanity and the preservation of our planet. So, again, thank you for this award.

UGUR SAHIN: Thank you, Victor. And thank you, Özlem. Thank you, Ursula. And thank you, Albert. And thank you to the Atlantic Council. It’s really a true honor to be here tonight with all of you.

As I was preparing for this meeting last week, I had a fundamental question to Özlem: Do I really need to get a tuxedo for this event here? Yes. So before Özlem could respond, our lovely teenaged daughter who was listening to the conversation suddenly interfered and said: Daddy, don’t screw it up. You are going to meet Dua Lipa—and I want a photo and an autograph from her. So, Albert, we have another thing in common, daughters who love Dua Lipa.

So Özlem talked about science and leadership as important factors to master a challenge of such historic dimensions. Let me conclude with another most critical factor that matters [to] all of us: social responsibility, to be useful and to serve society.

We started our Project Lightspeed because we felt an obligation to act. It was our duty because we knew that our technology and our determination could make a difference to humanity. And we will continue our work until all people around the world have access to vaccines.

But there is more. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine opened up the door to a new pharmaceutical class, mRNA therapies. MRNA therapies will allow us to develop new treatments against many type of diseases: cancer, autoimmune diseases, regenerative medicines. And it will also allow us—and that what we are [convinced of]—is to tackle all diseases that could not be addressed by vaccines or highly-effective vaccines so far like malaria, tuberculosis, or HIV. We are engaged in these projects. And we feel also the obligation to make our technology available to those who need it most, and one of our [projects] is related to [transferring] technologies to Africa and [enabling], after [the] transfer of our technologies, that vaccines could be—could be produced in Africa, for Africa.

Many people feel that social responsibility is the exception rather than the rule, but I don’t think so. I know that the desire to help others is hardwired and encoded in our genes, or you can also say in our mRNA. These genes are not always active. They often need a trigger to be activated—an inspiration, an example, someone to take the first step.

But it is also clear that social responsibility is not just a value; it is the form of any value at the testing point. It depends and it requires to be regarded particularly when it becomes critical. We had a lot of meetings with Albert and also with Ursula, and I am grateful that at every critical situation, we were able to act in a [socially] responsible manner. The willingness of our teams to engage every day, to volunteer 24/7 shifts, work day and night, also on the weekends, and go the thousands of extra miles was not just based on effectivity and calculation, but it was based on everyone’s motivation to help and to contribute.

And it was not just our teams. Nearly everyone in the pharmaceutical, medical, and scientific community tried to get involved in fighting this pandemic. What the entire medical and scientific community has accomplished in just less than two years is outstanding and demonstrates the value of science to society.

Sometimes the work [of] scientists and drug developers [is] celebrated like this evening’s impressive award, but most often it happens behind the scenes in quiet labs or at patient’s bedside. To us, both feel equally rewarding. Özlem and I always have felt the commitment to a larger goal binds us and binds our partners and binds our society together. This is the way [that] we work and live and we intend to keep going on, inspired by this great honor tonight and the ongoing support of our friends and partners. Thank you.

DAMON WILSON: Dua Lipa burst onto the international scene at just the right time, when we did not even realize that we needed her. As the pandemic brought the world to a pause, Dua Lipa pushed us all to move, to dance, and yes, to levitate. Dua Lipa brought joy when so much of the world was fending off despair. She tapped a nerve with inspiring lockdown performances from her flat in London, breaking global streaming records, and often doing so to raise funds to fight COVID-19. For her talent, she has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards, winning three times for Best New Artist, Best Dance Recording, and Best Pop Vocal Album.

It’s perhaps by tapping her pride and her family’s heritage from Kosovo that she is able to help her fans look beyond daunting circumstances to envision an optimistic future. Dua is an inspiration to young women around the world, which is why it is so fitting that she’s accompanied this evening by President Vjosa Osmani of Kosovo, the youngest elected head of state in the world.

Dua Lipa’s first megahit, “New Rules,” became an anthem for female solidarity, setting the scene for the ensuing MeToo movement. Finding her voice beyond her music, she has unabashedly taken on sexism and homophobia. She has pushed for much-delayed justice for those whose human rights were abused during the Balkan wars, especially for victims of rape.

