Events >> The Democracy Award >> 1991 Democracy Award

1991 Democracy Award On April 16 the Endowment presented its 1991 Democracy Award to Presidents Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua and Vaclav Havel of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. President Chamorro was present to accept her award; Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier accepted on behalf of Havel. His Holiness The Dalai Lama offered the invocation for the evening's program, which was attended by some 500 guests.

In presenting President Havel's award, Congressman Dante B. Fascell spoke about his pivotal role as an intellectual and political leader of the democratic revolution that swept Central Europe in 1989, recognizing Havel's courage in resisting totalitarianism and leadership in building democracy on the ashes of communism. In accepting the award, Minister Dienstbier, himself a leading democratic activist with Charter 77 and a colleague of Havel's in Civic Forum, expressed appreciation to the Endowment, not only for the award but also for the years of work assisting democratic movements and strengthening democratic institutions around the world.

Senator Nancy Kassebaum presented the award to President Chamorro, recalling that when the two stood together on the platform at the Endowment's international conference in 1989, no one could have predicted the astonishing events that would bring Mrs. Chamorro to power in Nicaragua. In accepting her award, Mrs. Chamorro, spoke about the "birth of democracy" in Nicaragua, the challenges faced and patience required in promoting peace, encouraging dialogue, and "ridding the people of the mentality that war and violence present solutions to problems."

Vice President Dan Quayle concluded the evening's program. In his remarks, he commended the Endowment's work and its effectiveness as a private organization promoting democratic ideals. Speaking about the honorees, he stated, "Presidents Havel and Chamorro, represent democratic statesmanship at its very finest - brave, principled and committed to the defense of human rights and democratic values."
Acceptance Speech by President Violeta Chamorro

It has been several years since I visited the National Endowment for Democracy for the first time, when I was a newspaper editor. At the time, the paper I was working for had just recently reopened after being closed for over a year. The former government in Nicaragua, which was not very concerned with the rights of the people, censored the paper and caused it to close down. This newspaper was stripped of its materials and equipment, left without paper or the means to advertise and most of the staff were exiled. On my trip to the Endowment, I was accompanied by representatives of the Nicaraguan unions, private enterprises and owners of small radio stations all groups which the Sandinista regime was trying to suffocate in its attempt to eradicate the last traces of a civil society in Nicaragua.

I later returned as a presidential candidate for a coalition of democratic political parties who opposed this totalitarian government. There were very few people who believed that this coalition and this candidacy would be successful. On both trips the Endowment opened its doors to me, offering assistance and, above all, giving me friendship.

Now I return as President of my country, and I am greeted with the same open doors and friendship and also with the great honor of receiving the Democracy Award that is presented by the Endowment to representatives of different countries of the world for their contributions toward democracy. The 1991 Democracy Award is an honor, as much because of the prestige of the institution that is giving it to me, as for the cause that it represents. - For me the latter is the most noble - so noble that my biggest desire since my husband died for this flag and bequeathed it to me, is to fight for democracy. The prestige becomes more prestigious and the honor becomes even more honorable because I share this award with Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslovakia.

Democracy is what unites a city in Europe and a city in Central America, despite historic differences.

In my homeland, the advent of democracy did not occur through violence or force. It took place solely through free elections. For the first time in the history of the twentieth century, the result of a vote ended a totalitarian dictatorship and the two civil war opponents agreed on peace - not because of the victory of one group, but because of the conviction of both.

Democracy was born in Nicaragua patriotically -- it was born democratically. The characteristics of its birth are those which confirm my belief in democracy and encourage me to spread its ideals to others, with patience. For me, patience is the key for promoting peace -I don't believe in using force for any reason, and while I try to maintain due respect for other's viewpoints, I am always trying to convince them of mine. I have even been attacked by both the national and foreign press because I don't personify the image that the world has of a typical Latin government leader who pounds the table with their fist. I govern as a woman and as a woman, I don't believe that violence or force can win anyone over. Those who govern a country have to be the first democrats, so that democracy can exist. Government leaders and the way that they govern provide the best examples of democracy for people.

