Press release

Freedom House Awards 2021 Palmer Prize to Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius

Career human rights defender Linkevičius secured the Lithuanian government’s vital support for the Belarusian pro-democracy movement.

Freedom House today awarded the 2021 Mark Palmer Prize to former Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs Linas Linkevičius for speaking out against political repression in neighboring Belarus and playing a leading role in the Lithuanian government’s critical assistance to the Belarusian pro-democracy movement.

The Mark Palmer Prize, given in honor of the late US ambassador, Freedom House trustee, and foreign policy innovator Mark Palmer, recognizes diplomats and civil servants who have gone beyond their normal course of duties to promote democracy and human rights.

“Through his determination, courage, and wisdom, Mark Palmer embodied the qualities of a great diplomat and defender of human rights,” Minister Linkevičius said. “I am deeply honored to accept this award, which I believe reaffirms our collective responsibility to continue fighting for a better, freer world for all. I remain humbled by the bravery of all those who risk life and livelihood to stand up for freedom and democracy in Belarus and around the world.”

Due in large part to Linkevičius’s advocacy, Lithuania provided a safe haven for Belarusian democratic candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya when she was forced to flee the country, as well as numerous other opposition members and protesters, championed sanctions against Belarusian officials who participated in falsifying elections and contributed to the violent repression of protesters, and urged a re-run of the marred election. Linkevičius has been especially vocal, taking to the news and social media to decry the incumbent administration’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and call for a peaceful transfer of power.

Linkevičius has also been a friend of Russian civil society activists, journalists, and opposition. In 2013, he initiated the Vilnius Russia Forum, which became an annual tradition bringing together more than 100 politicians, civil society representatives, human rights defenders, academicians, and journalists from Russia, Lithuania, and other Western countries.

“Linkevičius has carried on Mark Palmer’s legacy of advancing freedom not only by speaking out against authoritarians, but also by mobilizing his country’s support for democracy in the region,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“Like my husband Mark, Linkevičius has throughout his career brought his influence to bear in aid of people fighting for their political and civil rights,” said Sushma Palmer, founder of the Mark Palmer Prize. “We are thrilled to award Linas Linkevičius this year’s prize for his unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom and democracy.

From 2005 until 2011, Linkevičius served as Lithuania’s ambassador to NATO. Since 2013, he has stood firmly against the European Union or NATO negotiating with Russia over the occupation of Crimea.

“Linas Linkevičius has been an ardent supporter of democracy and human rights throughout his tenure as minister of foreign affairs, and we know that he will continue to stand up for those who yearn for democracy, freedom, and justice in the years to come,” Abramowitz said.

About the Palmer Prize:

The Mark Palmer Prize is administered by Freedom House, in partnership with the Community of Democracies. It was established in 2011 to honor diplomats and civil servants whose work has advanced democracy and human rights. The award was inspired by the late US Ambassador to Hungary Mark Palmer, who devoted his life to supporting democratic transitions in Hungary and in closed societies globally. Among his many achievements were persuading the US Congress to enact prodemocracy legislation and multiple US administrations to advance and implement new democracy policies, working directly with authoritarian leaders to facilitate peaceful political transitions, and cofounding NOVA, the media enterprise that spurred the creation of independent television stations across Eastern Europe.
The Mark Palmer Prize is meant to honor individuals working tirelessly to defend democracy, human rights, and civil society, and has been awarded to individuals from all over the world.

Past recipients include:

2019/20 – Chrystia Freeland (deputy prime minister of Canada)
2017 – Ambassador Maria Leissner (secretary general of Community of Democracies; Swedish ambassador-at-large for democracy)
2016 – Secretary General Luis Almagro (Organization of American States)
2016 – Ambassador Deborah Lyons (Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan)
2015 – Ambassador Petras Vaitiekūnas (Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs)
2015 – Ambassador Charlotta Sparre (Swedish ambassador to Jordan)
2015 – Ambassador Stephen Robert Ford (US ambassador to Syria)
2013 – Ambassador Stefan Eriksson (Swedish ambassador to Belarus)
2013 – Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens (US ambassador to Libya; awarded posthumously)
2013 – Ambassador Suren Badral (Mongolian ambassador-at-large; coordinator for the Mongolian presidency of the Community of Democracies)
2011 – Mariusz Handzlik (Polish diplomat; awarded posthumously)
2011 – Caecilia Wijgers (Dutch deputy ambassador to Cuba)
2011 – Ben Rowswell (founder of Canadian foreign ministry’s Democracy Unit)
2011 – Ambassador James McGee (US ambassador to Zimbabwe)
2011 – Ambassador Ajai Malhotra (deputy permanent representative of India to the United Nations)
2011 – Ambassador Ernesto Pinto-Bazurco Rittler (chargé d’affaires of the Peruvian Embassy in Havana)
2011 – Ambassador Jaroslav Olša Jr. (Czech ambassador to Zimbabwe)