||Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe|
From 2004 to 2006, the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) continued its mission to support democratic movements in the post-communist region, especially those still struggling against authoritarian political systems. In this period, IDEE concentrated its activities in Armenia, Belarus, and Central Asia in the post-Soviet region. IDEE also resumed its activities in support of the democratic opposition in Cuba.
Through the Centers for Pluralism, IDEE strengthened its programs by involving a diverse array of civic and democratic activists from the post-communist region. The Centers for Pluralism is an ongoing network of key civic and pro-democratic organizations and activists in 20 post-communist countries. For more than 10 years, from 1992 to 2003, the Centers for Pluralism was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, allowing IDEE to implement a broad range of innovative programs (see http://www.idee.org/centers.html) and to build a unique interactive network for promoting liberal democratic ideas and civil society throughout the post-communist region. Unfortunately, when the NED abruptly ceased its funding in 2003, IDEE could not maintain the full Centers for Pluralism program. It has, however, succeeded in maintaining the Centers for Pluralism as a strong network that remains integrally involved in IDEE’s activities.
The 2004–2006 period veered between the euphoria of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine to the dispiriting consolidation of authoritarianism in many parts of the post-communist region. By the end of 2006, Freedom House had designated the Russian Federation “not free,” dictatorial clans had consolidated control over Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, most of Central Asia, and Belarus, and the freely elected president of Kyrgyzstan tried to hijack the constitution in the face of nationwide civic protest. In the Ukraine itself, a dynamic power struggle between the entrenched nomenklatura elite representing anti-democratic interests and more liberal pro-Western political forces continues to play itself out. A similar process is being seen in Serbia, where a liberal democrat won the presidency but chauvinist political parties control the parliament and government.
IDEE’s activities address the persistent and long-term challenges facing countries in the region in making a successful transition from communism to democracy. It does so in a regional approach that shares experiences of democrats from different countries and seeks to promote a common vision of liberal democracy for the region. Throughout, IDEE has not forgotten the brave democrats who struggle against the last surviving communist dictatorship of the Soviet bloc — Cuba. IDEE Programs and Activities: 2004–2006
IDEE and its predecessor, the Committee in Support of Solidarity, were among the first organizations to provide direct support for democratic movements in Eastern Europe, starting in 1982. Working in the harsh circumstances of communist dictatorship, which at the time most everyone believed was impervious to change, IDEE was able to offer support to a wide range of independent initiatives having pluralist views about the future of their countries but committed to opposing the tyranny of communism and supporting the basic ideas of liberal democracy. This strategy of support encouraged people to come together around common goals without forcing on people a uniformity of opinion, a common tendency among oppositionists who had spent decades living in a social environment of imposed communist orthodoxy. After the successes of 1989, IDEE continued to foster this strategy in the turbulent period that followed, when the reform of politics and society were taking both democratic and anti-democratic directions.
Today, IDEE focuses on “hard cases” reminiscent of the old Eastern Europe, countries in which dictatorships have succeeded in repressing open opposition, controlling most if not all public media, creating conditions of fear and intimidation, and imposing a uniform national or political ideology similar to their communist predecessors. Thus, in the period of 2004–2006, IDEE has worked in Armenia, Belarus, all five countries of Central Asia, and Cuba, a sui generis case of a Soviet bloc country that maintains a communist dictatorship.
Overall, in this period, IDEE programs
• assisted more than 100 organizations, independent media outlets, and independent libraries in eight countries with material and technical support, training, civic education, technical assistance, networking, and other help to carry out a wide range of civic and pro-democratic activities;
• organized or supported approximately 12 regional training workshops and nearly 100 citizens’ forums in six countries, reaching more than 5,000 citizens; and
• facilitated cross-border cooperation and initiatives among civic and democratic activists in fifteen countries, including a major election monitoring mission in Belarus, regional conferences in Central Asia, and a series of trips by Eastern Europeans to Cuba.
• initiated a democracy publication and web program for Cuba that is bringing together new and old materials on opposition, transition, and democracy in Spanish and English to serve as a resource for democratic transition in Cuba.
Below is a description of the programs IDEE carried out from 2004-2006.