In Nicaragua, dialogue is what turned our economy around. We did this by having conferences that cost us both time and patience, but through planting the seeds of dialogue, we have harvested both peace and understanding. Another basic requirement, especially in Latin American countries, is that the development of democracy diverges from militaristic ideals. For this reason, from the first day I was elected as President of Nicaragua, I have not stopped fighting for disarming, both morally and physically - not just in Nicaragua, but in all of Central America. I made a decision to bury tons of military arms in Nicaragua -- to pull out the roots of military ideals in a country that has thwarted democracy so many times. Each gun signified at least one human life that would be stricken down. Instead of burying our children, I wanted to bury these arms forever, as a symbol of the new Republic. My country's battle is a difficult one. But true democracy will only happen when we rid the people of the mentality that war and violence present solutions to our problems. Whatever problem arises, it can be resolved democratically. War never brings the answer - it only presents new problems.

Finally, I have to make one last demand before the democratic world: New democracies need moral and effective solidarity. We need help from all of you so that the disastrous economic situation that we inherited from the mistakes of the previous regime does not affect or handicap the development of our growing democracy. Let us be victorious in all of our battles for freedom! Let us achieve solidarity of all free people -- the most beautiful conquest for democracy this century!
Acceptance Speech by Foreign Minister Jiri Diensthier

It is my pleasant task to have the honor of receiving, on behalf of Mr. Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic, your 1991 Democracy Award. Both the pleasure and the honor are even greater since you have decided that my President should share this award with Madame Violeta Chamorro, the President of Nicaragua.

The National Endowment for Democracy has for several years been engaged in efforts to assist democratic movements and strengthen democratic institutions around the world. In so doing it represents the broad and profound commitment to democracy common to all people of the United States, a commitment deeply rooted in the history and tradition of this country.

I do not think I need to stress to this audience that promoting democracy is hard and never ending work that requires the full engagement of committed peoples the world over. I would like to express my belief that in choosing this year's recipients of its Democracy Award, the Endowment has made a positive symbolic act. In choosing the bearers of the highest offices in two countries that have only recently emerged in the family of democratic nations, the Endowment has reminded people in democratic movements around the world who are struggling for what the free world considers to be essential and inalienable human rights that their efforts are not in vain, that no situation is hopeless. and that no defeat is so definite that it cannot be turned into victory. Who would have believed a few years ago that Nicaragua would soon have a democratically-elected administration. that the debilitating civil war, costly in terms of human life, would be over, and representatives of the righting sides would be working in a common effort for the reconstruction of the country. Not even many within the small group of Charter 77 would have thought that the fall of 1989 would mean the fall of communism in Eastern Europe or that in the spring of 1991 I would be accepting the Democracy Award on behalf of Vaclav Havel, the playwright President. Indeed it must have taken a true master of the absurd to create such a drama in the realm of the real world.

This award is recognition of the efforts our people have made. It's also an obligation that puts great responsibility upon our shoulders. It simply takes much longer than the year and a half that has passed since our revolution to create a true democratic revolution in the minds of people who have had no practical experience with democracy for some half a century. However, in the process of gradually ridding our society of the heritage of 50 years of totalitarian rule, we have already taken some first steps. In preparing the framework for democratic reforms, we have formulated a constitution with a list of basic rights and freedoms - indeed the first of its kind in the history of our country, passed by our parliament early this year. Internationally we have found new friends within the community of democratic nations and are positively and actively re-evaluating our relations with former allies and neighbors. We are in the process of preparing bilateral treaties with our neighbors and are gradually dismantling the organizations of the Warsaw Pact. In the Eastern and Central Europe security venue we are trying to satisfy our needs by putting our eggs into as many baskets as possible. Good working relations with the North Atlantic Alliance and its member states, further development of the CSCE process, our association with the institutions of the European community, as well as strong and friendly relations with the U.S. are the most important among those efforts.

This is not the occasion for a broad outline of our policies. I've only tried to mention some of our achievements and plans and in so doing to show you that the honor that you have bestowed on President Havel with this Democracy Award has not been completely undeserved.

I am proud to represent my President and my country and thank you on behalf of Mr. Havel for the award.

I would also like to assure you of my belief, which I share with the government and people of Czechoslovakia, that with your continued help we shall overcome the problems Czechoslovakia is facing and find our permanent place within the steadily growing family of democratic nations.