Venclova was awarded for “creative fidelity to the values which comprise the foundation of European civilisation”.
The ceremony took place on Wednesday at the Ossoliński National Institute, one of Poland’s oldest scientific libraries and research centres.
The ‘Ossolineum’ started jointly awarding the prize back in 2004 with the Mayor and University of Wrocław as well as the College of Eastern Europe, which was founded on the initiative of Nowak-Jeziorański in 2001.
The prize is awarded annually to people or institutions whose activities are considered beneficial to civil society as well as deemed a contribution to an independent Poland.
Collecting the gong, Venclova said that he has always advocated political freedom and good relations between nations and states.
“I have followed in the footsteps of people much greater than myself, such as [previous prize laureates] Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Stanisław Szuszkiewicz, Sergei Kovalev, Vaclav Havel, Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus or Zbigniew Brzeziński,” Venclova mused.
Venclova also paid homage to the prize’s namesake, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a Polish journalist and war-time resistance fighter best remembered for being an emissary between the Home Army and the Polish Government in Exile in London as well as heading the Polish Section of Radio Free Europe after the war.
“Unfortunately I never met Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, although I know he was an emblematic figure in the history of Eastern Europe and global society. A politician and solider, journalist and social worker, a diplomat who was a paradigm of fidelity to his beliefs,” Venclova underlined.
Tomas Venclova was born on 11 September 1937 in Klaipeda, Lithuania. He graduated in philology from Vilnius University and went on to study semiotics and Russian literature at Tartu University in Estonia.
In the 1970s Venclova undertook dissident activities in Russian and Lithuanian anti-communist groups. In 1977 he emigrated to the USA and was stripped of his Soviet citizenship. He gained a teaching position at Yale, where he is still a Professor.
Venclova already holds a string of awards, including the Gloria Artis and Order of Merit Polish honours, as well as honorary doctorates from universities in Kraków, Gdańsk, Toruń, Lublin and the Lithuanian centres of Klaipeda and Kaunas. (jb)