“I believe what the modern politician needs most is imagination, and history inspires imagination. In this respect, history serves the politician well”
Bronisław Geremek, 1993
The patron of the Community of Democracies, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland and one of the architects of the democratic transition in the country, Prof. Bronisław Geremek, was in fact a historian by his profession. As such, he knew how valuable is the impact of role models, mobilizing and inspiring generations upon generations of people and shaping society according to the values in which they believe. It is therefore natural that Geremek’s Community of Democracies, dedicated solely to the ideas of democracy, would embody this vision and vow to give a voice to those working peacefully to support democracy.
Following this vision, the Geremek Award honors those exceptional individuals who bravely put a positive impact on public life in their countries, introducing democratic values and practices, often in unfriendly conditions. The Award is meant to give these democracy advocates the proper recognition and support, providing a stage for the ideas and struggles they represent and aspiring to contribute to the continued mobilization of these actors and their work.
The Award is given in every high-level meeting of the Community of Democracies, following a decision by a special committee from the Community and from the Geremek Foundation. Its laureates come from different countries, continents and historical contexts, but all share the strong commitment to the values of democracy.
The first person to be honored by the Award, during the 5th Ministerial Conference of the Community of Democracies in Lisbon in 2009, was Nelson Mandela. The first democratically elected President of South Africa was awarded for his continued struggle for democracy, civil liberties and human dignity in his country, under the severe repression of an oppressive regime.
During the 2010 High Level meeting celebrating a decade to the Community of Democracies, the Geremek Award was bestowed to Priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez from Cuba. Rodriguez is the parish priest of St. Teresa in the poorest district of the city of Santiago de Cuba, engaged for many years in activities to promote educational and political awareness and the debate on the future of the country, representing concerns for the civil liberties and moral values in a country that has been under authoritarian government for more than fifty years. Repeatedly subjected to threats from the government of Cuba, Father Jose Conrado could not be intimidated and continues his devoted work, including a number of letter he sent personally to the leaders of the country, outlining the necessary democratic mechanisms.
In the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, during the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Community in 2011, the Award recognized the ongoing work of the entire Belarusian democratic opposition. On behalf of the opposition the award was received by Vladimir Niklaiev, in the presence of other figures, including Stanislav Bogdankievich and Olga Zavadskaya.
At the 2013 Ministerial Conference in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the Award was bestowed to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Ms. Suu Kyi, who for many years operated under harsh persecution of the military regime, has spoken previously to the members of the Community through a recorded message due to her house arrest, and her arrival to the Conference in Ulaanbaatar was a powerful closure. She was awarded for her consistent struggle to promote democratic values and practices in her home country.
Most recently, the 2015 Geremek Award was bestowed to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Ministerial Conference in San Salvador. Ms. Albright accepted the award via video call. Ms. Albright has been a consistent advocate for democracy development around the world. She has also been vocal about the fact that while democracy is most stable in the long-run, in the short-term it may be one of the most fragile forms of government. As a result, she has been a powerful voice to encourage governments and civil society to think of the future.