The 2022 NDI Democracy Gala was a triumphal celebration of democracy and its defenders.
The Gala opened with a video tribute to long-time democracy champion, Madeline K. Albright, who was Vice Chair at NDI’s founding nearly forty years ago — and served as Chair from 2001 until her passing in March 2022. NDI Board Chair Tom Daschle, President Mitchell, and Alice, one of her daughters, all paid tribute to Madeleine Albright’s leadership as one of the world’s foremost spokespersons for democracy.
To honor Albright's legacy, NDI renamed its democracy award after her. The 2022 Madeleine K. Albright Democracy Award winners were President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on behalf of the people of Ukraine, President Zuzana Čaputová of Slovakia, President Maia Sandu of Moldova, and Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte of Lithuania. Each has met the threat of authoritarianism head on and has defended democracy at great personal risk — inspiring the world with their personal courage and leadership.
The first award was presented to President Zuzana Čaputová of Slovakia, who spoke of the work we must do as democracy defenders. She said, “The autocrats believe that their moment has come. But democracy, executed well, remains by far the best governance model. And in the end, it will prevail.”
President Sandu and Prime Minister Simonyte then joined a panel discussion with Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa — herself a 2017 NDI Democracy Award winner. The group talked about the influence of Madeleine Albright on their work and their personal experiences with her. Maria Ressa said what made Albright unique was: “in the midst of every single thing we went through, [she] was always among the first to stand up… that [was] the key.” The panel then discussed the challenges of standing up to the illiberal influences of Russia and China and, in particular, the difficulty women political leaders face from misinformation and disinformation. President Sandu said, “We need to stay together and show solidarity… and we need to help every single country which is fighting for democracy.” Prime Minister Somonyte agreed, "[We can't] stop protecting what is crucial [or] forget that freedom is not given or granted.”
The final award of the night went to the people of Ukraine, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accepting on their behalf. Once again expressing tremendous courage and defiance in the face of Russia’s war of aggression, President Zelenskyy said, “Ukraine and the free world should definitely not change their goals and exchange their values for some compromises… We must fully protect freedom and guarantee the security of our democracy.”
José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, which has served nearly 200 million meals during the war, focused on the power of the individual in his remarks. “Some defend our borders and protect our allies, but teachers, journalists, humanitarian workers, artists and yes, even chefs …everybody has a way to fight for what is right because that's how we strengthen democracy,” he said. “One action at a time, one individual at a time, that collectively sends a message that resonates throughout the world.”
Each awardee spoke with passion, grace and zeal — sharing their personal story in the battle for democracy and how essential it is for the world to confront authoritarian aggression. It was a night that echoed with the voice of Madeleine K. Albright, and one which most surely honored her legacy.
Author: Scott Franklin, Government Relations and Communications Associate, Government Relations and Communication team.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.