|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 24, 2005
Background on Participants "champions of Freedom"
February 24, 2005
BACKGROUND ON PARTICIPANTS
"CHAMPIONS OF FREEDOM"
Alexander Bachnar, Slovak Republic
Mr. Bachnar was the commander of a Jewish partisan unit that fought in the Slovak National Uprising. When he and his fellow prisoners in the Novaky labor camp heard the approaching German army, Mr. Bachnar and other Jewish prisoners rose up against the prison guards with weapons that they had been hiding, took control of the camp, formed a unit and joined the Slovak National Uprising. Many of the participants had never held a weapon as the war-time Slovak regime did not allow Jews to serve in the army or own a weapon. Mr. Bachnar showed extraordinary courage and risked his life when he decided to fight for the liberation of his country, even after being degraded and betrayed by his own government.
George (Giga) Bokeria, Georgia
Currently a member of Parliament, Mr. Bokeria co-founded in 1996 the non-governmental organization "Liberty Institute" to defend freedom of the press. The Institute subsequently became the major human rights defender in Georgia. In 2003, after a visit to Serbia to learn peaceful revolution techniques, Bokeria helped bring Serb activists to Georgia to train students in these same techniques. This led to the establishment of the youth movement "Kmara," which played a leading role in the November 2003 Rose Revolution. After the Revolution, Mr. Bokeria was elected to Parliament where he has authored many laws to strengthen human rights in Georgia.
Martin Butora, Slovak Republic
An advocate of democracy and human rights, Martin Butora, former Ambassador to the United States was a key activist in the Velvet Revolution as a member of the Public Against Violence movement, and later a vocal critic of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's authoritarian-style regime (1994-98). During the Meciar era, Butora participated in civic organizations that promoted democracy, condemned economic corruption, increased awareness of income disparity, and protested restrictions on free speech. Ambassador Butora served as then-Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel's advisor for human rights until the 1993 breakup of Czechoslovakia.
Igor Botan, Moldova
Mr. Botan has arguably done more than any other person to bring Moldovan law and practice into line with international democratic standards. He leads the Association for Participatory Democracy (ADEPT), the foremost Moldovan non-governmental organization in the areas of voter education and election monitoring. Despite changes in the local political environment, he has remained scrupulously independent and consistent in promoting democratic values and the rule of law.
Pavol Demes, Slovak Republic
Pavol Demes is one of the leading civic activists in Central and Eastern Europe. Currently, he is director of the Bratislava office of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States where he oversees GMF's activities in Central and Eastern Europe. He leads GMF's work for democratic reform in the region, most recently on supporting free and fair elections in Ukraine. Before joining GMF, Mr. Demes was executive director of the Slovak Academic Information Agency-Service Center for the Third Sector, a Slovak non-governmental organization committed to enhancing civil society. Mr. Demes also served as the first Slovak President's foreign policy advisor. He played a key role in the peaceful democratic changes in Slovakia in 1998, Serbia in 2000 and Ukraine in 2004, for which he received several international awards.
Natalya Dmytruk, Ukraine
The Wall Street Journal observed that Ukraine's Orange Revolution gained unexpected momentum from "small acts of courage by people previously uninvolved in politics." Natalya Dmytruk, the sign language interpreter for Ukrainian State Television (UT-1), was one of those people. Angered by her network's refusal to broadcast the truth in the days following Ukraine's fraudulent November 21, 2004 run-off presidential election, a courageous Ms. Dmytruk acted on her anger: after "signing" the news on November 25, she unexpectedly pulled an orange ribbon (the color of the opposition) from her sleeve and informed her viewers that, "Everything you have heard so far is a lie. Yushchenko is our true president. Goodbye, for you will probably never see me here again." Her action galvanized journalists throughout Ukraine, especially those at the major pro-government TV networks. Inspired by her example, hundreds of her colleagues at UT-1 confronted the network's owners, chanting, "No more lies!" Ms. Dmytruk has humbly and succinctly described the motivation behind her action: "Without telling anyone, I just went in and did what my conscience told me to do."
Miklos Haraszti, Hungary
A former dissident and activist, Miklos Haraszti co-founded the Hungarian Democratic Opposition Movement in 1976, and in 1980 he became editor of the samizdat periodical Beszelo. He is the author of works such as, "A Worker in a Worker's State" and "The Velvet Prison." In 1989, he participated in the roundtable negotiations on the transition to democracy in Hungary. He was a member of the Hungarian Parliament from 1990 to 1994 and now serves as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media.
Sandra Kalniete, Latvia
As a founding member of the pro-independence Latvian Popular Front, Sandra Kalniete played an influential role in the Latvian independence movement. She was a candidate for the 1990 Supreme Council that voted to re-establish Latvia as an independent country, and she helped rally foreign support for Latvia's nascent independence movement. Ambassador Kalniete was born in Siberia, where her parents had been banished by Soviet authorities. She and her family returned to Latvia in 1957. One of her books, "Siberian Snows," recounts her family's deportation and return story and is a perennial best-seller. Ambassador Kalniete currently serves on the board of the Robert Schuman Foundation. She has served as Latvia's Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva (1993-97), as Ambassador to France (1997-2002) and UNESCO (2000-2002), as Foreign Minister (2002-2004) and as interim EU Commissioner for Agricultural Affairs (2004).
