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Human Rights

Speech by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, at the ceremony awarding the 2009 Sakharov Prize to Memorial

Strasbourg -
16/12/2009

Honoured guests,
Dear colleagues,
Dear friends,

There are days when I am particularly proud to sit in the chair of the European Parliament as President. Today is such a day. Today we are honouring the winners of the 2009 Sakharov Prize, the prize for freedom of thought.

I am pleased that the Conference of Presidents decided to award the prize to Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, on behalf of Memorial and all other human rights defenders in Russia. I am proud that this decision was taken unanimously.

(Loud and sustained applause)

With this prize we, the Members of the European Parliament, honour those still among us who fight for human rights, but we also honour those who lost their lives in this very struggle. Natalia Estemirova should have been among us today, as should Anna Politkovskaya. Their killers have yet to be brought to justice.

(Applause)

We in Europe know the price of freedom; the price of freedom of thought. On 16 December, exactly 28 years ago, strikers at the Wujek coalmine in Poland were killed by the communist police because they were fighting for solidarity - for basic human rights, for dignity. On 16 December twenty years ago, in Romania, a revolution began which would claim the lives of over a thousand people fighting for their freedom.

This happened in countries which are now members of the European Union; countries which today are together with us. We in the European Parliament will never forget the past. It is our duty to safeguard those values which are so dear to us all. In Europe we enjoy our human right of freedom of thought because of the highest sacrifice made by others.

It is a great honour for me to be presenting this prize today to the Memorial organisation. Yet at the same time I feel angry that it is still necessary to be presenting such awards in Europe - on this occasion to our Russian friends for their work in defence of human rights. This year we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the death of Andrei Sakharov, one of the founders of Memorial. If he were here today, would he feel pride, or more a sense of sadness that today's Russia still needs such organisations?

Andrei Sakharov lived to see the start of the changes in Central and Eastern Europe; he saw the Berlin Wall coming down and the beginnings of the freedoms for which he had fought. It is our belief that today's human rights activists in Russia will see genuine and lasting freedom; the type of freedom that we enjoy in the European Union. That is what we wish today for all of Russia's citizens.

(Applause)

Every year we, the Members of this House, award the Sakharov Prize as a reminder that throughout the world people's fundamental rights must be guaranteed. People must have the right to freedom of belief and freedom of thought. For, as Andrei Sakharov himself said, and I quote: '...freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship'. That is why the European Parliament upholds the right to freedom of thought, and will continue to do so, both within and outside Europe.

In awarding the Sakharov Prize today, the Members of this House, directly elected by the citizens of the EU's 27 Member States, wish to show their support to everyone throughout the world who is fighting for basic values. The European Union has a noble mission: it is our task to act in defence of freedom of expression and thought in every corner of the world. We hope that, in this area, Russia will be a partner on whom we can rely.