Freedom Awards
June 3rd, 2016 – Wrocław Global Forum 

Horst Teltschik:
Dear Prime Minister Kubilius,

Thank you for kindly introducing me, which I highly appreciate.

Excellency’s, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

I am deeply moved that you are honoring me today by awarding me the Freedom Award. I would like to thank the Board of the Atlantic Council and especially you, dear Fred, for this decision.

I dare say that I, indeed, deserve this award. Because, when I was in office in Bonn, in the former capital of Germany, I had to explain to an American correspondent, his name was Fred Kempe, the gist of the German foreign and security policy, mainly the German “Ostpolitik” (i.e. our policy for East Germany and Eastern Europe). This was not so easy, because I had to avoid by all means that the Wall Street Journal would come up with a wrong headline, and so I had to make sure that Fred fully understands the German “Ostpolitik” and the fact that the German government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl would work very hard on the reunification of Germany. And this we then did—resulting in a successful and peaceful reunification process.

I am receiving the Freedom Award today in the city of Wrocław in Poland, and I am truly delighted that the event is taking place in this particular country. For me, the Polish people belong to those nations in our world who love their freedom and who have demonstrated more than once in their history that they are ready to fight and—if necessary—even sacrifice their own lives, in order to be free.

In 1989, I went to Poland as the personal representative of Chancellor Kohl and negotiated a German-Polish Declaration on the future relationship of our two countries.

I was privileged to be in a special position to closely observe the peaceful transition of Poland from a communist country to a free democratic one. Poland was the first country of the Warsaw Pact—in which the communist system was successfully overthrown—by Poland’s Solidarnosc movement.

When I saw this happening, I became convinced that this would facilitate changes in the GDR as well. And in November 1989, Lech Walesa said the same to Chancellor Kohl—he said that this will be the beginning of the German reunification process. He was right. And by saying this to us, he supported our efforts to move ahead with it.

Again, thank you for giving me this award today here in Wroclaw.

Nighat Dad
Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan: 

“Let me begin by conveying my warmest thanks and appreciation to the Atlantic Council for honoring me with the Freedom Award, and for providing me with this wonderful opportunity to meet others that are working to promote freedom and personal liberty across the world, putting their lives at risk for a cause that is greater than ourselves.

Over the past quarter century, we have borne witness to rising social tensions and economic uncertainty. Global conflicts that cause millions of refugees to flee those same conflicts for a better life for their children. Religious extremists and the far right are on the rise, exploiting the fear and insecurity of many. Ours is an unstable world.

It is in this context that governments have the duty to protect their citizens from harm, to ensure their physical safety both in the present and in the foreseeable future. But it is vital that governments be reminded that security must not and cannot come at the cost of civil liberty. Article three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
Article twelve states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” As we move to defend ourselves from domestic and foreign terrorism, we must ensure these and the other principles of the Universal Declaration, the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, amongst others, are respected.

It is understandably difficult to maintain a balance. In the wake of violent attacks worldwide, the rush to give broader powers of surveillance and detainment, the need to control avenues of information, is a reflexive reaction that we must fight.

The reality is that we already live in a world where citizens are subject to their personal data being collected, where the websites that they visit and the conversations they have are monitored without their consent or their knowledge, in an attempt to catch potential terrorists. Mass surveillance and invasion of privacy has not discouraged terrorism. Instead, there has directly or indirectly been a chilling effect on the democratic discourse and political actions that are vital to a healthy society, worldwide. British Muslim children in Great Britain, for example, can now expect to be questioned by the police if they are critical of their own government’s actions.

Healthy criticism of the state, vital in a democracy society, can now result in citizens being monitored and questioned by their own national security agencies. Governments worldwide continue to discuss the possibility of banning certain websites, or making access to them heavily restricted, ensuring that accessing such websites, whether out of curiosity or for approved academic research, can result in arrests.

If the right to security overpowers the right to life and liberty, if our values are subject to overly broad scrutiny, intrusion and lack of respect, then what is being defended? By criminalising forms of expression, unintentionally or otherwise, we risk pushing people into the welcoming arms of extremists. Covering our eyes, ears, and mouths will not protect us from evil, but it will make it harder for people to be involved in the valuable discourse that is at the heart of social and financial progress. If we cannot hold the state apparatus accountable, we run the risk of penalizing millions of citizens simply for being curious, or for connecting with their fellow global citizens. Freedom to information is a fundamental right, one that matters online just as much as it does offline. Denying and criminalising one weakens the other, limits our liberties.

We are living in a time of global unease, uncertainty and conflict, but we are also living in a time of greater solidarity in the face of repression and censorship. Security must not come at the cost of liberty, of democracy, of the rights of the citizen. We must work towards ensuring that security and civil rights can coexist. Civil liberties must not be casualties in the fight against extremism, for without them, democracy cannot prosper.

