In December 2004, despite an assassination attempt and repeated efforts by Russian- backed political opponents to rig his defeat through election fraud, Viktor Yushchenko became the democratically elected leader of Ukraine. In doing so, he inspired citizens of the world with his extraordinary courage.
Yushchenko was elected president on December 26, 2004, after weeks of turmoil that thrust his country into chaos. In the November, 2004 runoff election, his opponent, the sitting prime minister, was reported to have won by three percentage points, but international monitors declared the elections fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko’s supporters poured into the streets in protest, and what became known as the Orange Revolution, after Yushchenko’s signature campaign color, grew in strength over the next two weeks. In early December, the Supreme Court invalidated the election and called for a new runoff, and Parliament voted to overhaul Ukraine’s political system.
In the final runoff on December 26, Viktor Yushchenko won by just under eight percentage points. Through it all, Yushchenko sustained a near lethal poising by dioxin and was hospitalized for several weeks.
Yushchenko, 50, was born in a village in northeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, to a family of teachers. He began his ascent in public life in 1993 as head of the National Bank. Yushchenko later became known among the international community for his record as prime minister of Ukraine, where he oversaw a series of economic reforms that brought some order to Ukraine’s struggling economy. In pushing for reform, Yushchenko unsettled the country’s oligarchs and in 2001, he was fired by President Leonid Kuchma. But the following year, Yushchenko’s opposition coalition, Our Ukraine, won the largest bloc of seats in parliamentary elections, and the former prime minister suddenly became the leading candidate to succeed Kuchma.
For the example he set of political courage throughout the world, Viktor Yushchenko was honored with the 2005 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.
Yushchenko Receives Profile in Courage Award
BOSTON (April 5, 2005) - Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, who survived an assassination attempt and overcame the efforts of Russian-backed political opponents to rig his defeat as the democratically elected leader of Ukraine, made a special trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston today to accept the 2005 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award from Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the consequences, the award is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators in American history who withstood strong opposition and risked their careers to fight for what they believed was the right course of action. Past recipients include President Gerald Ford, the Peacemakers of Northern Ireland, Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold, Congressman John Lewis, and Dr. Sima Simar of Afghanistan.
"President Kennedy believed that one man of courage makes a majority," said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, in presenting Yushchenko with the award's sterling silver lantern. "Viktor Yushchenko embodies that belief for a new generation. In the face of corruption, intimidation and life threatening danger, he remained true to the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. His courage has inspired citizens of the world."
Senator Edward Kennedy said, "In his Inaugural Address, President Yushchenko said: 'Only democracy guards the most valuable things for every person - family and children, peace and order, work and well-being.' His inspiring journey to the Presidency of Ukraine has touched the hearts of millions of peoples throughout the world struggling against tyranny, oppression and injustice, and bringing new hope that they too may find freedom and opportunity. Viktor Yushchenko is a Profile in Courage for the ages, and I know my brother would be immensely proud of him."
Yushchenko, who met yesterday in Washington with President George Bush, will return to Washington this evening where he will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
Despite an assassination attempt by a near-lethal poisoning from dioxin, and repeated efforts by Russian-backed political opponents to rig his defeat through election fraud, Yushchenko went on to galvanize the majority of Ukraine citizens who ultimately supported him as the democratically elected leader of Ukraine. His election as President of Ukraine has been hailed throughout the international community as a triumph for democracy.
A Ukrainian reformist politician, Yushchenko was elected president on December 26, 2004, after weeks of turmoil that thrust his country into chaos. In the November 21, 2004 runoff election, Prime Minister Yanukovich was reported to have received 49.5% of the vote, and Yushchenko 46.5%. International monitors declared the elections massively fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko's supporters took to the streets of the capital and other cities in protest, and what became known as the Orange Revolution (after Yushchenko's signature campaign color) continued full strength over the next two weeks. On December 3, the Supreme Court invalidated the election results, calling for a new runoff to be held on December 26. On December 8, Parliament voted in favor of an overhaul of Ukraine's political system, amending the constitution to reform election laws and transferring some presidential powers to the Parliament. In the final presidential runoff on December 26, Viktor Yushchenko won 52% of the vote to Yanukovich's 44.2%. Yanukovich resigned as prime minister on Dec. 31, 2004. Through it all, Yushchenko survived a near lethal poising by dioxin and had to be hospitalized for several weeks shortly before the November election.
Yushchenko, 50, was born in a village in northeastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, to a family of teachers. He studied at the Ternopil Finance and Economics Institute in Western Ukraine and began his ascent in public life in 1993 when he became head of the National Bank.
