On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of free Poland, the first ever international Lech Wałęsa Solidarity Prize was presented in Warsaw on 3 June. The award went to Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of Crimean Tatars.
Poland’s President Bronisław Komorowski presented the prize to Mustafa Dzhemilev, who for many years has been campaigning to ensure that democracy, civic rights and freedoms are respected in Ukraine.
“For Poland and for much of Central and Eastern Europe, the regaining of freedom was at the same time the breaking of post-Yalta chains and restrictions, as the Yalta agreement meant that the victory over the Third Reich was not the victory of freedom for the whole of Europe. For many of us it was a moment in time when the Iron Curtain cut us off from Europe for good,” President Komorowski recalled at the Solidarity Prize award ceremony.
“I am glad that the freedom our countries successfully fought for, the freedom whose march to victory began here in Poland, won support in 1989 and later, won full understanding and solidarity of the free Western world, rather than being met with indifference. But we must be aware that although the Yalta agreements now belong to inglorious past, their aftermath continues to be felt to this day,” said the Polish president.
Bronisław Komorowski stressed that Mustafa Dzhemilev campaigned for the Tatar right to counter Stalin’s ethnic policy, which deprived this nation of the possibility to live in their ancestors’ land.
“I want to congratulate you on the road that led you to this prize, but I also want to congratulate us all on the fact that thanks to this award we can all demonstrate our Polish and our European solidarity with those who stand up for freedom today or who dream about freedom. I’m delighted to be presenting this prize together with Lech Wałęsa, who symbolizes the solidarity that Crimea, Crimean Tatars and Ukraine need so much today,” added the Polish president when welcoming Petro Poroshenko, the newly elected president of free and independent Ukraine.
The laureate also received congratulations from former Polish President Lech Wałęsa, the legendary leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement. “Today we thank you for your beautiful, peaceful and wise struggle that has so far brought no final victory. We thank you and we ask you to carry on fighting. I am confident that your victory is inevitable,” noted Lech Wałęsa.
Mustafa Dzhemilev could not hide his strong emotions. “The fact that the Solidarity Prize was awarded to me, a veteran of the National Democratic Movement of the Crimean Tatars, has been met with gratitude by virtually the entire nation. That’s because this distinction has been viewed as an award for a heroic national movement rather than for an individual,” he said thanking for the prize. “Our country is in danger, our Ukrainian state is in danger. The historic homeland of the nation of Crimean Tatars is being occupied by a country that committed itself to guaranteeing its safety and territorial inviolability under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994,” added the awarded leader of Crimean Tatars.
The list of guests who attended the Solidarity Prize ceremony at the Royal Castle in Warsaw featured thirty world leaders and government officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is accompanying President Barack Obama on his trip to Poland, and the presidents and ministers of Visegrad Group countries. Also present were human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.
“The Lech Wałęsa Solidarity Prize is the only prize in the world awarded by a country that shares its experience of a successful transition from dictatorship to democracy,” Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, who initiated the prize, underscored during the gala in Warsaw.
“You the Tatars were wronged by Joseph Stalin, who ordered your nation’s genocidal deportation from Crimea,” recalled Minister Sikorski when congratulating the laureate. “Poles know how much blood, sweat and tears it takes to build a democracy. I therefore wish to direct towards the Laureate – and all human rights defenders across the globe – these words that paraphrase the first lines of the national anthems of both Poland and Ukraine: freedom has not yet perished, so long as you still live,” added the chief of Polish diplomacy.
Mustafa Dzhemilev (born 1943) was deported along with his family from Crimea to Uzbekistan in 1944. Unable to return to his homeland for political reasons, he devoted his life to the struggle for Crimean Tatars’ rights. In May 1966, Dzhemilev was arrested for the first time, and spent one and a half years in a Soviet camp for refusing to serve in the Soviet Army. Afterwards, he was arrested and sentenced to prison six times. In 1966-1986, he spent almost 15 years in camps and exile. In May 1969, Dzhemilev co-founded the Initiative Group for Human Rights Protection in the USSR, which mainly wrote and distributed open letters to the United Nations, the Soviet authorities, and USSR citizens. Mustafa Dzhemilev and his family returned to Crimea in May 1989. His indomitable spirit brought him the appointment as President of the Organization of Crimean Tatar Movement (OKND). In June 1991, delegates of the new Qurultay (National Congress of the Crimean Tatars) elected him chairman of the Mejlis, the highest representative body of Crimean Tatars.
Since 1998, Dzhemilev has been a member of Ukraine’s Supreme Council. He continues his struggle for the rights of Crimean Tatars, strongly opposing the results of the allegedly legal referendum of 16 March 2014. Because of his activity, the authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea have considered him a persona non grata, while the Russian Federation has banned him from entering Crimea until 2019. These decisions have caused a wave of protests among Tatars.
Among other distinctions, Dzhemilev is a laureate of the Nansen Refugee Award, which is bestowed annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the fight for human rights. He has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
Fifteen global authorities in the fields of democracy and human rights were involved in selecting the first winner of the Solidarity Prize. Among persons who suggested their nominees were Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi; serving and former Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt, Professor Władysław Bartoszewski and Professor Adam Daniel Rotfeld; chief of EU diplomacy Catherine Margaret Ashton;, and recognized world authorities on supporting democracy and human rights.
Sweden’s top diplomat Carl Bildt addressed the ceremony on behalf of the nominators. “The Maidan used to be just a square in another European country. But today the Maidan stands for renewed belief in freedom, in democracy and in Europe. The Maidan inspires today as Gdansk inspired us a quarter of a century ago,” said Minister Bildt.
The final decision to select Mustafa Dzhemilev was taken unanimously on 25 April 2014 by a Solidarity Prize Committee headed by Poland’s former President and legendary Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. Among other contenders for the distinction were eleven human rights defenders from China, Ghana, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Guatemala, Cuba, Australia, Germany, and Ukraine.
The prize’s total value is PLN 4 million (approx. EUR 1 million). A quarter will go directly to the winner, fifty thousand euros are earmarked for funding a study visit to Poland of the laureate or a group of people he chooses, while seven hundred thousand euros will be spent on Polish development assistance programmes.
The Solidarity Prize statuette was designed by Professor Krzysztof Nitsch, a sculptor and medallist who has won numerous awards and accolades.