The evening event celebrated the 96th anniversary of the Restoration of Lithuania's Independence, and included a moment of silence for those killed in the Euromaidan demonstrations in Kiev.
Since taking the leadership of NED in 1984, Gershman has devoted all his attention towards strengthening democratic institutions around the world. He and his deeds are very well known across the globe, but for many Lithuanians he is especially remembered for what he did to support Lithuanian freedom fighters.
Gershman understood too well that freedom and democracy were going to prevail in Lithuania and elsewhere in the Central and Eastern Europe if and only if democratic movements were going to stay united and support each other.
Gershman reminded many about this principle of solidarity again when he published an article last fall in “The Washington Post” just before the Vilnius EU Eastern Partnership summit on why democratic world must support Ukraine’s pro-European choice.
Although the events have turned to be more complex in Ukraine, but, at the same time, they have also underscored that the project of a Europe whole and free is far from completion.
In his acceptance remarks, Gershman highlighted Lithuania's history as a hopeful example for Ukraine and its democratic struggle.
"Despite what happened in Kyiv today, I am not without hope because of the example of Lithuania", Gershman said.
He noted that it was more than 30 years ago that he spoke in the Third Committee of the United Nations under the agenda item on self-determination and denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that led to the Soviet annexation of Lithuania and the other Baltic States.
"Soon after that I joined the National Endowment for Democracy, and in the late 1980s we provided financial support -- through U.S. organizations like the Lithuanian Catholic Aid and the Lithuanian World Community Foundation -- to Lithuanian freedom fighters who were part of Sajudis and the Chronicle of the Catholic Church. At the time, Lithuania was a small, captive nation. Today, as a free country, it has risen to assume the chairmanship of major international institutions like the Community of Democracies, the presidency of the European Union and, as of this this month, became the presidency of the Security Council of the United Nations."
"At NED we consider Lithuania to be a valued, indispensable partner in the worldwide struggle for democracy. That struggle will succeed, in my view, because it represents the hopes of people like those of the EuroMaidan who want civic renewal, the rule of law, and an end to corruption and criminal behavior by government leaders."
Despite what happened in Kyiv today, I am not without hope because of the example of Lithuania.
"Democracy is spreading to the east because the people want to be part of the West – not the West as a geographical area but as a moral and political concept embodying the culture of freedom. Force of arms cannot alter the course of history which is leading inexorably to the spread of democracy. It is my belief that someday the people of Ukraine will have democracy, and so will the people of Russia, because the democratic idea represents the universal aspiration of people for freedom and dignity".
Democracy is spreading to the east because the people want to be part of the West – not the West as a geographical area but as a moral and political concept embodying the culture of freedom