Yushchenko is best known within the international community for his record as Prime Minister of Ukraine. Confirmed by Parliament in December 1999, he served through April 2001 and, in 16 months in office, oversaw a series of key economic reforms that brought rudimentary order to help turn around Ukraine's then-struggling economy. In the process, Yushchenko and his allies unsettled the country's oligarchs and in 2001 Yushchenko was fired by President Leonid Kuchma. In March 2002, Yushchenko's opposition coalition, Our Ukraine, won the largest bloc of seats in parliamentary elections, and the former prime minister suddenly became the leading opposition candidate to succeed Kuchma.
Yushchenko is married to Kateryna Chumachenko, a U.S. citizen whose parents were Ukrainian exiles. The couple has three children.
The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor President Kennedy's commitment and contribution to public service. It is normally presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy's May 29th birthday. Described by one recipient as the "Nobel in Government," the Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.
Viktor Yushchenko was chosen as the recipient of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation's prestigious award for political courage by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, chairs the fourteen-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are Michael Beschloss, author and presidential historian; David Burke, former president of CBS News; U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi); Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Al Hunt, Washington managing editor of Bloomberg News; U.S. Representative Nancy Johnson (R-Connecticut); Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts); Paul G. Kirk, Jr., chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); and Patricia M. Wald, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. John Shattuck, chief executive officer of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. Mr. Shattuck is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
Past recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award are Afghan physician and human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar; former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson; former Oklahoma State Senator Paul Muegge; former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes; former South Carolina Governor David Beasley; former Georgia State Representative Dan Ponder, Jr.; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; former Palos Heights, Illinois, Mayor Dean Koldenhoven; former U.S. President Gerald Ford; former California State Senator Hilda Solis; U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona; U.S. Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; Garfield County, Montana Attorney Nickolas Murnion; Circuit Court Judge of Montgomery County, Alabama Charles Price; former Calhoun County, Georgia School Superintendent Corkin Cherubini; former U.S. Congressman Michael Synar of Oklahoma; U.S. Congressman Henry Gonzalez of Texas; former New Jersey Governor James Florio; former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, Jr.; former U.S. Congressman Charles Weltner of Georgia; and former U.S. Congressman Carl Elliott, Sr. of Alabama.
Special Profile in Courage Awards have been presented to the Irish Peacemakers, eight political leaders of Northern Ireland and the American chairman of the peace talks, in recognition of the extraordinary political courage they demonstrated in negotiating the historic Good Friday Peace Agreement and America's public servants who demonstrated extraordinary courage and heroism in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement has also been presented to U.S. Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Press contact: Tom McNaught (617) 514-1656
More than 40 years ago, John Kennedy wrote in the preface to his book “Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before.”
In the time that has passes, the world has seen tremendous changes. But these words remain just in our day. As before, an individual needs strength to carry out his responsibility. A nation needs strength to attain and defend its freedom. This strength only comes from courage born of conviction.
As a professional economist and recognized banker, I went into politics because I was convinced that my country has the necessary resources and opportunities for prosperity.
A patriot of Ukraine, I sought the presidency because I was anguished by poverty, repressed freedom of speech, corruption. An independent Ukrainian state was the result of a battle and great sacrifices of my nation. I could not calmly watch as the hopes of her citizens were replaced by disillusion, as millions of people were forced to look for work abroad, as oligarchic clans stole the national wealth.
I made the decision and did not look back, regardless of the threat to my life. I received strength from my family, from my wife Kateryna. I had political partners, some of whom are here today. I had the hopes of my fellow citizens. With every cell of my body, I believed, I felt that millions of honest people believed in me, that we could win and that we would undoubtedly win.
In my most difficult moments I remembered by responsibility before them and I continued the fight. I was able to return from a place where few survive, because of their support and prayers.
Today, after the victorious Orange Revolution, I cannot separate what I accomplished from what was accomplished by the courageous acts of the Ukrainian people. I am proud, that my nation demonstrated its strength, peacefully and beautifully defended its freedom. I am happy that my fellow citizens subscribe to the great values of democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Being chosen to receive this award is a great honor for me. It carries the name of a great man, whose example inspires many people, myself included. We are not only referring to the example of courage in the face of physical pain, which accompanied him in life. For me, John Kennedy became a symbol of courage and great foresight in politics that are always worthy to follow.
He became an example of success to a new generation that entered politics. The Orange Revolution brought a new team to power in Ukraine. These are honest professionals and patriots, not encumbered by the old stereotypes of Soviet times. We and many other Ukrainians today are ready to repeat the words of John Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.
We are led by the same desire to free Ukrainians from poverty and lawlessness, reaffirm justice and the rule of law. We want to make Ukraine one of the leaders of democracy, a flourishing nation among European peoples.
We are answering a serious social challenge. And our answer is also founded on the conviction that we do not need to divide the economic pie, but want to enlarge it. We also know that “if free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”.
