Welcome by The Hon. John Train, Chairman
[Delivered, 18 October, 2006, New York City]
When It Is Very Dark You Can See The Stars
Welcome to tonight's award of the Civil Courage Prize.
As you know, Anna Politkovskaya, last year's honoree, was assassinated recently in Moscow. Musa Klebnikov will say a few words about that great loss.
To offer the usual background, I was once quite involved with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who had run out of money in Cavendish, Vermont. I helped him get the Templeton Prize, and then brought him to London to collect it at Buckingham Palace and deliver his major address in the Guildhall. This was at the same time that President Ford had refused to receive him for fear of bothering the Kremlin. Fortunately, Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago and his heroic personal stand helped destroy the appeal of Stalinism in Western Europe, along with the stalwartness of Pope John Paul II and others. Trying to think of a name for the virtue that Solzhenitsyn so splendidly exemplified, I realized there wasn't one in English, so I proposed "Civil Courage," as distinct from martial valor.
Anyway, the demented fanatics of the last century, Stalin and Mao, have been cast down by internal forces, not external pressure, and are now regarded as monsters in their own countries. It seems increasingly accepted that it is by and large counterproductive to push regime change frontally on other countries. As Chamfort parodied the French Revolution's Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité slogan, "Sois mon frère ou je te tue" — "Be my brother or I'll kill you."
What does work is the heroic example of heroes of civil courage within those countries. It is they – often saints living in our time – that this prize seeks to honor.
We do not choose the award winners on the basis of their success, but on their intentions and determination. Who would ever have imagined that Solzhenitsyn would be welcomed back to Russia, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Raoul Wallenburg be hailed as heroes in Germany? You never know, and, indeed, the bleaker the prospects, the greater the virtue. Most of our award winners have spent years in prison; some have been unable to collect it in person because they were then in prison, and a recent winner, Min Ko Naing, has just been thrown back into prison.
The Prize operates by seeking advice from a large network of outside correspondents. Their nominations, after processing, are referred to our eminent international board of Advisors. The final determination is made by our Trustees, who usually agree with the Advisors, of whom you will observe that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn remains one. Thanks to the Richard Gilder Initiative, the winners are then enabled to travel to tell their stories to officials here, think tanks, universities, the press – including discreet advertising – and other groups.
The Prize helps them become noticed, and thus bear witness more effectively in their own countries. As you will hear, this year's award has had phenomenal reverberation not only in Angola but also in Portugal. We check in with the candidates, but most confirm that international attention makes them safer, and after enough recognition, such as the Nobel Prize, probably untouchable.
I once heard André Gide declare, "Le monde sera sauvé par quelques- uns:" The world will be saved by just a few. I think that is true. Alas, they will be persecuted. And alas, humanity being what it is, the world must always be saved anew, by new saints.
But as I say, or rather as Emerson said, when it is very dark, you can see the stars.
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