Democracy Award

Ion Rațiu Democracy Award was launched in 2005.

Ion Rațiu Democracy Award expresses the deep commitment to democracy of the late Ion Ratiu through his contributions as a Romanian politician and intellectual as well as his interest in democratic change worldwide.

Awarded yearly with the support of Rațiu Family Charitable Foundation, it provides a month-long scholarship at the Wilson Center during which awardees have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the scholarly, policymaking, and NGO communities in Washington, D.C.

Whether they are in exile from repressive regimes or operating within emerging democracies, recipients of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award are democracy advocates with the type of life-changing experience in Washington that Ion Ratiu encountered as a young Romanian democracy activist in the 1970s and 1980s.

The lecture delivered by each awardee emphasizes the struggles of those fighting for democracy in their home countries to a broad audience of scholars, researchers, activists and policy makers.

Our IRDA Awardee attends annually the World Youth Democracy Forum in Washington addressing an international audience via the web.

The texts of the last two events are available here (for Manuel Cuesta Morua) and here (for Jamil Hasanli).




2017 – Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is an artist. Born in 1957, he currently resides and works in Beijing.
As an activist, he calls attention to human rights violations on an epic scale; as an artist, he expands the definition of art to include new forms of social engagement.

From smashing an ancient vase to reciting the names of children who died due to government negligence, Ai Weiwei’s dramatic actions highlight the widening gap between the ideal and the real in Chinese society. He is also one of the earliest conceptual artists to use social media – Instagram and Twitter, in particular – as one of his primary media. Some of his most recent works are simple actions designed to call attention to the humanitarian crises. On an increasingly global scale, Ai Weiwei’s humanitarian efforts focus on those who live in poverty and oppression, and who might not otherwise have a voice.


Ai Weiwei’s own experiences of incarceration, interrogation and surveillance form the basis for his interest in the portrayal of dissidents worldwide. In 2014, while being prohibited to leave China, he created Trace, an installation featuring portraits of 176 individuals from around the world whom he believes to have been detained, exiled or have sought political asylum as a result of their actions, beliefs or affiliations. The work is built entirely of plastic LEGO blocks.


Human Flow (2017) is an epic film journey led by Ai Weiwei, giving a powerful visual expression to this massive human migration. The documentary elucidates both the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Captured over the course of an eventful year in 23 countries, the film follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretches across the globe in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Turkey.  Human Flow is a witness to its subjects and their desperate search for safety, shelter and justice.

2016 – Manuel Cuesta Morua

Rațiu Family Charitable Foundation, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Rațiu Center for Democracy are pleased to announce that Dr. Manuel Cuesta Morua, a leading scholar and political activist from Cuba, will receive the 2016 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, a one-month fellowship in Washington, D.C.

A historian of Contemporary Asia, Dr. Manuel Cuesta Morua has worked extensively on democratic reforms in Cuba. Over the last two decades Cuesta Morua joined and played a leading role in a number of human rights organizations, including the Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission. With other dissidents, he established the Reflection Table of the Moderate Opposition, in 1998, and organized Arco Progresista in 2002. He has been arrested multiple times for defending human rights and organizing opposition gatherings in Havana. He has held more than 300 round table discussions that focus on proposing a new, democratic constitution for the nation. In March 2016 he was a member of a select group of Cuban dissidents to meet with President Obama at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. At present Cuesta Morúa is coordinating, with other prominent activists, the Plataforma Ciudadana #Otro18, seeking electoral reforms in Cuba, and belongs to the Unity Roundtable for Democratic Action, a coalition of organizations and personalities from Cuba and abroad.  


About democracy

“A new, democratic answer is required, indeed. A democracy rooted in liberal ideas, founded on diversity, thorough analysis and inclusive debate, and a large informed participation, on open systems and citizenship. Especially citizenship. A strong democracy able to admit at the end of the day, following Robert Frost, that perhaps the other might also be right. There are people who believe winning the argument is more important than winning the vote. Not in reaching the government, perhaps, but surely for the power of democracy. We will only succeed if we understand democracy triumphs only if it remains an universal value.”

 Dr. Manuel Cuesta Morua


2015 – Jamil Hasanli

Dr. Jamil Hasanli is a historian and democracy activist in Azerbaijan.

His lecture addressed the challenges faced by his country, about its attempt to take distance from Russia after winning independence in 1991 following the Soviet Union dissolution.