We wish to demonstrate a new model of politics, not one which is founded on public relations or political technologies. We do not want to manipulate the citizens of Ukraine but unite them. I share the view of John Kennedy that politics cannot be just a competition for votes. Despite all external factors, a politician must fulfill his responsibility.
Thus, my dear friends, I view this honor as a confirmation in the mutuality of great ideas which today guide America and Ukraine.
I also view it as recognition of all Ukrainians who stood up to defend their dignity, democracy and rule of law. These are the values which we profess together with the democratic world and that we are ready to defend. I believe that Ukraine and the United States will defend them together, as strategic partners.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
The award that I today am honored to receive symbolizes the light of hope. This light is lit by great individuals. It will shine for us and after we are gone.
The challenge of President Kennedy always remains with us: to establish the freedom. “All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor it will be finished in the first thousand days, not even in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin”.
These words also continued by another great individual, John Paul II, when he said to Ukrainians and entire world “Do not fear!”
We heard these words. We will continue to follow them.
May God bless America!
May God protect Ukraine!
Thank you for your attention.
Remarks of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, 2005 Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, April 5, 2005
President Kennedy believed that one man of courage makes a majority. Viktor Yushchenko embodies that belief for a new generation. In the face of corruption, intimidation and life threatening danger, he remained true to the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Viktor Yushchenko's resolute courage, and faith in the Ukrainian people inspired them to insist on their own right to self determination.
Together, President Yushchenko, the Ukrainian judiciary and the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who supported the Orange Revolution, transformed their government from a corrupt and criminal regime, to a democratic, pluralistic administration committed to human rights, economic opportunity and international cooperation.
His courage has inspired citizens of the world. For those of us who are free - he has reminded us that we can never take our freedom for granted, and for people with no voice in their own government, President Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people have given them hope.
We are honored to present President Viktor Yushchenko with the 2005 Profile in Courage Award.
Remarks by Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, on presenting the Silver Lantern to Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko at the 2005 Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, April 5, 2005.
Thank you Paul Kirk for that gracious introduction. Paul has been a great friend of the Kennedy family and the Kennedy Library for many years. We’re honored by his friendship, and grateful for all he’s done to support the Profile in Courage Award over the years.
In “Profiles in Courage,” President Kennedy wrote: “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.” Our honoree this evening vividly embodies my brother’s words, and is renowned throughout the world for his extraordinary courage.
As we all know, at a critical moment in his nation’s history, he took a strong and courageous stand for what he knew was right. He risked his life – and nearly lost it – in the ongoing struggle for democracy in Ukraine. His story is the story of honor, decency, and the will of the people triumphing over fraud, deceit and intimidation. And because of his great courage, the rule of law prevailed against the oppressive rule of the powerful over the powerless.
A few months ago, the world held its breath as the “Orange Revolution” took place in Ukraine. We were transfixed by the scenes of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filling Independence Square in Kiev as Ukrainian citizens, young and old alike, defended the principle of free and fair elections against the mendacity and corruption of the old regime. Night after night, they stood tall in the bitter winter cold and warmed the hearts and minds of the world with their human chains that blocked access to government buildings.
Throughout those dramatic and nerve-racking days of last fall, Viktor Yushchenko was their unquestioned leader and moral authority. He was clear about the ultimate goal – upholding the right of the Ukrainian people to choose their president freely and fairly. He was clear that non-violence was the only acceptable means to achieve that great goal. As he insisted to his supporters: “A path to a compromise through the people demonstrating their will is the only path that will help us find a way out of this conflict.”
The Orange Revolution succeeded because of his courage and the courage of the Ukrainian people. He won the new election, and became the third president of a free and independent Ukraine. He stood up for what he believed in, even in the face of direct threats to his personal safety. It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic example to the world of a true “profile in courage.”
Viktor Yushchenko was born in northeastern Ukraine into a family of teachers. He chose to pursue a career in finance, beginning as a village accountant and rising to ever-higher positions in the banking system of the former Soviet Union. He continued in that career when the Cold War ended and Ukraine gained its independence, and, in 1993, he became head of its national bank.
His skillful management of Ukraine’s monetary system led President Leonid Kuchma to name him Prime Minister in 1999, and he boldly pursued sometimes unpopular but needed reforms that laid the foundation for the impressive economic growth of Ukraine over the past five years.
But others feared his rising popularity and in 2001 he was dismissed from the government. Refusing to be silenced, he became the head of a political party and helped create a bloc of reform parties called “Our Ukraine,” which won a plurality of seats in the parliamentary elections of 2002 and became a significant force in the legislature.
As the presidential election approached in 2004, it was obvious that he appealed to Ukrainian citizens in ways no other politician could. His popularity was higher than any others because he had the ability to relate to people’s lives, and was so clearly seeking public office for the public good, not private gain.