Vladyslav Kaskiv, Ukraine
Mr. Kaskiv was a key leader of Pora ("It's Time"), the pro-democracy movement comprised mostly of young people which played a critical role during the November-December 2004 Orange Revolution. In the run-up to the Ukrainian Presidential election, Pora mobilized voters and highlighted problems with voter registration lists. For its efforts, the movement was vilified by the former Ukrainian administration, and Pora activists were repeatedly roughed up by government thugs and detained by police on trumped-up charges. Following the fraudulent November 21 presidential run-off election, Pora members moved quickly, gathering en masse at Independence Square, setting up a massive tent city in downtown Kiev, and peacefully blockading key government buildings. Led by Mr. Kaskiv and others and enduring brutal winter weather, Pora members, often waving their distinct yellow banners, maintained a peaceful presence "on the barricades" for the duration of the Orange Revolution, refusing to abandon their tents until the announcement of the official vote tally January 10, 2005 showing that Viktor Yushchenko had won the election. Pora's rallying cry, printed on orange stickers that were liberally applied to government property during the protests, was this universal truth: Freedom cannot be stopped.
Tinatin (Tina) Khidasheli, Georgia
A long-time advocate of democratic reform, Ms. Khidasheli was a staunch critic of the former government. She founded and heads the non-governmental organization "Georgia's Young Lawyers Association," which played a major role in blowing the whistle on Georgia's fraudulent November 2003 elections. Her organization is also a critical watchdog of the new government, publishing articles in local and Western newspapers and also privately consulting with the Georgian Government on proposed laws. Ms. Khidasheli is a source of sharp analysis and critique that both the government and civil society respect.
Ivan Klima, Czech Republic
A former dissident and current author, Ivan Klima spent 3 years at the Nazi concentration camp at Terezin. He was a writer from a young age, initially with success, but the regime labeled him a dissident and banned his works, which were popular in the samizdat press. In 1968, he was editor of the anti-regime Czech Writers' Union journal. He is a winner of the Franz Kafka Prize and a recipient of a medal for outstanding service to the Czech Republic from former President Havel.
Irina Krasovskaya, Belarus
Dr. Krasovskaya is the founder and President of "We Remember Foundation," a civic initiative that seeks justice for the disappeared and other victims of political repression in Belarus. Her husband, Anatoly Krasovsky, disappeared on September 16, 1999 with Vice Speaker of the Parliament Victor Gonchar. Since 1999, her vigorous campaign on behalf of those disappeared helped to win support for a U.S.-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April 2003 that urged Belarus to establish accountability for the disappeared, and encouraged the Parliamentarian Assembly of Council of Europe to organize a Special Commission to investigate political disappearances in Belarus. Dr. Krasovskaya has participated in hearings held in the Parliaments of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia and meets regularly with representatives from national governments, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament on issues of human rights. She is a member of the European Coalition "Free Belarus."
Mart Laar, Estonia
During the Soviet era, Mart Laar attempted to document the resistance to the Soviets during the 1940s and 1950s, which caused him to lose his teaching post at Tartu University. He gained fame in 1988 when he was threatened with an indictment for anti-Soviet "slander" after his articles were published in the reformist press. Mr. Laar led the Fatherland Faction of the Estonian Supreme Council during 1990-92. After Estonia regained its independence, he served as Prime Minister from 1992-94 and again in 1999, was a founding member and Chairman of the Pro Patria Union party, and served in Estonia's Parliament.
Vytautas Landsbergis, Lithuania
Mr. Landsbergis led Lithuania's reform movement "Sajudis" in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the struggle for Lithuania's restored independence from the Soviet Union. He was elected to the Lithuanian Supreme Council in 1990 and in March of that year declared Lithuania's resumption of independence. Mr. Landsbergis presided over the country for the following 2 years (1990-1992) as it sought international recognition. He was later Speaker of Parliament. He is a key leader of Lithuania's Homeland Union (Conservative Party) and is currently serving as a Member of the European Parliament in Brussels.
Sonja Licht, Serbia and Montenegro
A long-time member of the Yugoslav democratic opposition, Ms. Licht was co-chair of the International Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, a broad coalition of civic movements, groups, and initiatives founded in Prague in 1990. During the late 1990s, Ms. Licht was the President of the Fund for an Open Society Yugoslavia, which played a crucial role in keeping a vibrant non-governmental sector alive in Serbia during the Milosevic regime. Ms. Licht helped organize civic initiatives, including get-out-the-vote and information campaigns, in the lead up to September 2000 elections that ousted Milosevic. Ms. Licht is now Director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, a part of the Council of Europe's network for democracy program that works to build and promote a sustainable, new, responsible leadership in the political and civil society spheres in Serbia and Montenegro.