Father Maciej Zięba
Polish Philosopher, Writer, and Theologian:

In 1961, when the Atlantic Council was founded, I was just a boy. I learned about the international politics by standing in queues for flour and sugar. When the Berlin Wall was constructed, we would queue to buy groceries. When the Cuban Crisis commenced, we would queue to buy supplies to help us survive the war. The street wisdom was clear: the only chance for Polish freedom was the Third World War. The childhood behind the Iron Curtain was hopeless, full of fear and communist lies. And yet, in high school, I met my mentors and friends-to-be: Stefan Kisielewski, Władysław Bartoszewski, Jacek Woźniakowski and Tadeusz Mazowiecki. They taught me that even in Communist Poland one can live with courage and dignity. They showed me the power of wise patriotism and the meaning of a conscious Catholic faith. Two of them got the prize from the Atlantic Council. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. The witness of their lives was clear: fight for human dignity, stay on the side of truth and always take care of the weakest.

If the beginning of ’60s are stored in my memory as the years of queues, end of the ’70s are remembered as three years of tears – tears of joy. I surprised myself when I realized I had tears running down my cheeks as I listened on Polish TV to a speech given by the President of the United States. During his visit to Poland, President Carter spoke about human rights, and it moved me to tears because ¬– for the first time in my life – I listened to the words uncensored, which were not rigged. A year later, I cried for the second time, watching the inauguration of the pontificate of John Paul II, who was named by many people, ‘the Pope of Liberty’. At the outset of his pontificate, he wrote to the UN Secretary-General: True freedom is the salient characteristic of humanity. It is the fount from which human dignity flows. It is the exceptional sign of the divine image within man. It is offered to us and conferred on us as our own mission.

And in the early ’80 we understood well the Pope’s teaching about human dignity and freedom. ‘Solidarność’ was exactly this. A community of free men and women. A community built on the respect for the dignity of human being – each and every human being.

Living by this principle has proven harder in a free and democratic state. We began to realize that achieving sovereignty, getting new institutions and procedures, is not sufficient to have democracy. We discovered and continue to discover that the substance of the democracy is homo democraticus – a human being creatively engaged in the construction of a solidary community of free people. We learned that freedom cannot take a form of passivity or be an escape from responsibility, but must be, to invoke George Washington’s words, an ordered liberty. Moreover, we learn that a community of free people is not a state to be once achieved, but a never-ending process. For those reasons, the primary danger to the free and democratic society is neither anarchic disintegration of the community, nor totalitarian tyranny. The primary danger is passivity and conformism.

When – several times – I have discussed these issues with my Masters and Friends, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and John Paul II, I used to refer to Alexis de Tocqueville’s appendix to Democracy in America, which I would like to invoke as a conclusion:

“It cannot be absolutely or generally affirmed that the greatest danger of the present age is license or tyranny … Both are equally to be feared; and the one may proceed as easily as the other from one and the same cause: namely, that general apathy, which is the consequence of individualism.”

It is because this apathy exists that the executive government having mustered a few troops, is able to commit acts of oppression one day … The proper object, therefore, of our most strenuous resistance is far less either anarchy or despotism than the apathy which may almost indifferently beget either one or the other.

And so thank you very much for granting me this honorable award. I wish all the distinguished persons gathered tonight in this room: may we be able to effectively combat the societal apathy afflicting western democracies by building a community of free, creative and solidary people.


Frederic C. Hof

Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East

For over five years Syrian civilians have suffered in agony.  They have been on the bullseye in a war where civilians are the principal victims.  Their victimization has not been accidental.

This has been a war in which a government has inflicted mass homicide on its own citizens.  A government sworn to protect its people has instead targeted them.  It has inspired similar behavior by some of its opponents.  It has given rise in Syria to another abomination: the so-called Islamic State.

The world has paid little heed to the apocalypse that is Syria.  It is as if a quarter million dead, five million fleeing the country, seven million displaced internally, and a lost generation of children is, taken collectively, someone else’s problem.  Yes, we pay attention when the humanity hemorrhaging from Syria comes to us for shelter and a chance to live in safety and dignity.  We define ourselves by how we respond.  

The Atlantic Council and its Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East are trying to right something that is wrong; to shine a light on a humanitarian catastrophe; to illuminate its harsh political consequences; and to point the way toward practical policy changes to protect civilians and to promote peace.

Tonight, we focus on brave Syrians who will not let the indifference of the world stop them from saving lives. The White Helmets – Syria Civil Defense – have stood for courage, decency, mercy and honor in a conflict often devoid of each.  This all-volunteer team is not political.  But because a government has deliberately and remorselessly targeted its citizenry, the White Helmets must concentrate their work in neighborhoods assaulted from the skies by the Syrian Air Force.

Recently, five White Helmet volunteers were killed when their local headquarters was bombed by regime or Russian aircraft.  They are most vulnerable, however, when trying to rescue others.  Government aircraft often return to the scene of the original crime during rescue operations to strike again: the infamous “double-tap” tactic. This organization of some 3,000 has saved nearly 50,000 of their fellow citizens while losing over 120 of its own members.

In a conflict defined by horror, heartbreak, and death, the White Helmets have stood for decency, hope, and life.  Earlier this year the President of the Atlantic Council joined with Members of Congress and others to nominate Syria Civil Defense for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Words cannot adequately describe the inspired work of these brave women and men. Here are some images that depict the enormity of what they are doing.


Ladies and gentlemen, accepting the Freedom Award on behalf of the White Helmets are Mr. Raed al-Saleh and Mr. Farouq al-Habib.  Please welcome them to the stage.