Celebrating 30 Years of Global Impact: The Marshall Center Recognizes Ales Bialiatski with the Distinguished Alumni Award
The George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies celebrated its 30th anniversary on Sep. 26 with a memorable evening filled with heartfelt speeches and a historic award presentation to Nobel Prize-winning activist, Ales Bialiatski. The ceremony brought together U.S. and German representatives, community leaders and partners from the diplomacy, defense and academia.
"The Marshall Center is about cooperation. It is founded on the notion that in an increasingly interdependent world, we must all work together if we are to be successful in dealing with the challenges that lie ahead," said Dr. Robert Kennedy, former director of the Marshall Center, who took the audience in a walk down memory lane. Dr. Kennedy, who served at the center's early years between 1997-2002, recounted the center's beginnings and its evolution into an institution offering a platform to discuss key security and defense questions. With a sense of nostalgia, he spoke of the countless scholars who had passed through the Center’s doors, each one a potential catalyst for positive change in their respective nations.
Following Dr. Kennedy's remarks, Lt. Gen. Martin Schelleis, Chief of Joint Support and Enabling Service in the Bundeswehr, addressed the audience focusing on the strong German-American partnership. He emphasized the deep-rooted connection between the Marshall Center and the German military, highlighting the invaluable contributions made towards international security. Lt. Gen. Schelleis' words served as a reminder of the vital role that collaboration between nations plays in maintaining global stability.
Ms. Rachel Ellehuus, the Senior Civilian Representative of the Secretary of Defense in Europe and Defense Advisor at the U.S. Mission to NATO, joined the celebration virtually from Brussels. She talked about the enduring transatlantic bond between the United States and its European allies. Her remarks underscored the importance of unity and collective defense in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the George C. Marshall Center Distinguished Alumni Award to the Belarusian Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Ales Bialiatski by the Center’s Director, Barre Seguin.
“Allow me to tell the story of a Marshall center alum who has demonstrated incredible courage in his fight for peace and democracy. This individual’s fight for human rights and freedom started well before the fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s in Belarus—a very dangerous time to speak up. He has been called a beacon of light for these efforts throughout Eastern Europe,” said Seguin. “Unfortunately, Mr. Bialiatski cannot receive the award in person. He is still illegally imprisoned in Belarus today.”
Natalia Pinchuk, the spouse of Ales Bialiatski accepted the award on his behalf. She spoke passionately about her husband's commitment to the values of the Marshall Center and his unwavering belief in the power of international cooperation to effect positive change.
“Today, Ales Bialiatski is the only Nobel Prize winner in the world who is kept behind bars,” said Pinchuk. “Ales Bialiatski must be released from prison and, together with him, thousands of other courageous Belarusian men and women, thrown behind bars for their desire to see their country free from the Russian yoke and dictatorship, should be set free—unconditionally and immediately. The time for pleas and hints is long gone. It’s time for an ultimatum, because imprisonment can result in death behind bars for everyone at any time. Freedom to Ales Bialiatski! Freedom to all political prisoners of Belarus! Freedom for Belarus!”
As Director Seguin presented the award to Pinchuk, the audience gave her a standing ovation in recognition of her husband's remarkable work.
The George C. Marshall Center Distinguished Alumni Award was created in 2023—on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Center—to recognize one alum who epitomizes the center's mission, vision, and values. Ales Bialiatski, a tireless advocate for democracy and human rights in Belarus, was named as the inaugural recipient of this award.