Zhanna Litvina, Belarus
A pioneering radio journalist, Ms. Litvina is President of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). She became head of the youth program of Belarusian State Radio in 1994 and turned the program into an independent voice, which eventually led to its shutdown in 1995. That same year, Ms. Litvina founded the only independent radio station on the Belarusian FM dial, 101.2, which was shut down a year later. The station then moved to Poland, where it broadcast to Belarus on medium and short waves. In 1995, Ms. Litvina and 38 others founded the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which provides legal support for journalists, conducts training programs, monitors violations in the media field, and publishes an independent journal. The BAJ received a Golden Pen Award from the World Association of Newspapers in 2003 for "courageous resistance to the repression of the media by President Aleksander Lukashenka." The European Parliament awarded the BAJ the 2004 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for acting "as a champion of the independent media."
Ivan Marovic, Serbia and Montenegro
Along with a group of other Serbian student leaders, Marovic formed the OTPOR ("Resistance") movement in 1998. OTPOR used popular protest and peaceful provocation to build anti-Milosevic support in the 1999-2000 period. Although OTPOR started by mobilizing young people, it quickly expanded into a mass movement with members from all sectors of society. As one of the most visible leaders of OTPOR, Marovic best represented the common youth of Serbia and organized rallies and marches in the lead-up to the September 2000 election that ousted the Milosevic regime. After 2000, OTPOR focused on building democratic society in Serbia and opposing corruption. OTPOR has become a model for resistance movements in other countries, including Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus and Albania.
Janina Ochojska, Poland
While Poland was under communist rule, Ms. Ochojska was an opposition activist in Torun, Poland where she helped form the Solidarity Trade Union in that city. In 1976, she was one of the signatories of a letter that protested against anti-democratic amendments to Poland's constitution. After undergoing serious surgery in 1984, Ms. Ochojska started to work as a volunteer for the French organization EquiLibre, which provided medical and food assistance to hospitals and centers for sick children in Poland. After she returned to Poland, Ms. Ochojska actively participated in coordinating foreign help to Poland's new democratic movement. She is the recipient of the Jan Karski Freedom Award for Valor and Compassion (2002) and the European Community awarded her the title of Woman of Europe in 1994. Since 1994, Ms. Ochojska has been the Chairperson of the foundation Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), which provides humanitarian aid in Poland and around the world, helping victims of natural disaster and armed conflict in places such as the Balkans, Chechnya and Darfur, Sudan. PAH has also provided humanitarian assistance and conducted reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, and organized assistance for the victims of the terrorist act in Beslan, Russia and for those affected by the December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
Andrei Safonov, Moldova
Mr. Safonov is a well-known political analyst and journalist in Transnistria, the separatist enclave in eastern Moldova ruled by an internationally-unrecognized authoritarian criminal regime. At great personal risk, Mr. Safonov has tirelessly promoted democratic values and human rights, as well as reconciliation between the two sides to the conflict, while keeping his publication, "Novaya Gazeta," alive as one of just a handful of independent voices in Transnistria.
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska, Macedonia
As President of the State Electoral Commission (SEC), Ms. Trajkovska bravely stood up to threats and intimidation from the Interior Minister at the time, who tried to force her to falsify the results of the 2002 parliamentary elections in favor of the ruling party. Ms. Trajkovska refused to give in to the intimidation and the ruling party was ousted in elections deemed free and fair by international observers, thereby strengthening the independent status of the SEC and the integrity of the democratic system in Macedonia. Since 2003, Ms. Trajkovska has served as a Constitutional Court Judge. She previously served as Head of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Assistant Interior Minister.
Alexandr (Sasha) Vondra, Czech Republic
During the mid-1980s, Sasha Vondra was active in Czechoslovakia's democratic opposition, printing and distributing government-suppressed literature in samizdat and working with opposition groups in neighboring countries. He was one of the original signatories of Charter 77, demanding human rights in the former communist country, and later became spokesperson for the Charter campaign in 1989. Following a
2-month prison sentence for opposition activities, Mr. Vondra became co-founder and leading member of the Civic Forum movement during the Velvet Revolution in November of that year. From 2001 to 2003, he managed the preparation of the 2002 NATO Summit in Prague as the Czech Government's Commissioner to the Summit. Previously, Mr. Vondra headed the Czech Mission to the United States from 1997 to 2001, during which time he oversaw the Czech Republic's integration into NATO. Prior to his post in Washington, he served as the First Deputy Foreign Minister and Foreign Policy Advisor to President Vaclav Havel. He is President of the Czech Euro-Atlantic Council and serves on the board of the Program of Atlantic Security Studies (PASS) and the Vaclav Havel Library. Mr. Vondra has been awarded the Cross of Merit by the Czech Minister of Defense and the Democracy Service Medal by the National Endowment for Democracy.