“Working Together—Building Community Connections” (2004)
This program, funded through a grant of the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Department of State, was initiated by IDEE with the Armenian National Committee of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA) and the All-Armenian Union of Women (AAUW), two organizations at the center of promoting democratic values and initiatives within Armenian civil society. “Building Community Connections” aimed to increase citizens’ participation in local public life and to improve collaboration between community activists and local government officials in a situation where national politics is stymied by a centralized government that faces only a weak and not always democratic opposition.
The program included a train-the-trainer workshop for 20 Citizen Forum facilitators from ten cities (including 3 trainers from the CfP Network from Crimea, Georgia, and Azerbaijan); a Citizens’ Forum handbook (which the trainers and Armenian organizations prepared); three issues of an advocacy newsletter; a series of ten Citizens’ Forums in targeted cities; a U.S. Study Tour for six local civic leaders focused on community organization; a follow-up advocacy workshop; site visits by IDEE; a study tour by Armenians to Georgia; and a series of 10 follow-up “mini-forums” that gave local activists further opportunity to try to affect community issues. Altogether, one thousand people attended the 20 forums.
While this program was considered a model by ECA, unfortunately “Building Community Connections” was not continued, largely because of an ongoing funding strategy that insists always on “new” activities that have concrete “outputs.” Both criteria fail in recognizing the importance of listening to veteran democracy activists about a country’s real needs and also the necessity for establishing longer-term programs to reinforce positive democratic initiatives. Nevertheless, AAUW and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly have maintained as best as possible its community network and attempted to foster its values in ongoing activities. (For further information on this program see http://www.idee.org/armenia.html.)
Election Monitoring in Belarus (2004)
Together with the “Viasna” Human Rights Center, IDEE organized an independent NGO team of 22 monitors for the parliamentary elections and presidential term-limits referendum in Minsk and other regions held from October 10–17, 2004. The mission consisted of experienced monitors from ex-Soviet bloc countries, including veteran dissidents and journalists with experience in adverse election monitoring conditions. All of the monitors were part of the Centers for Pluralism Network. The parliamentary elections were expected to be fully manipulated and controlled by the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka. But an opposition alliance had put forward a strong list of candidates and hoped that international monitoring could help to limit the fraud, allowing some members to enter parliament, or conversely to document the full abuse of election procedures and thus further isolate the reigime from the community of democratic nations.
Viasna organized the team so that it could monitor as many stations as possible (200 in all). Unlike some international monitoring groups that hesitated in its judgements, IDEE’s experienced team provided an immediate initial report that detailed election fraud and abuse by the regime and described the election as a purely staged and rigged affair. The team’s final report provides even fuller description and documentation of this event, which, like IDEE’s Azerbaijan monitoring team in 2003, noted that it could not be deemed consistent with the term election (available at http://www.idee.org/Belarusfinalreport.html).
Raise Awareness for Freedom (2006-2008)
At the end of 2006, a new program initiated by IDEE and civic partners in Belarus was awarded funding by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the Department of State. This two-year program will involve an array of civic organizations representing key social constituencies (trade unions, civic educators, doctors, working women, human rights activists, students and youth, think tanks, and independent media and cultural institutions) in varied activities aimed at consolidating pro-democratic forces and reaching out to new groups in society. Activities are expected to begin in mid-2007.
IDEE began reaching out to democratic activists in Central Asia in 1995 through the Centers for Pluralism and in 2001–2003 IDEE organized the Women’s Networking in Central Asia program (see http://www.idee.org/wica.html). Beginning in 2003, IDEE expanded this network to include both men and women through Civic Bridges–Central Asia, an 18-month program aimed at promoting civic leadership, citizen participation, community involvement, civic education, and cross-border networking in the five countries of Central Asia. Funded by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the Department of State, the program had a special focus on Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, but also included activists from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan with the aim of increasing the regional effectiveness of civic activists to address common issues regarding their countries’ democratic development.
IDEE and its partner organizations, the Civil Society Against Corruption (CSAC) in Bishkek and the Tashkent Public Education Center (TPEC), organized the following activities:
• Two Regional Meetings, held in Baku, Azerbaijan and Issy-kul, Kyrgyzstan, each involved 30 civic and democracy activists from the 5 countries of Central Asia, joined by 15 members of the Centers for Pluralism Network from Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine. (Twenty additional participants from Kyrgyzstan took part in a one-day meeting in Bishkek before the Issy-kul conference.) As a result of these meetings, Central Asian program participants shared experiences, often for the first time, with colleagues in the region, established ongoing contacts with civic and democracy leaders from other countries, incorporated lessons learned from these meetings with their counterparts in their everyday work, and used those lessons in new ways of planning and organizing their activities.
