Thank you for the generous introduction.
It gives me great pleasure to accept this prize.
I feel very honored to join the distinguished ranks of past recipients.
What is most gratifying to me today is your timing.
You make this award at a time when the values of the Open Society are under attack around the world, including the United States.
I want to thank the Committee for recognizing my life’s work.
I on my part recognize this award as a wider tribute to the brave and committed people I have worked with over the years through the Open Society Foundations.
These are the people who have the courage to speak out. For accountability. For justice. For human dignity.
Today many of them are facing a concerted effort to silence them, and to demonize them.
Those in power brand them as “enemies of the people.” They concoct conspiracy theories to discredit their good work. All because they stand up for human rights, particularly for the rights of the most vulnerable.
In my native Hungary, the government of Viktor Orban has turned me into the super villain of an alleged plot to destroy the supposed Christian identity of the Hungarian nation.
But I don’t live in Budapest.
Some of our grantees, like Marta Pardavi of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, have to live with this kind of vilification and orchestrated hostility every day, because of their work to protect the legal rights of migrants and refugees.
In Turkey, President Erdogan has arrested and kept in solitary confinement since October 2017 my close friend Osman Kavala who has been the main supporter of our foundation in Turkey. The government has recently indicted him and 15 other people associated with our foundation on charges holding them responsible for the peaceful protests in Gezi Park in 2013. I fear that the prosecution will ask for life sentences.
And I could cite other countries.
The Front Line Defenders Group reported that in 2018 a total of 321 human rights activists were murdered.
Twenty three of them were killed in Brazil. They included Marielle Franco – a friend of the Open Society Foundations. Marielle was raised in the favelas of Rio and she became an activist and local politician who spoke out for the city’s poor black communities.
She was 38 when she was shot to death in March last year, together with her driver.
That was before the election of President Bolsonaro, who joins today’s gallery of would-be dictators. He is a great admirer and imitator of President Trump.
Yet the people we work with keep speaking out. They face violence and intimidation because they keep challenging the entrenched structures of political power. They follow the advice of Frederick Douglass who said, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” They provide that demand.
I have been fortunate to be able to support such people.
It is of great important for my foundations, which seek to address the various problems confronting humanity, that they should continue to raise their voice in spite of the mortal danger they face.
As a final note, I want to tell you that I’ll donate the prize money associated with this award to the Hungarian Spectrum, an online English-language publication that provides daily updates on Hungarian politics. It renders an important service by exposing to the world what Prime Minister Orban is telling his own people. It deserves to be better known and supported.
So, to close, I thank you for this honor, which I accept on behalf of all those people who continue to fight for the open society.