Khodorkovsky Receives ‘Man of the Year’ Award from Gazeta Wyborcza

May 11, 2014

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was presented with the ‘2014 Man of the Year’ award by editor Adam Michnik. The Polish translation of the speech can be viewed here, and a photo gallery of the event is available here. The following is the full text of his speech:

Thank you very much, I am honored to be among the distinguished winners of this award. Thank you Professor Balcerowicz for your kind words about me.

I want to take this opportunity to thank your editor in chief Adam Michnik who supported me for many years. Thank you Adam, you understand of course how important it is for a political prisoner to know that he is supported and remembered. Thank you for that. I was happy to see you during my second trial in Moscow. I’m even more happy that for our second meeting I am able to shake your hand as a free man.

I would like to thank President Lech Walesa, Prime Minister Tusk and Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski for continued support they show for political prisoners. It is very important. I urge everyone to remember that apart from myself and others, who are already released, there are still many political prisoners in Russian prisons.

Remember Alexey Pichugin, who unjustly serves a life sentence, prisoners of Bolotnaya Square, with whom they use old methods of psychiatric punishments. I’m afraid that because of changes my country is undergoing, there will be more and more of people like that. Remember them.

Even if we can’t help them, our compassion and memory makes their fate a little better. And in the final run we will help them anyway.

I would like to give my best wishes to Gazeta Wyborcza on your 25th anniversary. Throughout the years this newspaper published materials of much significance and helped shape Poland as it made a difficult transition from communism to democracy. A great Pole, who sadly passed away last year, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, while receiving your Man of the Year title said on this occasion 5 years ago that the challenge Gazeta set for itself in 1989 “was to shape democratic values for a democratic state and society”. I wish for you to carry on this mission in the future.

Speaking of wishes and congratulations, it is an opportune time to congratulate Poland and the Poles who are approaching an important anniversary, which is closely tied to the birthday of this newspaper. 25 years since the day when this country held its first free elections. In those 25 years Poland has accomplished a great transformation, something that seemed impossible to almost all at the time. To paraphrase a title Adam used 25 years ago in this newspaper commenting on the results of those elections “nothing is what it used to be”. I came here after 20 years and I see it clearly. I congratulate you on that.

While in Warsaw these days, one cannot but mention Ukraine that both Poles and Russians alike hold dear to their hearts. Both you and we care about what is happening in our neighbor’s house. I was recently in Kyiv, Kharkov, and Donetsk and I saw for myself what was going on there. The country is literally being torn apart into pieces, despite its will. All of this brings to mind how empires of the 18th and 19th centuries broke up countries, things that Poland is so familiar with. Ukraine will hold an election on May 25 and how legitimate and democratic the election will be will define the future of Ukraine and the prospects of the entire European continuum. What is going on there is more important than a fate of one country and those who don’t understand it or don’t want to understand that make a big mistake. Poland’s election 25 years ago came as a harbinger of freedom for all of Eastern Europe. I would very much like the Ukrainian election of May 25 to be a symbol of a victory of democracy both in Ukraine and in other post-USSR nations. We all have our work cut out for us if this is to happen.

Today my country, Russia is not a rule of law state. But the Russian society remains on its path to freedom. I want you to remember the common experience that we have of joint efforts towards democratic values. Remember the friendships we have had for many years. I want you and our friends in Ukraine to know that, outside the official Kremlin, there is a different Russia; a Russia that for all those years in a difficult conditions and with alternating success continues on the road to democracy we once set out to follow together.

Today my country celebrates an important holiday, Victory in a horrible war. It is Russia’s main holiday. Every family, including mine lost someone close during that war. It was similar in Poland, Ukraine and other countries.

I hope that one day, like you, we will be able to add yet another holiday to our calendar, a celebration of a full and unquestionable victory of democracy. Thank you very much.