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Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe

2009 Activities

Countries of Activity

Belarus
Cuba
Other Activities

Introduction

            The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) was begun in 1985 to support the growing opposition movements in Eastern Europe seeking democratic change and an end to communism. Since the revolutions of 1989 and 1991, IDEE has helped democrats in many countries in the region overcome communism's oppressive legacy and build the institutions of a democratic political system and a plural and open society. But twenty years after the Soviet Bloc’s and the Soviet Union’s collapse, IDEE’s original mission to help civic and political opposition movements bring about democratic change remains unchanged in much of the region, from Belarus to Turkmenistan.

            IDEE’s overall activities are thus focused on two issues. One is combating authoritarian political forces that continue to rule in post-communist and current communist countries. The second is to address the persistent and long-term challenges facing countries in transition from communism. IDEE’s programs strengthen civic and pro-democratic organizations and movements through direct support, technical assistance, training, and regional solidarity programs that bring together democrats throughout the region to promote a common vision of liberal democracy. Regional solidarity programs are based on the Centers for Pluralism, an ongoing network of key civic and pro-democratic organizations and activists from 20 post-communist countries involved in regional initiatives.

            IDEE and its predecessor, the Committee in Support of Solidarity (founded in 1981), were among the first organizations to work in the harsh conditions of communist dictatorship to provide support to democratic movements. At the time, the countries of the Soviet bloc were the “hard cases” that most experts and analysts considered did not have any hope of becoming democracies. IDEE, however, had the simple idea that supporting democratic movements and activists helped foster a democratic alternative to communist rule. Not supporting democracy movements meant ensuring the sole existence of communist rule. IDEE provided support and a voice for the “marginalized” dissidents who became the region’s future democratic presidents, prime ministers, MPs, and opposition and civic leaders.

            Today, IDEE continues to focus on the “hard cases” with the same idea: only by supporting democrats and democratic movements is there an alternative to dictatorship.  Today’s “hard cases” are reminiscent of — or even worse than — the old Eastern Europe dictatorships: severe repression, control over media, intimidation of society, and even the imposition of a national political ideology. These are countries where most analysts, as in the “old” Eastern Europe, still do not foresee the possibility of real democratic change taking hold.

IDEE Programs and Activities: 2009

In the last five years, therefore, IDEE has concentrated its focus on a handful of “hard case” countries with the aim of supporting democratic alternatives to entrenched dictatorial governments: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, and Uzbekistan (and Central Asia generally). In the past two years, IDEE has concentrated especially on two countries and on organizing special regional solidarity initiatives. Below is a description of the specific country programs IDEE carried out for 2009. (Reports for previous years may be found at www.idee.org/idee.html, which has updated materials on all current and past programs.)

Belarus

            Raise Awareness for Freedom (2007-2009)

            In mid-2007, IDEE began a two-and-a-half year program, funded by the Democracy and Human Rights Bureau of the Department of State, to provide direct support to a consortium of ten civic organizations representing key social constituencies engaged in varied activities aimed at consolidating pro-democratic forces and reaching out to new groups in society.

            In the second year (July 2008-June 2009), these organizations continued to carry out a wide variety of effective civic activities through the Raise Consciousness for Freedom Consortium (see also Project Activities: 2007-2008 for a description of the first year’s activities):

     1 Human Rights School for 22 youth activists for training to be human rights defenders;

    2 electronic publications, one for teachers and the other for medical specialists;

    7 ongoing information campaigns addressed at important constituencies in the community (housing owners, women, small entrepreneurs, and workers);

    8 special editions of independent newspapers aimed at promoting themes of freedom as well as support for numerous local publications through small grants;

    26 youth meetings and 52 youth actions carried out in 11 cities;

    26 independent cultural events and support for several musical CDs;

    20 roundtables each addressing the needs of different sectors of civil society and local democratic forces;

    54 other meetings organized in more than 20 cities and towns;

    34 small grants to educational and civic organizations and initiatives throughout Belarus;

    Various special publications, such as Handbook of Patients Rights and Journals of Political Prisoners, along with 9

      publications to support its local campaigns;

    Support for 3 Web Sites serving medical specialists, educators, and policy makers;

    Various public campaigns such as Campaign for Youth Culture, Celebrations for the 90th anniversary of the Belarus Democratic Republic; and Christmas Greetings to Political Prisoners.

            Beyond these numbers, the Raising Consciousness for Freedom Program has been important for providing 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 pro-democracy message to a usually docile professional community; 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 local independent newspapers; education specialists could increase their efforts at encouraging alternative democratic education methods; and youth could organize a wide variety of activities demonstrating resistance to the authoritarian regime. Supporting these high levels of civic activity is of great significance for civic groups as they prepare to mobilize citizens for the 2010 presidential elections.

Cuba

            Among the “hard case” countries in which IDEE has worked, Cuba is perhaps the hardest case. Fidel and Raul Castro have ruled Cuba for more than fifty years, with Raul now serving instead of Fidel as “president.” They have maintained totalitarian control over the country throughout this time — without any “de-Stalinizing period” — and have instilled widespread fear in the society through cruel imprisonment, forced emigration, beatings, dismissals, social intimidation, propaganda, and numerous other tools.