These qualities endeared him to the people, but made him a special threat to the corrupt leaders of the regime in power. Nothing – not even a vicious attempt to poison him – could break his spirit and prevent him from speaking out against corruption and for a democracy grounded firmly in the rule of law.
During the presidential campaign last year, the playing field was anything but level. The government’s candidate was supported by most of Ukraine’s powerful politicians and business leaders, who were threatened by his strong anti-corruption stand.
State-owned media shamelessly opposed him, and independent media were subjected to violence and intimidation in a largely successful effort to silence their support.
Opposition rallies faced constant harassment. Government employees, factory workers and students were threatened with dismissal unless they opposed him. President Putin of Russia openly intervened by declaring his support for the government candidate and sending a team of his top political advisers to assist him.
But perhaps the most alarming incident during the campaign occurred when Mr. Yushchenko became mysteriously ill, from what doctors later determined was an attempt to poison him.
It took tremendous courage on his part and the part of his family to continue the campaign in spite of this vicious criminal act that threatened to take his life.
The atmosphere of intimidation and corruption persisted throughout the campaign and the election itself. In the first round of balloting, international observers cited numerous problems and irregularities. Names were missing from voting rolls, and local election officials were excluded at the last minute from their posts. Nevertheless, Mr. Yushchenko prevailed by a small margin and advanced to the second round as the opposition candidate.
As the stakes increased, so did the electoral fraud and abuse. Absentee ballots were falsified to inflate the government’s support. Suspiciously high turnouts took place in key government strongholds. Intimidation and even violence occurred at polling places.
In desperation, before the legal challenges were resolved, the election commission announced preliminary results showing its candidate had prevailed.
In outrage and anger, Yushchenko supporters poured into the streets, their ribbons and scarves creating a sea of orange. They vowed court challenges, non-violent protests, and other civil disobedience to overturn the fraudulent result. Demonstrators in Kiev numbered in the hundreds of thousands and peacefully blocked the parliament and other government buildings. Secretary of State Powell’s declaration that the United States did not “recognize the legitimacy of the results” also had a galvanizing effect.
The Ukrainian Supreme Court prohibited official publication of the election result, pending its review of the charges of fraud. The parliament approved a resolution calling the election invalid, adopted a motion of no confidence in the election commission, and later adopted a motion of no confidence in the government.
Finally, the Supreme Court declared the election invalid because of the widespread fraud, and ruled that there should be another vote. The parliament passed a series of reforms to reduce the chance of fraud. Mr. Yushchenko was the clear winner, and the people’s will was vindicated. When he took the oath of office, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians looked on, and people watched in awe throughout the world.
In his inaugural address, he said: “We have already taken an irrevocable step towards democracy. Only democracy guards the most valuable things for every person – family and children, peace and order, work and well-being. Only in a democratic state are the highest values those of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity. Only in a democratic Ukraine can the bright palette of languages, cultures and views become the country’s wealth.”
These dramatic events last fall marked a historic turning point in Ukraine’s long journey. The path was difficult, but the people never abandoned their dream of a true democracy, and it was Viktor Yushchenko’s unparalleled courage that made it possible.
Ukraine’s poet laureate, Taras Shevchenko, brilliantly wrote in 1845, in an earlier time of great ferment, “The spirit is immortal and free in spite of the tyrants, and human speech cannot be stifled.” Because of our honoree, the people of Ukraine know that those words have great power in the 21st century as well.
I know how much President Kennedy would have cherished this occasion. Rarely, if ever, in our time has there been a more vivid example of a Profile in Courage.
Last weekend, several of us in the Kennedy family visited the church in Richmond where Patrick Henry made his famous appeal in March of 1775, urging the people of Virginia to join the people of Massachusetts in the struggle for independence.
Responding to those who urged caution, he said: “It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. The gentlemen may cry, Peace, peace! But there is no peace… Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?…Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty of give me death!”
As I thought of those inspiring words, I wondered who President Kennedy would think best exemplifies their spirit today – the love of freedom and the courage to build a nation dedicated to that principle. I’m sure that President Kennedy would think of President Yushchenko.
In his own Inaugural Address, my brother pledged that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” President Yushchenko has shown the world that there are extraordinary leaders who feel that way today, and who have the courage to live by them. He deserves our nation’s admiration and strong support, and so do the Ukrainian people.
Persons of good will throughout the world are heartened by his shining example that freedom, tolerance and hope are the common birthright of every human being on our planet.
I know how much President Kennedy would have valued this moment, and we are honored that his daughter Caroline is here this evening to present this Profile in Courage Award. She’s the inspirational leader for the library, an accomplished author in her own right, a devoted mother, and a powerful and eloquent symbol of the values her father cherished. It’s a privilege to introduce her to you now – Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on presenting the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, April 5, 2005.