By: Andrej Žitnik (nova24tv)
Member of the European Parliament Dr Milan Zver has nominated Boštjan Lesjak for the prestigious European Citizen Prize. Lesjak took up the post of Slovenia’s Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine after the war started and was the first person to pave the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the besieged Ukraine and the EU at the time of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The European Citizen Prize is awarded annually by the European Parliament to recognise the special achievements of the activities or work of citizens, groups, associations or organisations that have shown outstanding commitment to promoting better mutual understanding and closer integration between citizens of the Member States or to facilitating cross-border or international cooperation within the European Union. Only Members of the European Parliament can nominate candidates – each Member can submit one nomination each year. The European Parliament has been awarding the European Citizen Prize since 2008.
MEP Dr Milan Zver has nominated Boštjan Lesjak for the award, who took up the post of Slovenia’s Chargé d’affaires ad interim in Ukraine, making him the first person to pave the way for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the besieged Ukraine and the EU at the time of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
The world’s first diplomat with courage
The re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and the EU is a project of personal sacrifice for the sake of European cooperation and common European values and the fundamental rights of Europeans to life, human dignity, liberty, and security. The project started just one month after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the arrival of Boštjan Lesjak, interim Chargé d’affaires of the Republic of Slovenia, in Kyiv. Lesjak, like Dr Milan Zver, was the first world diplomat to have the courage to go to Ukraine to restore diplomatic relations.
The project to re-establish diplomatic relations between Ukraine and the EU started on the 27th of March 2022, with the arrival of Boštjan Lesjak, the temporary Charge d’Affaires of the Republic of Slovenia, in Ukraine. Just one month after the start of Russia’s unprovoked aggression, Lieutenant Colonel Lesjak bravely responded to the public call of the Republic of Slovenia for a charge d’affaires at the Slovenian Embassy in Kyiv. As he later said, he was aware of the fact that the first return of any world diplomat to Kyiv would be a huge moral and real support for the defence of Ukraine and a strong signal to the international community, which, sooner or later, following Slovenia’s example, would start returning ambassadors to Kyiv. He was the first to show the way. As a military officer, he was aware that going to Ukraine was a dangerous act which, above all, demonstrated commitment to the idea of the European Union as a place of peace and stability. The project embodies all three of the key principles promoted by the European Citizen Prize. This effort over several months is an example of personal sacrifice for European cooperation, as the information the Chargé d’Affaires sent from the field to the EU was crucial to understanding the situation and needs of a country at war. Above all, the project promotes common European values and the fundamental rights of Europeans to life, human dignity, liberty and security.
Leader of the opposition, Janez Janša, who was also the Prime Minister of Slovenia when the attack on Ukraine started, has also commented on the nomination, writing on Twitter: “A great proposal. Mr Lesjak was the first diplomatic representative of any country to return to the besieged Kyiv after the start of the Russian aggression. Representatives of other Western Countries and the European Union then followed suit. Ukraine still remembers with gratitude the first diplomatic sparrow from Slovenia.”
Some time ago, the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, said in Kyiv: “You are not fighting just to protect your homes. You are fighting for what we all believe in. Freedom. Democracy. The rule of law. And here, these values are not just words; you fight for them every day, because you know that without these values, there is nothing else.”
In view of all the above, Dr Milan Zver believes that Boštjan Lesjak is the brave individual who deserves this year’s Outstanding Achievement Award and the title of European Citizen.