Dan David Prize Goes to Orban Critic, Indian Historian and Climate Change Activist

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Michael Ignatieff, rector of the Central European University gestures during a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, December 3, 2018
Michael Ignatieff, rector of the Central European University gestures during a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, December 3, 2018Credit: \ BERNADETT SZABO/ REUTERS

Israel's prestigious Dan David Prize was awarded Thursday to Canadian author Michael Ignatieff and Reporters Without Borders for their work in promoting democracy amid an authoritarian wave to crack down on academic and journalistic freedom.

Other winners include Kenneth Pomeranz, a Chicago historian and leading China scholar; Indian historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam, an expert on inter-cultural encounters between Asians, Europeans and peoples of North and South America during the early modern era, for work in macro history; and Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, who has been advocating for responsible environmental policies for the past 35 years.

Sanjay SubrahmanyamCredit: Patrick Imbert / College de Fran

The prize is named after the late philanthropist Dan David and administered by Tel Aviv University. The Dan David Foundation awards $1 million prizes in three categories — past, present and future — for scientific, technological and cultural accomplishments. The award ceremony honoring the 2019 winners will take place in Tel Aviv in May.

Reporters Without Borders and Ignatieff, president of Central European University in Budapest and a former leader of Canada's Liberal Party, were honored for "Defending Democracy."

Christiana Figueres speaks at the opening session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Tianjin, October 4, 2010. Credit: REUTERS

Ignatieff heads a university founded by Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has been a frequent target of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Critics have accused Orban of employing anti-Semitic tropes against Soros during his re-election campaign. Orban has clamped down on dissent and exhibited increasing authoritarianism while casting himself as the champion of a Christian Europe.

"My first reaction was utter astonishment, followed by gratitude and then, since this is recognition for work done in defense of democracy, the feeling that I still have lots to do," Ignatieff said.

Reporters Without Borders said the prize money will be "helpful to continue enhance our project and find concrete solutions for a free, independent and pluralistic journalism."

Previous recipients of the Dan David Prize include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, novelist Margaret Atwood, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.