London, 19 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. and EU yesterday jointly announced awards to 50 "exceptional" individuals and groups from eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union for their work in entrenching democracy and civil rights.
The awards were announced by U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the conclusion of the annual EU-US summit in London. Each of the winners will receive $20,000.
Those chosen range from the Yerevan Press Club which works to promote freedom of speech in Armenia; the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies which seeks to promote communal tolerance; and the Moscow Research Center for Human Rights (All three received funding under the EU's Democracy Program).
Clinton told a press conference in London that the awards honor the exceptional contribution of those in Europe's new democracies "who helped freedom take strong roots across the continent."
Clinton said: "Whether protecting human rights in Belarus or preserving the environment in Slovakia, these dedicated men and women, like so many others, are helping to make Europe free, peaceful, prosperous and united." He added: "I thank them."
Blair, whose country holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, said the decision to make the awards was a joint one.
The EU-US Democracy and Civil Society awards were announced last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, which helped the Europeans rebuild their economies after the devastation of the Second World War, and the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the groundwork for the European Union.
Over the past few months EU and US representatives have traveled on missions to Central and Eastern Europe, the Newly Independent States and former Yugoslavia.
A joint US-EU statement said the goal of the missions was to "identify those they wished to nominate for awards in recognition of their contribution to democracy and civil society."
The U.S. and EU are jointly funding the 50 awards for use in furthering the work of the winners.
Clinton, Blair and Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission, handed certificates to some of the winners.
The US-EU statement said, "similar ceremonies are taking place from Riga in the north to Skopje in the south, from Prague in the west, to Ulan Bator in the east. Over 100 nominations were made.
The statement said, "Each of the nominees has made a visible contribution to a better society, in some cases through individual effort, in others, through the work of a group or association."
Nominees will receive a certificate to mark the honor.