• In addition, 4 Workshops were held on Corruption and Citizens’ Participation involving two working groups of twenty persons each. These workshops broadened the Central Asian participation in local and regional activities. The workshops were also a training grounds for Citizens’ Forums (see below). Centers for Pluralism participants provided training, including Nata Martirosyan from the All-Armenian Union of Women, Dilara Setveliyeva, head of the Crimean Teachers Council, and Otar Kandeleki, an anti-corruption expert from the Georgian Parliament.
• 51 Citizens Forums were held. Citizens Forums are a tool for civic activists to mobilize citizens around key community issues and to involve them in efforts at increasing accountability of local officials. More than 2,000 citizens were involved in these 51 forums, which were held in more than thirty localities. Topics ranged from police and government corruption to border controls, the rule of law, local environment, health, women and elections, among many other specific topics important to the community. As a result, NGOs gained visibility in the community, made new community partners, and encouraged local officials to recognize civic organizations as partners in community issues. In many cases, concrete steps were taken that raised the expectations of citizens for their public officials and for themselves.
• 17 Small Grants were awarded to 12 organizations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan for coordinated activities in a community or for a specific project, such as organizing public forums or meetings around community problems. The Fergana Regional Association of Beekeepers organized 8 forums of beekeepers with border officials, as well as a Regional Forum and an International Festival, all of which raised the awareness of border corruption that was crippling the cross-border bee-keeping industry. The Association of Psychologists in Samarkand coordinated a public outreach effort involving training, a children’s hot line, seminars, and professional counseling. In Osh, the Media Defense Center organized Public Hearings to highlight the problem of local corruption.
• 21 Internship/Exchanges, which provided concrete opportunities for civic and democracy leaders to gain a greater understanding of transition processes and democratization issues in other countries that had experienced Soviet communism. In Armenia, three participants observed Citizens’ Forums organized by the All Armenian Union of Women; in Georgia and Ukraine, activists gained insights into democratization processes in two transition countries; in Ukraine participants observed the last round of the presidential elections and were able to spend many hours on the main squares of Kiev and Simferopol witnessing people’s determination, nonviolence, and self-organization. In Azerbaijan, activists observed the strong activity of the NGO community in the face of repressive conditions.
Overall, the diverse activities of Civic Bridges–Central Asia involved 500 NGOs and around 4,000 individuals in five Central Asian countries. In four of the five countries (all but Turkmenistan), IDEE was able to foster significant communities of NGOs that share democratic values and aims and look to their own priorities for promoting real democratic change. Activists from all five countries came together in a network that sought a strategy and solutions to their common regional circumstance of authoritarianism. And IDEE was able to introduce new forms of activity (Citizens’ Forums, regional networking, small grants) that successfully mobilized NGOs and citizens in their community around key problems affecting the region.
In 2006, IDEE received a one-year grant for Uzbekistan to promote civic activities and initiatives, help develop greater self-confidence and skills among civic activists, and build civic networks. Unfortunately, the political and repressive conditions of Uzbekistan had worsened during the period of the Civic Bridges Grant (see above). The government forced many independent NGOs to close (including IDEE’s partner organization, the Tashkent Public Education Center) and to find alternative mechanisms for organizing civic activities. IDEE believed it was essential both to involve the network created through the Civic Bridges program but also to give it means to survive and to maintain some community of civic activists committed to liberal democratic ideas.
Following an assessment mission and an independent survey of civic organizations within Uzbekistan, IDEE and its local partner began to recreate the Uzbek civic network by organizing two meetings in which participants could assess their situation and plan a schedule of activities. As a result of these meetings, IDEE and its local partners organized:
• Twelve Regional and Five Local Internships involving Uzbek civic activists from 7 regions. The regional internships were organized in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Crimea, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia by leading civic organizations from IDEE’s Centers for Pluralism Network. In each case, the Uzbeks explored how NGOs organized under both anti-democratic and newly democratic circumstances and in general learned how civic organizations functioned in different countries. In addition, five members of the Uzbek network took part in local internships in Samarkand and Bukhara, including three members from Fergana and Andijon. The Uzbek activists from different cities and regions were able to strengthen ties between themselves, an unusual opportunity in a society marked by total insularity.
