Polish historian, essayist, and political commentator Adam Michnik, principal organizer of the democratic opposition in Poland from 1966 to 1989, was awarded the 10th annual Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award by The Prague Society for International Cooperation and its partner, The Global Panel Foundation, during a recent ceremony at the Embassy of the Polish Republic.
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Bruce Lawlor, director of the Virginia Tech Center for Technology, Security, and Policy, National Capital Region, and advisor to The Global Panel Foundation, provided opening remarks at that ceremony.
The award is presented annually to recognize high achievement in public service to Central and Eastern Europe. The recipient donates the financial part of the award to an exceptional young person of his or her choice.
Following the collapse of communism, Michnik founded Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s most influential newspaper and he remains an outspoken champion for freedom of the press.
In addressing some 300 people gathered for the award presentation, Lawlor said, "as a fan of Adam Michnik I wanted to join in this celebration. Recognizing him here tonight is more than giving him yet another well deserved honor. It is also recognition of the freedom for which he and so many people paid to bring to his country.
“And freedom is so precious, so valuable that whenever it appears there is always a struggle to let people have it and always a struggle to let them keep it. That is because there are people who can profit personally by taking it away. We are seeing that today in some parts of the world. Those who in the past reserved the fruits of unearned privilege for themselves once again seek personal advantage for themselves by taking freedom away from others,” said Lawlor.
“So the struggle for freedom continues and in that struggle there are certain people who are chosen to be the sentinels -- those who stand watch and give warning to the rest of us of our peril. And sentinels are particularly important. They have a unique brand of courage because, by sounding the alarm, they often attract the enemy’s attention to themselves and so risk self sacrifice to protect and guard the rest of us.
“Adam Michnik has that kind of courage. He has been and continues to be one of freedom’s sentinels. And so, on behalf of thousands and thousands of Americans who recognize your courage, who honor it, who believe in the fight you made to win it for others, we want you to know that we understand and appreciate that your willingness to guard and protect freedom in your country has also guarded and protected it in my country and we thank you for it,” Lawlor concluded.
The Prague Society was established in June 1999 by a diverse group from the Czech Republic, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, and New Zealand to promote a global approach to business, politics and academia; to help decision-makers to consider the implications of their actions; to develop a new generation of responsible, well-informed leaders and thinkers in Central Europe; and to publish unique comments from members and guests.