It is surprising then that a civil society and democracy movement has not only arisen in Cuba, but has survived and even grown steadily despite efforts to eradicate it.

            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, especially so given the knowledge that when members of the Warsaw Pact their countries’ security services assisted in consolidating Cuba’s totalitarian dictatorship. 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 and 2007 IDEE was awarded two grants to restart and continue its activities by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor around a similar program but enhanced to include direct support, training, and other initiatives for Cuba’s growing civil society.

In the period of 2005-2008, IDEE organized 42 trips of 112 democracy and youth activists, holding more than one thousand meetings and conducting forty-eight informal workshops for 1,200 Cuban civic activists. The trip participants also transported direct support (funds, equipment, supplies, books, and DVDs) and 1,000 flash disks to more than 100 civil society organizations and initiatives in more than 15 cities throughout the island. The flash disks were generally stored with books, articles, and other materials on the dissident and opposition periods in Eastern Europe, “education for democracy” texts for teachers, and materials on free trade unions and civil rights. Under this program, IDEE also organized a Democracy for Cuba web site, published 65 issues of the Cuba Chronicle of Events (in English, Spanish and Russian) with news on the Cuban democracy movement, and coordinated an East European advisory group on support for democracy in Cuba.

            Democracy for Cuba Program (2008–2009)

            At the end of 2008, IDEE began an even more intensive program of direct support to civil society activists with a new grant from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. This program, building upon on the success of the previous three years, seeks to help strengthen the civil society movement in Cuba through concrete assistance determined by Cuban activists.

Overall in 2009, IDEE:

• Organized more than 10 trips of experienced democracy activists to Cuba;
• Provided 50 direct support grants to civic and Church-affiliated groups involved in civic activity, including financial support, equipment, supplies, and other resources to organize a wide variety of activities, including publication and distribution of several independent publications and blogs, journalism and web training, independent cultural initiatives, sociological surveys, independent educational activities and underground education courses, human rights defense, community organizations, among many others;  
• Distributed hundreds of copies of digital and print media with material on opposition, transition, and democracy in Eastern Europe, including a documentary on the history of Solidarity in Poland, new texts prepared for IDEE, and a full set of materials on the ILO;
• Distributed more than 200 titles each of books and DVDs;
• Conducted around ten informal workshops; and
•.Started a program training of human rights lawyers.

 

In all of its activities in Cuba, as well as Belarus, IDEE draws upon its Centers for Pluralism Network, which has provided most of the participants (or recommendations for participants) in its trips, surveys, and evaluations of its programs. These participants are experienced civic activists, politicians, journalists, or a younger generation, sometimes even second-generation democratic activists.

Other Activities

IDEE did not have any directly funded programs in the Caucasus or Central Asia during this period. However, it continues to assist civic and democracy activists and leaders in both regions, providing technical advice, assisting them in trips to Washington, D.C., networking them with others in the region, and organizing regional solidarity appeals.

            In this latter category, recently IDEE organized two important international appeals:

            • After the forcible arrest of democracy leader Tolekan Ismailova and two other colleagues in Kyrgyzstan during a protest of fraud in the presidential election last July, IDEE mobilized the Centers for Pluralism Network as well as other friends in a campaign to gain her release and more importantly to end the campaign of harassment against her that had been building over the previous months. IDEE’s Centers for Pluralism colleagues sent protest letters from ten countries to the Kyrgyz authorities. After being released (by paying a fine), she was detained briefly again but soon thereafter the campaign against Tolekan Ismailova eased.

            • Together with Vladimir Bukovsky, IDEE has spearheaded a worldwide Appeal for Alexander Podrabinek, one of Russia’s best-known human rights journalists, following death threats of Podrabinek and the menacing of his family by a “youth group” (Nashi) connected to Vladimir Putin. Podrabinek, known as Sasha, had written an article defending a restaurant’s use of the name “Anti-Soviet” after the same youth group had menaced the restaurant owner and forced him to change the name. The campaign against Podrabinek is ongoing and he has been forced into hiding. Given the recent assassinations of other human rights journalists, the threats against his life are taken literally. IDEE has obtained more than 1,000 names for its petition from throughout the world and organized a special page to its web site (see www.idee.org) in order to stop the “chronicle of a death foretold.”

            IDEE’s web site carries information about these appeals and also serves as a general source of news, articles, and information about IDEE’s concentrations of interest and its programs. In the near future, IDEE hopes to post in full the 35 issues of Uncaptive Minds, IDEE’s journal of information and analysis on Eastern Europe published between 1988 and 1997.

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; Edith Bond of the Albert Shanker Institute; Heba el Shazli of the Solidarity Center; Charles Fairbanks of the Hudson Institute; Arch Puddington, author and Vice President for Research and Publications at Freedom House; Helen Toth, formerly of the International Affairs Department of the American Federation of Teachers, and Ruth Wattenberg, former editor of the American Educator. 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.

 
IDEE Activities 2007-2008

IDEE Activities 2004-2006

IDEE Activities 2002-2003

IDEE Activities for 2000-2001

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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






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<>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