• Eight Small Grants aimed at encouraging greater community outreach and civic activism, expanding local and regional networks, establishing models for democratic activity, and educating youth in the need for civic participation. The grants included a national survey of NGOs and NGO conditions in Uzbekistan, an independent public health campaign in the Jizzakh region, a parents’ club to promote youth initiatives in Kokand, a program to activate a local community in the work of a Mahala in Bukhara, a national meeting of the beekeepers’ association with international participation, a public education campaign for children with disabilities, a civic education program for teachers in Khorezm, and a debating society for youth in Khorezm. These projects allowed the network to explore new forms of effective activity across a broad social spectrum and develop ideas for the network to greater influence Uzbek society. One such activity was film and discussion clubs, which were given four additional grants in Fergana, Kokand, Samarkand and Tashkent. The clubs allowed civic activists to reach out especially to youth and to encourage open discussion of political and social themes through commentary on such well-known films as Dr. Zhivago, Burnt by the Sun, To Kill A Mockingbird, Z, among others.
• Two Regional and Three Local Meetings were organized in the course of the grant. The regional meetings were organized in Kyrgyzstan, the first in Osh in June with Kyrgyz and Azeri civic leaders and the second in Issy-kul in September. Both meetings were coordinated by IDEE with the Civil Society Against Corruption Human Rights Center, based in Bishkek. The Osh meeting included ten Kyrgyz civil society leaders, the director of the Inam Center for Pluralism Foundation from Azerbaijan, and fifteen civic activists from Uzbekistan. Among other things, the participants elaborated a strategy for continuing the civic network between Uzbek and Kyrgyz NGOs.
The Issy-kul meeting had thirty-seven participants from ten countries. Ten were from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Ukraine, and the U.S.; ten came from Kyrgyzstan; and seventeen were from Uzbekistan. At the meeting, the participants were able to study the experience of peaceful opposition, civic struggle, and political transition in authoritarian countries in order to draw lessons for countries of Central Asia and especially Uzbekistan. As a result, the Uzbek participants heard about the development of nine countries outside Uzbekistan in a way that allowed them to evaluate their own country. “One of the main results,” the Uzbek coordinator said, “was that the participants saw that there was a way out even in such desperate situations as those existing in Uzbekistan.”
In addition to the two local meetings mentioned above, a third local meeting of the network was held in Fergana in November. The active members and participants in the network grew from twelve people in five regions (March) to twenty-two people from nine Uzbek regions (Andijon, Bukhara, Fergana, Jizzakh, Kokand, Nukus, Samarkand, Tashkent, Urgench). Most had participated in two significant regional meetings and had developed ongoing activities inspired by the network.
This program was supported by a private foundation and, although successful, did not receive continuation funding. The reason is the similar way of thinking about funding strategies in both private and public institutions. Both types of funders tend to develop their own ideas for what should be done and then ask organizations for proposals according to already-set criteria. While these ideas may involve some investigation on the ground, they rarely emerge from actual discussions with civic and democracy leaders in a given country but rather are the imposed judgements and views of the donor as to what should be done (for example, “women’s empowerment” or “community outreach”). The result is unfortunate for organizations like IDEE, which develop their programs through direct working partnerships with local organizations and civic leaders and developing common strategies to deal with regional problems of lack of democracy. For the Uzbek network, it is even more unfortunate, since it has no self-sustaining means for continuing their activities on their own and must keep itself alive on a much reduced level.
Democratization and Human Rights in Cuba (2005–2007)
IDEE received a grant for a “Democratization and Human Rights” in Cuba program, also funded by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the State Department, allowing IDEE to resume its work in support of the peaceful democratic opposition. Cuba is sui generis — the only member of the Soviet bloc that failed to change and that maintains a full communist dictatorship. In place now almost fifty years, it has lasted longer than the communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe. Thus, Cuban democratic activists confront one of the most oppressive regimes in the world in conditions of severe economic deprivation and decline. Despite speculations about quick changes in Cuba following the severe illness of Fidel Castro, democratic activists little evidence of reform and instead continue to experience a high level of repression, intimidation, and harassment.
