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Democracy’s Heroes Honored at 2021 John S. McCain Freedom Award Celebration

October 22, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The International Republican Institute (IRI) honored several of “Democracy’s Heroes” last night with our annual Freedom Award Celebration. Honorees included the people of Belarus, Burma, Cuba, and Lithuania for their efforts to spread democracy and fight authoritarianism. An award was also given to the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN) for its leadership fighting COVID-19. 

IRI President Daniel Twining opened the evening with a rallying call for democracy. “The forces of freedom are not standing still,” Twining said. “Fortunately, democrats in many parts of the world are fighting back.”  

IRI Chairman and U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan followed by highlighting the courageous work of the night’s honorees. “These and others have rallied to break the chains of oppression in their countries and to provide a model, a light, in some of the darkest places in the world,” said Sullivan. Additional speakers throughout the event included Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Joni Ernst, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senator Rick Scott.  

The past year and a half has demonstrated the power of democratic action in crisis, especially when youth participate. EDYN Leadership Council Member Donjet Bislimi was in attendance and accepted the award in honor of those young democracy leaders. 

Cuban Grammy-award winner Willy Chirino accepted the award on behalf of the Cuban people. “Please don’t let the cries of the Cuban people go unheard,” said Chirino. “The time for Cuban freedom is now.” 

For the heroic efforts of Lithuania and the brave people of Belarus, the award was given to Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and Coordination Council Representative for Belarusian Political Prisoners Tatsiana Khomich. “I am proud to be part of the nation that had stood with the people of Belarus long before August 2020,” Prime Minister Simonyte declared. “And stands with them today.” Khomich followed by sharing stories from the exiled and imprisoned people of Belarus. “Freedom is primarily inside,” said Khomich upon reception of the award. “No walls or bars can take that away.”  

Finally, Ambassador U Kyaw Moe Tun spoke of the desire of the Burmese people to “build a nation where all democratic values can flourish” and called on the international community to provide continued support, advocacy, and humanitarian aid.  

To view the Freedom Award Ceremony, click here.

About IRI and the John S. McCain Freedom Award 

Since 1995, IRI has presented the Freedom Award to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the advancement of democracy and human freedom. Past recipients include President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. 

Founded in 1983, IRI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with political parties, civic groups, and legislatures in more than 100 countries to strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard elections, advance citizen engagement, and promote open and accountable government.