WROCLAW – The Atlantic Council Freedom Awards marked the conclusion of the first day of the 2015 Wroclaw Global Forum, honoring former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt, Donetsk National University, Ukrainian military pilot and prisoner of war Nadiya Savchenko, and Polish film director Agnieszka Holland. Russian activist Boris Nemtsov was also honored with a posthumous award, presented to his daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova.
Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe opened the evening and recognized the Freedom Award’s Honorary Co-Chairs: H.E. Stephen D. Mull, US Ambassador to Poland, and H.E. Ryszard Schnepf, Polish Ambassador to the United States. Explaining the origin and importance of the Freedom Awards, Kempe said, “The Freedom Awards celebrate unique individuals and organizations and inspire others to follow their model.”
Former US National Security Advisor and Executive Vice Chair of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors Stephen Hadley set the scene for the seventh annual Freedom Awards dinner. Speaking of the night’s honorees he said, “They remind us that the struggle for freedom is never over.”
The Atlantic Council recognized Carl Bildt for his work as a principal architect of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership and his distinguished career as a global diplomat. Introduced by Marshal of the Polish Sejm and former Freedom Awardee Radoslaw Sikorski, Bildt thanked the Atlantic Council for actively promoting transatlantic cooperation and reminded the audience of Poland’s importance within the transatlantic community. “Poland should be listened to carefully by the world,” he said in his acceptance speech.
“Military power is not the only kind of power. There is also the moral power of those who are there to resist,” said US Senator Jeanne Shaheen in introducing the Freedom Award for Donetsk National University. Rector of the University Roman Grynyuk and student of law Iryna Nahorniak accepted the award on behalf of the university, which recognizes the faculty, students, and staff for their persistence in preserving intellectual freedom in the face of violence and oppression and their courageous decision to move into exile in Vinnytsia.
Commenting on Rector Grynyuk’s decision to move the university into exile, Nahorniak remarked, “Our rector doesn’t have a superhero cape, but he is a true superhero. He has saved the destinies of five thousands students. We didn’t know where we would live, study, or work, but we were full of faith.”
The Council recognized Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko for her courage and bravery during her wrongful imprisonment at the hands of the Russian state. In 2014, Savchenko was captured in Ukrainian territory by pro-Russian separatists and imprisoned in Russia. She remains in prison to this day. Also introduced by Senator Shaheen, her sister Vera Savchenko was presented the Freedom Award on her behalf. “Nadiya rose up against the Kremlin, and there are many women and people like Nadiya in Ukraine,” Savchenko said, expressing her gratitude for those fighting to release Nadiya. “I am convinced that the people of Ukraine have the potential not just to resist aggression but to move toward a European future.”
The Council honored Agnieszka Holland for her moving narratives of the hardships endured by the Polish people throughout their history and her dedication to giving a voice and vision to the Polish national experience. Her award was presented by Leader of Krytyka Polityczna Sławomir Sierakowski. Noting for the audience that she was born and raised under communism in Poland, Holland said that freedom has a special meaning for her. “For me personally, the freedom of speech, of expression as a person, citizen, and artist is more important than any wealth or recognition,” she said.
To conclude the evening, Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation Garry Kasparov presented a posthumous award to Boris Nemtsov, leader of the anti-Putin opposition in Russia, for his tireless efforts to counter President Vladimir Putin’s oppressive policies. His award was accepted by his daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, who spoke eloquently of her late father who was murdered just steps from the Kremlin.
“My father’s lifetime achievement was his fight for freedom,” Nemtsova said. She also announced the creation of the Nemtsov Foundation, which will continue the activities Nemtsov dedicated his life to by working for a free Russia. An earlier panel featured the European launch of Nemtsov’s report Putin. War., which was completed posthumously by his colleagues and demonstrated the extent of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
The Atlantic Council Freedom Awards recognize extraordinary individuals and organizations that defend and advance the cause of freedom around the world. Inaugurated in Berlin in 2009 on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, Wroclaw, Poland became the permanent home of the Freedom Awards in 2010 in recognition of Poland’s unique role in spreading the message of solidarity and freedom globally. Previous awardees have included President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of the American people, and former President of Czechoslovakia Vaclav Havel on behalf of the Czech and Slovak people.
Visit the Wroclaw Global Forum website for more information or to watch tomorrow’s sessions live.