IDEE’s aims through this program were to help break through the regime’s information blockade, establish strong contacts between democrats in Cuba and Eastern Europe, positively influence the strategy of the Cuba democracy movement with Eastern European lessons, and foster pro-democracy activism among Cuban youth and others in Cuba’s growing civil society. It has drawn upon its Centers for Pluralism Network and other resources to achieve these aims,
From May 2005 to March 2007, IDEE:
• Organized 18 trips to Cuba for 43 democracy and youth activists from Eastern Europe. They had more than 500 meetings with Cuban democracy and civic leaders, independent journalists, independent trade unionists, Church-associated groups, and individuals from different social sectors. As part of those trips, the Eastern Europeans shared their experiences with Cuban counterparts, providing them with greater knowledge of positive and negative democracy and transition processes in former communist countries.
• Provided support to more than 30 civic and Church-affiliated groups involved in civic activity, including equipment, supplies, and other resources to support civil society groups and initiatives.
• Distributed digital and print media that provided resource material on opposition, transition, and democracy in Eastern Europe, including new texts prepared for IDEE for this grant (see below), a documentary on Solidarity prepared for its 25th anniversary, and a full set of materials on the ILO and ILO Conventions. IDEE also distributed more than 200 titles of books, more than 200 titles of DVDs, and more than 100 editions of Spanish-language newspapers and magazines to independent libraries and groups throughout the island. The books and DVD films were on themes related to liberal democracy, opposition to communism, political transitions, morality and corruption, political philosophy, worker and human rights, banned literature, and other topics. A number of children’s books were also provided.
• Prepared seven new pamphlets on democracy, transition, and opposition to communism in Eastern Europe, including “Freedom: A How To Manual” by Czeslaw Bielecki (an updated version for Cuba of the famous underground manual “Conspirator”), an essay on the lessons of Solidarity on its 25th Anniversary by Eric Chenoweth, and an essay on Russia’s troubled experience of transition from communism by Alexander Podrabinek (see Democracy Pamphlets at www.democracyforcuba.org ).
• Held two meetings of the Eastern European Advisory Council for Democracy in Cuba, which involved more than 20 veterans of the democracy movement in an organized way in support of democracy and civil society in Cuba. These meetings and other activities helped inspire the creation of two new foundations dedicated to supporting the civic movement in Cuba, both of which are actively cooperating — and coordinating — with IDEE in its programs.
• In cooperation with PRIMA Human Rights News Agency, produced 33 issues of the Cuba Chronicle of Events, a unique publication compiling information on the civic movement and political events related to Cuba, and six issues of Cuba Assessment, which offers analytical articles on Cuba. These were distributed in three languages and all issues are now available on the Democracy for Cuba web site (www.democracyforcuba.org).
IDEE’s activities have provided a small opening for democratic activists in Cuba to increase their contacts and knowledge with Eastern Europeans, whom they see as their natural counterparts in their struggle for freedom. IDEE’s hope is that these activities can benefit the Cuban opposition as it confronts new challenges. The above activities have received a continuation grant, which also includes a special focus on supporting women’s and women’s led civic organizations in Cuba.
The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) is a not-for-profit tax-exempt corporation begun in 1985 as an expansion of the Committee in Support of Solidarity. In addition to co-directors Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth, IDEE’s Board of Directors includes Nina Bang-Jensen of the Coalition for International Justice; Edith Bond of the Albert Shanker Institute; Heba el Shazli of the Solidarity Center; Charles Fairbanks of the Hudson Institute; and Arch Puddington, author and Vice President for Publications at Freedom House. Its Board of Sponsors includes Zbigniew Brzezinski, Pierre Hassner, Walter Laqueur, and Peter Reddaway, among others. IDEE has received program support from the American Federation of Teachers, the Bureau of Democracy and Human Rights and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State; Freedom House and the National Forum Foundation; the German Marshall Fund, the Goodbooks Foundation; the National Endowment for Democracy; the Open Society Foundation; the U.S. Agency for International Development; among other foundations and individuals.
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Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe