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Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe
2007-2008 Activities

Countries of Activity

Belarus
Caucasus
Central Asia
Cuba
Organizational Background

 

Introduction     

In 2007– 2008, the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) continued its mission to actively promote democracy, civil society, and human rights in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and in other communist or post-communist countries.

        Nearly twenty years since the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the region remains divided among those countries experiencing more or less successful transitions to democracy, countries that are still struggling to establish democracy against anti-democratic forces, and, more frequently, countries mired in authoritarianism. In this setting, the growingly authoritarian Russia, swelled by energy riches, dominates over the region with greater and greater swagger. Its invasion of Georgia was a sign of how emboldened its leadership feels in projecting a new model of aggression and nationalist statism. The full impact of Russia’s invasion of Georgia remains to be seen, but the breakup of Ukraine’s government coalition and its snap elections indicate the scope of the struggle between pro-Western and pro-Russian parties. But even before the invasion of Georgia, however, anti-democratic politicians had consolidated their hold on all the Caucasus and Central Asian countries and in Belarus.

        IDEE’s overall activities remain focused on two issues. One is combating authoritarian political forces that continue to rule in post-communist and current communist countries nearly twenty years after the 1989—1991 revolutions. The second is to continue to address the persistent and long-term challenges facing countries in transition from communism to democracy. Its programs strengthen civic and pro-democratic organizations and movements through direct support, technical assistance, and regional solidarity programs that bring together democrats from different countries to promote a common vision of liberal democracy for the region. IDEE’s regional solidarity initiatives are based on the Centers for Pluralism, an ongoing network of key civic and pro-democratic organizations and activists in 20 post-communist countries. Although without earmarked funding since 2003, the Centers for Pluralism has continued as a strong network through members’ involvement in their own and IDEE’s activities.

 IDEE Programs and Activities: 2007–2008

        IDEE and its predecessor, the Committee in Support of Solidarity, were among the first organizations to work in the harsh circumstances of communist dictatorship to provide support to growing democratic movements in the region. At the time, the countries of the Soviet bloc were the “hard cases” that, according to most experts and analysts, did not have any hope of democracy.

Today, IDEE continues to focus on “hard cases” reminiscent of the old Eastern Europe, countries in which dictatorships have succeeded in re-constituting the old communist apparatus of repression to stifle open opposition, control most if not all public media, create conditions of fear and intimidation that prevent citizens from engaging in civic participation, and imposing a uniform national or political ideology similar to their communist predecessors. In looking at these countries, most analysts today cannot foresee real democratic change taking hold, just as previous analysts could not foresee change when looking at the “old” Eastern Europe.

IDEE remains committed to the ongoing struggle for democracy in the region. Its commitment is emboldened by the enduring vision of democratic leaders and activists that the struggle against communism could not have been a struggle just for a new postcommunist authoritarianism but rather a struggle for freedom.

         In the period of 2007–2008, IDEE concentrated its focus on two “hard case” countries: Belarus, called “the last dictatorship in Europe,” and Cuba, the last unchanged Soviet satellite. IDEE also maintained activities in the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, where it has worked since 1995 (see previous Reports of Activities). Below is a description of the specific programs IDEE carried out in this period.

Belarus

             Raise Awareness for Freedom (2007-2009)

           At the end of 2006, IDEE was awarded funding by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the Department of State. This two-and-a-half year program, beginning in mid-2007 and ending at the end of 2009, provides direct support to a consortium 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.

            In the first year, IDEE provided support to the consortium for the following activities:

  • Twelve seminars or workshops on human rights, mobilizing civil society and networking, developing youth and women leaders, independent journalism, and public policy;
  • Thirty-five public meetings and fourteen round tables on cultural, independent trade union, health, youth, and other broad policy areas affecting Belarusan society;
  • Nineteen regular Youth Discussion Clubs in and outside of Minsk and twenty-seven “youth happenings” and public events organized by youth in eleven cities;
  • Enhancement of a website for civic educators and the establishment of three new websites reaching out to doctors, women, and policy makers;
  • Three e- and print publications for teachers, doctors, and other professionals;
  • Publication of one issue of an independent trade union newspaper in 40,000 copies and support for eleven special issues of independent publications throughout Belarus;
  • Preparation and distribution of policy booklets, bulletins, and leaflets on education, health, independent trade union, and women’s issues; and
  • Small grant competitions to support local civil society, education, youth, and human rights initiatives.

            The Raising Consciousness for Freedom Program provided essential support for experienced pro-democracy organizations at a time when there is decreasing foreign support for the democracy movement in Belarus. As a result, independent trade unions could revive their activities in six cities; doctors could work to bring a reform message to a professional community that traditionally has been quiescent towards authority; policy experts could strengthen their efforts at putting together alternative policies to the Lukashenka dictatorship, especially in the areas of energy, education, and the economy; independent media could re-establish support for independent newspapers; and education specialists were able to increase their efforts at encouraging teachers to offer their students alternative democratic education to the regime’s nationalist ideology.

            None of these initiatives could change the dynamics of the recent elections. Opposition candidates were prevented from running real campaigns resulting in a new parliament without a single opposition member. The regime maintains a tight-fisted control over politics, the economy, and the society. Raising Consciousness for Freedom shows that even in such dark times it is possible to break through to the broader society with pro-freedom and pro-democracy messages that will ultimately take root in Belarus.

Caucasus

            IDEE did not have any directly funded programs in the Caucasus during this period. However, it did carry out a number of initiatives:

            • In Georgia, IDEE mobilized the Centers for Pluralism Network as well as other friends in a campaign to protest the Russian invasion of Georgia. Its Letter of Solidarity to our Friends in Georgia was signed by activists from more than a dozen countries, distributed widely to the IDEE network, and posted on its web site.

            • In response to the repression of Georgia’s opposition in November 2007 and the manipulation of presidential elections and then to the invasion of Georgia, IDEE has established two special pages on its web page (Georgia: Democracy in Crisis and Georgia: Crisis of State) that provides a unique collection of articles and documents on the situation, including serious commentary on the dictatorial tendencies of the Saakashvili government that led to first a political crisis and second a geo-strategic one.

            • IDEE mobilized support for Armenian democrats following the fraudulent election for president and the use of force against protesters backing Ter Petrossian.

            • IDEE continued to work with the Center for Pluralism Inam to keep alive civil society and pro-democracy initiatives in Azerbaijan in the face of a consolidating dictatorship of Ilham Aliyev.

Central Asia

            Unfortunately, IDEE did not succeed in obtaining funding to continue its Civic Bridges program from 2003–2005 or its Uzbekistan program for 2006. Nevertheless, many of the civil society organizations and groups that IDEE supported have been able to survive and continue their activities, albeit at a reduced level. In Kyrgyzstan, IDEE’s civil society network, organized around the dynamic Civil Society Against Corruption Human Rights Center, has been at the center of efforts to combat the re-establishment of dictatorship and to press for real democratic reform. Ms. Ismailova looks to IDEE and the Centers for Pluralism Network for support in those efforts. In Uzbekistan, the network of civil society organizations that was created under IDEE’s 2006 program has continued to offer pro-democracy messages and alternatives to the dictatorship of Islam Karimov. In Kazakhstan, IDEE continues its partnership with the Human Rights School, which is providing among the only serious education in international human rights standards and what these can mean for promoting democracy within the confines of a hardened and corrupt authoritarian state.

Cuba

            Among the “hard case” countries that IDEE focuses on is Cuba — indeed the “hardest case.” Alone among Soviet satellite countries, Cuba has failed to go through even a “de-Stalinizing” stage, much less de-communization. For nearly fifty years, Cuba has been ruled by the same Castro brothers, with Raul now serving instead of Fidel in the most prominent capacity, but Fidel clearly continuing to play some role. They have maintained totalitarian control over the country, instilling widespread fear in the society through the dominance of police and military forces, imprisonment, beatings, dismissals, social intimidation, propaganda, and numerous other tools. It is noteworthy then that a civil society and democracy movement has not only arisen, it has survived varied efforts to eradicate it, and even grown steadily since its launch in the mid-90s. 

            IDEE has been active in Cuba since 1995. For Eastern Europeans, it is important to try to return the help given to them to those now in need of democratic solidarity. IDEE’s early programs (1995-2001) involved bringing teams of veteran Eastern European dissidents to the island to meet with counterparts and to share knowledge about opposition and transition in Eastern Europe and to offer printed materials on these subjects based on translations of existing and newly commissioned articles. After a four-year hiatus, in 2005 IDEE was awarded a grant by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to restart its activities around a similar program but enhanced to include direct support, training, and other initiatives. A new grant was awarded in 2007.

            Democracy for Cuba Program (2005–2007)

            IDEE completed its Democracy for Cuba program in March 2007. The last three months of the program included a high level of activity, including six trips of Eastern European democracy and civic and activists that established new contacts with Cuban civil society organizations and groups; posting on the Democracy for Cuba web page new materials developed by IDEE on opposition movements and transition from communism; and direct support for Cuba’s civil society movement.

            Overall, from May 2005 to March 2007, IDEE:

            • Organized numerous trips to Cuba for democracy and youth activists from Eastern Europe, having more than 500 meetings with Cuban democracy and civic leaders, Church-associated groups, and others,

            • Provided direct support to more than 30 civic and Church-affiliated groups involved in civic activity, including financial support, equipment, supplies, and other resources.

            • Distributed hundreds of digital and print copies with material on opposition, transition, and democracy in Eastern Europe, including new texts prepared for IDEE, a documentary on the history of Solidarity in Poland, and a full set of materials on the ILO and ILO Conventions.

            • Distributed more than 200 titles each of books and DVDs and more than 100 editions of Spanish-language newspapers and magazines to independent libraries and civic groups.

            IDEE also convened two meetings of the Eastern European Advisory Council for Democracy in Cuba, which involved more than 20 veterans of the democracy movement in support of democracy and civil society in Cuba; prepared seven new pamphlets on democracy, transition, and opposition to communism in Eastern Europe, including “Freedom: A How To Manual” and an essay on the lessons of Solidarity and published 33 issues of the Cuba Chronicle of Events and six issues of Cuba Assessment, unique publications providing information and analysis on political events related to the civic movement Cuba. For a fuller description is of the Democracy for Cuba program see the Report of Activities for 2004-2006 at www.idee.org and also www.democracyforcuba.org for publications).

            Human Rights and Democratization Initiatives in Cuba (2007–2008)

           At the beginning of 2007, IDEE was awarded a grant for a new program, “Democratization and Human Rights in Cuba,” also funded by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the State Department, allowing IDEE to continue its work in support of Cuba’s peaceful democratic opposition.

         While supporting many of the same activities, in this program IDEE expanded its aims to include training for women leaders and democracy and civic activists in concrete forms of organizing based on experiences in Eastern Europe, to further break through the regime’s information blockade, to strengthen contacts between democrats in Cuba and Eastern Europe, to positively influence the strategy of the Cuba democracy movement with Eastern European lessons, and to foster pro-democracy activism among Cuban youth and others in Cuba’s growing civil society. As it did in previous programs, IDEE has drawn upon its Centers for Pluralism Network and other resources to achieve these goals, involving civic and democracy leaders and activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Uzbekistan.

            So far under the current grant, IDEE has: (1) completed 21 trips involving 50 experienced democracy and youth activists, who have had more than 500 meetings with Cuban counterparts; (2) conducted twenty-five informal workshops throughout Cuba for youth, trade unionists, civic activists, independent librarians, and women leaders and groups; (3) completed translations of 3 book-length sets of materials on opposition to communism, positive and negative lessons of transition from communism in Eastern Europe, and the experience of the American civil rights movement; (4) organized one meeting of the East European Advisory Council; (5) further updated and publicized the Democracy for Cuba web site; (6) continued regular publication of Cuba Chronicle of Events and Assessment; (7) published a photo-album of Cuba by “Solidarity’s photographer”; and (8) distributed funds, equipment, materials, CDs, flash disks, and supplies to increase the capacity of civil society in Cuba. It has also provided DVD players, DVDs and books on democracy-related themes, and assistance to organize different Discussion Clubs allowing young people and others to gather together, especially at independent libraries.

             IDEE’s activities have provided a small opening for democratic activists in Cuba to increase their knowledge of democracy movements in Eastern Europe as well as contacts 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.

Organizational Background

            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; Helen Toth, formerly of the International Affairs Department of the American Federation of Teachers, 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; 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.

 

     

 Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe

1718 M Street, NW • No. 147 • Washington, DC 20036

Tel./Fax: (202) 466-7105 • Email: idee@idee.org • Web Page: www.idee.org

Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth, Directors






IDEE Activities 2004-2006

IDEE Activities 2002-2003

IDEE Activities for 2000-2001

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IInstitute for Democracy in Eastern Europe
1718 M Street, NW • No. 147 • Washington, DC 20036
Tel./Fax: (202) 466-7105 • Email: idee@idee.org • Web Page: www.idee.org
Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth, Directors