Dua and her father founded the Sunny Hill Festival and Foundation to inspire the next generation of talent from the region and to introduce the region to world-class talent. Through her foundation’s work, Dua gives voice and visibility to the determination, creativity, and hope of the people of Kosovo.

But their story has not been an easy one. Dua Lipa’s grandfather, an historian, lost his job when he refused to rewrite history under occupation. Her parents left to seek a more secure life as Slobodan Milosevic stoked ethnic tensions. In the years that followed, the people of Kosovo endured war. But with US and European support together, they saw their country emerge as a vibrant if at times tumultuous democracy.

Honoring European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the US-EU relationship alongside Dua Lipa is a reminder that her family home is part of the transatlantic tradition we celebrate tonight. And as we pay tribute to veterans on the eve of Veterans Day, we remember that American support was crucial to ending the fighting and helping Kosovo secure its freedom. Our support remains crucial for our prospering, pluralistic, and—yes—a party-loving Kosovo to find its home alongside its neighbors in a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

Please join me in welcoming Dua Lipa to the stage to receive the Atlantic Council’s 2021 Distinguished Leadership Award.

DUA LIPA: Wow. Good evening. Or, as we say in Kosovo, Mirëmbrama. Thank you, Damon, so much for your generous remarks. And thank you, Atlantic Council. You have been and continue to be a great friend to Kosovo, and it truly is an honor to be here to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary.

I’m humbled to share the stage with tonight’s honorees: Dr. Bourla, Dr. Türeci, Professor Sahin. Thank you so much for everything that you’ve done to help us tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your Excellency Ms. von der Leyen, thank you for your leadership. And I can only apologize for the sleepless nights my other country must have caused you during these long and painful Brexit negotiations.

I stand before you as a child of Kosovo who was born and raised in the United Kingdom and is here today as a guest of the United States. I come from a place most of you will have heard of but perhaps not in the way I’m about to describe. I want to share with you a little bit about my Kosovo.

Kosovans love to party, which is no surprise, perhaps, as 50 percent of the population is under twenty-five years old. I’m officially old in Kosovo. I heard a story recently about a visitor that went to Pristina, the capital city of Kosovo, being kept awake until the small hours by a lively crowd at a bar opposite her hotel. The next morning she asked at reception what the occasion was and they said: That? Oh, that was just Monday.

Pristina has a wonderful café culture. Forget grabbing coffee on the go. Dress sharp, pull up a seat, and watch the world go by. It’s very European.

For a small country, Kosovo is bursting with creativity. And I could reel off examples, but here are just a few.

Hive, a beautiful Kosovan film, took three major awards at this year’s Sundance. Watch out for it at the Oscars.

Pristina will also host Manifesta next year, which is a contemporary art and culture biennale. And that will see the city overtaken with public art exhibitions and installations. And journalists from highly respected publications speculate on what must be in the water to produce so many successful music artists.

All I can say is give us a chance and we will excel. In 2018 my dad and I founded the Sunny Hill Festival in Pristina, and it quickly became one of the biggest music festivals in the region. It’s been a lifelong dream of ours to bring artists to Kosovo, not just so fans can see their favorite bands, but so that the visiting bands can experience our own brilliant and diverse music scene.

The second part of our dream will soon become reality. And I couldn’t be more excited to share our plans for the Sunny Hill Foundation with you. We’ve signed an MOU to create the Sunny Hill Arts and Innovation Center in Pristina, and we very much hope that work will start next summer. Thank you.

It will be a creative space where young people can learn about music production and performance. For those who want to break into the industry, there’ll be workshops run by visiting artists and producers from all over the world who will share what they’ve learned. And for others, the center will be a place to build confidence, learn some skills, and, most importantly of all, have some fun.

The first concert I ever went to was Method Man and Redman. It was in Pristina, and I was thirteen. It was a bit random, really cool, and definitely not quite age-appropriate. But it wasn’t like I had any actual choice of shows. Kosovo is just too small a market to be included on most world tours. So now we bring artists to Kosovo. And without exception, everyone that we’ve invited to perform at the Sunny Hill Festival, from Miley Cyrus to Calvin Harris, is just blown away by the whole experience. They say it’s one of the best shows they’ve ever done, as the energy is so roaring, the audience so present, and the welcome so sincere.

The best performances are when you have that really great chemistry with the audience. And that somehow always seems to happen at Sunny Hill.

However, appearances can be also deceiving. In many ways, life in Kosovo is tough and it undeniably bears the scars of years of war. Even for those who mercifully escaped the war, it nonetheless leaves its legacy. My parents left Kosovo in 1992 as tensions were rising. While they were fortunate enough to make a good life in London, there were years when they knew they couldn’t return home. That must have caused a pain that I can only imagine. Sometimes when I talk to my parents about this time, they can speak for hours. And other times it’s just too exhausting and they say they feel they’ve lived through three hundred years.

For me, having this dual identity has actually been really positive. I’m always flattered when people comment on what they call my immigrant work ethic. It’s true. It’s a gift that’s been passed down the generations. But even with a determined and bold national spirit, it takes time to recover and find a new footing.

Today Kosovo still faces many challenges, and often it’s the young generation who bear the brunt of it. Young people struggle to find work, and their opportunities are hampered by restrictions that make it difficult to travel for work or pleasure. After we fulfilled all the criteria, the European Commission actually recommended visa liberalization for Kosovo for more than three years ago. So do you think we could get that done now? Or…

Kosovo is also the youngest country in Europe in another way. We are just thirteen short years into our journey of independence. And as part of a strong international community, we will thrive emotionally. We will thrive economically and culturally. It’s in our DNA.

While it still breaks my heart that the United Kingdom chose to leave the European Union. Rather than dwell on this, I would rather recall that the first purpose of the EU is to secure peace through unity. Wouldn’t it be fitting if Kosovo could take its place within that peaceful union, thrive economically alongside our neighbors, and heal the hurt of recent conflict?

With that vision in mind—thank you. With that vision in mind, I accept this award with gratitude for all the young people of Kosovo. And to receive it on their behalf, I would like to invite Kosovo’s own young leader, Her Excellency President Vjosa Osmani, to the stage.

Dua Lipa accepted the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Leadership Award on November 10, 2021. Photo via Elman Studio/for the Atlantic Council.

PRESIDENT VJOSA OSMANI: Dua Lipa. Ladies and gentlemen, please give her another round of applause. Absolutely deserved.

Your excellencies, distinguished guests, first of all, Dua, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for giving me the honor of accepting this award on behalf of the people of Kosovo.

I am delighted to be here to celebrate tonight’s honorees. Congratulations to all of you.

We in the Republic of Kosovo have been following Dua’s progress since day one, and I am so incredibly proud that her talent has been recognized by the world, too. I thought Dua was best described in a headline of an article written early on in her career which reads: “Meet Dua Lipa: A Restless Spirit with a Mighty Big Voice”—words that ring even more true today. Dua is, indeed, restless, but restless in ambition. Dua, indeed, has a mighty big voice, not just in terms of her vocal capabilities but also in the way she has chosen to use her incredible voice and platform to be an extraordinary advocate for women, unafraid to take on political issues, and a restless champion for her home country, the Republic of Kosovo, and its people.

So thank you once again for being our voice, Dua. You are the greatest ambassador that one country can dream of. You not only make us incredibly proud of what you have personally achieved, but also help us to raise the collective voice of our people every single time that you proudly talk about where you are from. Some might say, in the words of your music, that you are levitating Kosovo.

For those of you in the room who may be unfamiliar with our story, Kosovo is a nation full of restless spirits—bright, brilliant, and ambitious minds who see their future at the heart of the European Union. Perhaps because of our struggles—or, indeed, in spite of our struggles—the youth of our country continues to succeed against all odds. What is quite clear to me is that when our young people are given opportunities, they exceed beyond expectations. And as their president, I will work tirelessly to ensure we build an even stronger foundation for our young people to succeed within and beyond our borders.

If it isn’t convincing enough for me to stand and say this here before you today, just look around the global music. Just look at our Dua and what she has achieved. Look at our film industry and the amazing Hive movie—which I join Dua in inviting you to see—sports, and many other industries to see just what our country and our people are capable of achieving when they are given a chance. From our globally renowned filmmakers to our tech companies attracting investment directly from countries like the United States, or those exporting our goods and services to every part of the world, our athletes who raise Kosovo’s flag even in non-recognizing countries, I couldn’t be more proud than I am with all of our everyday shining stars.

For those of you that have never been to Kosovo, I urge you to visit so that you can see its beauty, its uniqueness, and the warmth and admiration that my people hold for your countries. For the countries who stood by us in our darkest days and in particular the United States of America, you’ll have heard this before, but Kosovo really is the most pro-American and the most pro-European nation on Earth. You supported us, you supported us during a time when, like Dua and her beautiful family, over a million Kosovars were forced to flee throughout the 90s, first from oppression from the then-Serbian regime against the people of Kosovo and then, as you all know, from one of the most brutal wars we have seen in recent times.

Actually, when I came here, I was reminded that it was exactly in this room in 1999 when the [NATO] Alliance was celebrating its fiftieth birthday, that that summit turned into a summit about Kosovo. Exactly where you’re sitting today, the decision to save our lives was made. Exactly because of those courageous and responsible leaders at that time, we are standing alive here today. Many of them are here in this room. So please once again accept our heartfelt gratitude on behalf of all the people of Kosovo.

Of course, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have achieved everything that we have without the collective support of so many allies around the world. Let’s not forget, Kosovo is the biggest US foreign-policy success story. We can never say that enough. Your bipartisan support has been invaluable. But today we face a different set of challenges, and we hope to continue to count on all of you as we open a new chapter in our efforts to strengthen Kosovo’s international standing.

Kosovo is a beacon of hope and a beacon of democracy. Just thirteen years on from our declaration of independence, today we have the kind of institutional stability that many countries can only dream of. We join our allies in peacekeeping missions and are honored to be among the very few countries that have offered shelter to [Afghans] in need escaping persecution. In fact, we’re the very first country we’re the very first country on Earth to answer that call, because we’ve been refugees ourselves. So we’ve opened not just our doors, but also our hearts and minds, to all of those in need. And we couldn’t be prouder to stand by our allies in this important effort.

I’m also very proud to represent a people who possess so much compassion, so much talent, potential, and resilience, and confident that Kosovo will only continue to strengthen its statehood and make a bigger contribution to the international community, and to peace and stability in the region. We will do all this because it is what our people deserve. We have been through too much to turn back now. And we will continue to defend our freedom and our right to exist as an independent and sovereign country.

And to those that try to dim our lights, I have a message for those. They’re not in this room, obviously. In Dua’s words, we’ve got new rules. Kosovo’s people and its leadership will not give up on our country’s right to exist at any cost. And we will be absolutely vocal in seeking justice and the deserved path for our people.

Kosovo’s future lies within the Euro-Atlantic structures. We have never looked elsewhere.

And finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again join Dua’s mighty big voice in calling on EU member states to deliver on the long-overdue promise to grant visa liberalization to the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo.

Dear friends, tonight we celebrate the successes and achievements of Dua and the other honorees. You know, Dua in our language means love. That’s exactly what she has been spreading around the world, but especially in her home country, Kosovo, since day one.

I really look forward to meeting as many of you in other occasions in the future when we will gather to celebrate upcoming successes of Kosovo and our superstar youth. In this journey, we really hope to have you by our side.

So thank you to the Atlantic Council for honoring our remarkable Dua.

Dua, thank you so much for turning the eyes of the world to Kosovo.

Thank you all for a wonderful night, and good night.

FREDERICK KEMPE: So what [an] incredible evening. I want to congratulate our awardees, and I want to thank you all for supporting our cause. We are going to close this evening with an incredible duet by Morgan James, by Cory Parker, and I want to give a special thanks to the American Pops Orchestra under the brilliant direction of Maestro Luke Frazier and the dazzling management of Robert Pullen. Thank you. You are our house orchestra. We’re so proud of it.

And now this is the close. You won’t see me again. But at the end of this, just remember this evening and remember what all of the speakers and awardees stand for.

Further reading

Image: Elman Studio/for the Atlantic Council.