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  • Documents on Democracy


At a banquet in Washington, D.C., on 27 April 1993, the National Endowment for Democracy presented its biennial Democracy Award to leading democratic activists from three continents: Han Dongfang, the founder of the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation, who was jailed by the Chinese government for 22 months following the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre; Gitobu Imanyara, a Kenyan human rights lawyer and editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly and the Nairobi Weekly; and Vesna Pešić, a longtime human rights activist from Serbia, where she is the director of the Center for Anti-War Action in Belgrade. Excerpts of their acceptance speeches appear below:

Han: I am honored to receive this award and do so on behalf of my colleagues who have struggled for democracy in China with me, and who are still fighting for democratic rights under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions . . . .

Democracy can be realized in China only through concrete actions, without which democracy would lose its luster and significance. Talk about democracy is not sufficient, nor will democracy result from the application of some abstract theory. Indeed, we know that it is only because numerous people have struggled for democracy and freedom, supported by their friends from other nations, that totalitarian governments have collapsed one by one throughout the world.

Today, China is the world's largest remaining dictatorship. How the struggle for democracy fares in China will certainly be a pivotal influence on the overall effort to promote freedom elsewhere.

At the present time in China, the government, which owns most of the assets of the country, is in the process of restructuring the country's command economy. This adjustment process is generating tremendous political and economic pressure on workers and peasants. It is a process in which they desperately seek input but have almost none. If China is to have a market economy in which employers have profits as their [End Page 134] motive, then workers and peasants must have the right to form unions and associations of their own choosing. If such organizations are formed and can achieve real participation in state politics and the economy, then they will be able to exert a decisive influence on China's advance toward democracy.

Tonight, I would like to share some encouraging news: after a long period of discussion, organizers of China's free labor movement have decided that they will seek to advance democratization through open means using the legal guarantees now available to them in China. . . . Although such involvement engenders great personal risk, they feel it is the only course of action available to them which will advance democratization at a practical level.

The cause of democracy in China cannot succeed without support from the global democratic community. However, such support must be directed to those real forces emerging in China which seek such change.

Imanyara: This is a unique occasion. Three people drawn from three different continents that account for a significant portion of humanity are brought together in a special ceremony to celebrate democracy: from China, from Europe, from Africa. The names in this special context bring to mind places: Sharpeville, Tiananmen Square, Srebrenica—each representing in its own irrational and tortured logic the never-ending struggle for human dignity and freedom.

I stand to accept the award as a messenger of the African people. For us in Africa, this award is an eloquent affirmation that we have allies in our struggle to plant and nurture a culture of democratic values and civil society. We thank the American people, who have through the National Endowment for Democracy recognized that the African continent is in the process of an irreversible march to human dignity and democratic emancipation.

More than 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela told us that there is no easy road to freedom. For close to 30 years he languished in jail as the moral leader of the African struggle for justice. Twenty years ago, President Jomo Kenyatta told us that the African continent is awake and will never go to sleep again. Now Nelson Mandela is out of prison and Jomo Kenyatta is long dead.

We have experienced the obstacles Nelson Mandela was referring...