Political Challenges of Contemporary Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan and its authoritarian government have kept their criminal nature. The governors are engaged in corruption, they have an unlimited monopoly inside the country, and they have forged and confiscated the elections. Innocent people are arrested and jailed, and there are over 100 political convicts. I’ve just learnt today that the president of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Fuad Gahramanli, was arrested. The Government does not respect its people. Then how could we talk about any form of cooperation and about sharing values?! When Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001, we were naïve enough to believe that the European Union would do anything to adjust the Azerbaijan regime and system to the European standards. It is only now that we realize that the exact opposite happened: the European Union was forced to follow the rules of Azerbaijan. This is a very dangerous tendency when it comes to lobby and lobby related activities, and we need to be very careful. I would like to say a few words about political convicts in Azerbaijan. Why? Because I am the head of the committee that defends the rights of political convicts from Azerbaijan – around 100 individuals as said before. Most of them have been arrested and imprisoned in the last years, following the latest presidential elections. Two women are among them – Layla Yunus and Khadija Ismayil. On 21 December, Layla Yunus will turn 60, but we cannot be certain that she will be able to celebrate her birthday.

Because her situation is terrible – anything can happen to her in the jail. And I can’t understand – in an ethic sense – what does the Azerbaijan government win by putting pressure on Leyla Yunus?!”

Jamil Hasanli

Former Member of the Parliament, Republic of Azerbaijan

Within hours of Dr. Hasnali’s address, Leyla Yunus was released, following a decision of the Baku Court of Appeal, which suspended her eight-and-a-half year jail sentence and turned it into a five year probation. We strongly believe that the efforts of the international community, of states and supranational organizations, of NGOs and individuals made this release happen.


Upon leaving jail, Leyla Yunus – who was sentenced for treason, tax evasion and fraud for political reasons – complaint that she was severely beaten by guardians when she was arrested, in July 2014. Her husband, Arif Yunus, waited for her; he had also been sentenced to seven years of jail on the same charges, but was released for medical reasons in November 2015.

The prosecution of Leyla Yunus and of her husband was condemned by the national community as a part of the repression against Azerbaijan dissidents. Numerous activists, journalists and critics of the government – including journalist Khadija Ismayil – are still in jail, on charges that are regarded as political by Western officials and groups defending the human rights.

2014 – Mustafa Nayyem

Is one of the most respected and popular Ukrainian journalists and bloggers. Mustafa Nayyem has been working at “Ukrainska Pravda” (“Ukrainian Truth”) since 2006, directing online media. In April 2013, along with several colleagues, he founded Ukraine’s first independent Internet TV Channel: This unique platform is funded by independent donations, and was created in response to censorship and media monopolization.

Mr. Nayyem and played a crucial role in the “Euromaidan” protests. His Facebook post in which he issued a call to go to Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv, to protest the Ukrainian government’s decision to stop Ukraine’s process of integration into the European Union, was shared over one thousand times in a matter of hours. These protests precipitated the fall of President Yanukovych’s government and are evidence of the Ukrainian people’s struggle for freedom and democratic values, and Mustafa Nayyem’s actions around that time have placed him as an important leader of the protests.

Read more.

Ukrainian Democracy After the Maidan: Threats and Opportunities

I was extremely moved by the memorials in the Maidan when I visited Kiev as an election observer in May. Ukraine has a tough road ahead, and journalists like Mustafa Nayyem play a vital role in building a competent, transparent, and pluralist government.  Mustafa Nayyem’s dedication to these values makes him a worthy recipient of this year’s Ion Ratiu Democracy Award.Jane Harman Jane Harman

Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center

As the tenth recipient of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, Mustafa Nayyem embodies Ion Ratiu’s aspirations for democratic change in Europe and beyond. Christian F. Ostermann

Chair of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, Wilson Center

Dr. Kocze has an international reputation for interdisciplinary approach, combining political activism and policy-making with in-depth participatory research studies on the Roma situation in Hungary and elsewhere. Dr. Kocze also worked as a founding director of the European Roma Information Office (ERIO) in Brussels (2003-2004), as well as the former director of the human rights education program at the European Roma Rights Centre (1998-2003) in Budapest. Dr. Kocze was the founding director of the Romaversitas program (1996) in Budapest which offers scholarships and mentorship for Roma minority university students.

2013 - Angela Kocze

Dr. Angela Kocze, a leading Hungarian Roma rights activist and scholar, is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor with the Department of Sociology at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, as well as a Research Fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Political Dispossession of Roma in Contemporary Europe

2012 – Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi was honored with the prestigious award in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, during the “Women Leading Democracy Building in Myanmar” Workshop. The award was presented by Mr. Nicolae Ratiu, chairman of The Ratiu Family Charitable Foundation. This was the first time a Raţiu Award nominee is honored in her home country at a program that advances her cause among the people whose rights she defended and fought for.

Read the awarding speech delivered by Nicolae Rațiu.

Nobel Award for Peace Acceptance Speech

2011 - Nabeel Rajab

Nabeel Rajab, a leading human rights activist and president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights received the 2011 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, presented annually by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

One of the founders of the human rights movement in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Rajab also has been active internationally as deputy secretary general for the International Federation for Human Rights and as the chairperson of CARAM-Asia, a regional network that addresses migration and health issues. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch and a member of an Arab media monitoring group.

The Price of Freedom and Democracy: Defiant Bahrainis and the Arab Spring

The Government of Bahrain would be wiser to tolerate dissent and promote the free expression of views. Events in the region in the past year make clear that local voices will not remain silent and repression will be resisted. Jane Harman

Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center

2010 – Oleg Kozlovsky

Oleg Kozlovsky is co-founder of the Solidarnost United Democratic Movement and of Oborona, a democratic youth movement in Russia. Currently, he is the executive director of Vision of Tomorrow Foundation and an analyst with the Anti-Corruption Policy Lab at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

As organizer of many nonviolent actions and rallies in defense of democracy and human rights in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova, he was arrested and detained multiple times, during his latest detention in May 2008, Kozlovsky was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

Democracy: New Tools for the Struggle

2009 – Adam Michnik

Adam Michnik is the editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest daily newspaper. He was a founding member of the Komitet Obrony Robotnikow (Committee for the Defense of Workers) in 1976 and a prominent activist during the Solidarity movement in the 1980s. He participated in the Round Table Talks of 1989, and was later elected to Poland’s first non-communist parliament, where he served from 1989-1991. Michnik is the author of several books, including „Letters from Prison and Other Essays” (1987); „The Church and the Left” (1993); „Letters from Freedom: Post Cold War Realities and Perspectives” (1998); and „In search of Lost Meaning” (2011).

Democracy: Traps and Question Marks

2008 – Eleonora Cercavschi

The principal of Stefan the Great High School (Stefan Cel Mare Si Sfint Lyceum) in Grigoriopol, Moldova, Eleonora Cercavschi is a dedicated human rights and democracy activist who has devoted her career to defending children’s right to be educated in their own language. In 2002, under the pressure from Transnistrian authorities, the high school was shut down, and relocated to Dorotcaia, Dubasari district, an area controlled by the central authorities of the Republic of Moldova, some 20 km away.

Democracy and Freedom as Fundamental Human Rights

2007 – Anatoli Mikhailov

Anatoli Mikhailov is a highly respected expert of German philosophy and the Rector of the European Humanities University, a university he established in Minsk in 1992 in order to provide an alternative to the established education process inherited from the Soviet Union. In 2004, the Lukashenko regime ordered the university shut down. Mikhailov was forced to leave the country and has been in exile in Vilnius since. The University was reopened in Vilnius since 2005 with EU help and is educating 270 graduate students in addition to a number of students that are taking long distance learning courses from the university.

Democracy as a Challenge

2006 – Saad Eddin Ibrahim

A prominent Egyptian democracy and human rights activist, Ibrahim is credited for playing a leading role in the revival of Egypt’s contemporary research-based civil society movement and ranks among the most prominent sociologists in the Arab world. Ibrahim has published widely on Islam, politics, democracy, citizenship, and civil society and is the recipient of numerous awards. Convicted and arrested between 2000 and 2003 on political charges, he is the founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, as well as the Arab Organization for Human Rights.

Following the fall of the Mubarak regime, Saad Eddin Ibrahim has returned to Egypt.

Freedom "After" Speech: Speaking up and paying the price in Egypt

2005 – Sergio Aguayo

Professor and researcher at El Colegio de México since 1977, he has also taught at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia de Económicas (CIDE), the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and at a number of other national and international universities. He is a frequent writer for newspapers and magazines, most notably Reforma and was a founding member of the newspaper La Jornada. From 1990 to 1996 he was president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights and from 1994 to 1999 he was a member of Civic Alliance, one of Mexico’s most prominent NGOs. Dr. Aguayo is President of the Board of Directors of Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación.
Aguaio is one of Mexico’s most prominent human rights and democracy advocates, a scholar and teacher and the author or editor of more than 20 books, as well as numerous articles, book chapters and contributions to the Mexican and Latin American media. In the course of his work he helped start a newspaper, La Journada, helped found Sedepac, an NGO devoted to democratic development and cofounded Civic Alliance, an umbrella organization whose 30,000 plus members have pioneered anti-corruption efforts and the reform of governance in Mexico. Steven Heydemann

Director, Center for Democracy and Civil Society