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IDEE Program and Activities: 2010-2012

Other Activities


    The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) began in 1985 to support the growing opposition movements in Eastern Europe seeking democratic change and an end to communism. More than twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the Soviet Union, IDEE’s mission to help civic and political opposition movements in this region build democratic institutions and bring about democratic change is an ongoing one.

    For many of its activities, IDEE works through the Centers for Pluralism, a network started in 1992 and made up of pro-democratic civil society organizations, groups, and individuals. By 2002, the CfP Network had grown to more than 100 organizations in nearly twenty countries. This network has contributed to and enhanced the quality of IDEE’s programs in twenty-three countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Cuba, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Romania, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and the seven countries emerging from former Yugoslavia (see Programs).

     IDEE and its predecessor organization, the Committee in Support of Solidarity, were among the first to work in the harsh conditions of communist dictatorship and to provide direct support to democratic movements in the region. At the time, so-called experts considered these Soviet bloc countries as impermeable to change — “hard cases” that did not have any hope of becoming democracies. The dissidents were considered at best as idealistic individuals unable to create an opposition movement or create changes. IDEE, however, had the idea that only by supporting democratic movements and activists could one foster a democratic alternative to communist rule. Not supporting such movements meant ensuring the total dominance of the communist regime. IDEE provided support and a voice for the “marginalized” dissidents who later became the region’s democratic presidents, prime ministers, MPs, and opposition and civic leaders. Today, IDEE continues to focus on the “hard cases” — the countries with severe repressive policies that most analysts still predict have no democratic future. In doing so, IDEE retains its original idea: only by supporting democrats and democratic movements is there an alternative to dictatorship.

IDEE Programs and Activities: 2010–2012

    In this period, IDEE’s main focus has continued to be on a handful of “hard case” countries —  Belarus, Cuba, and Georgia. Through its programs in these countries, IDEE has been able to maintain and expand its broad Central and Eastern European network.


    In February 2012, in response to requests of long-time democratic allies and Centers for Pluralism members in Georgia, the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe agreed to undertake a major international election-monitoring mission for the parliamentary elections in Georgia. The main concern was that the current government would prevent free and fair elections under the challenge of a new opposition coalition called Georgia Dream led by Bidzhina Ivanishvili. There was justification for such a fear: massive fraud in the 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections in Georgia had resulted in the total dominance of President Mikheil Saakhashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) over Georgian political life. The result was a creeping authoritarianism in areas of media, civil liberties, rule of law, and economic freedom. By June it was clear the state’s power was being used to create an unfair election environment in favor of UNM.

    The danger of manipulating the election process existed not just for the day of elections but also for the entire election campaign process. IDEE thus organized a two-part program of longer-term thematic pre-election missions to monitor the general situation and an international mission made up of civic and democracy leaders from the Centers for Pluralism Network.

    There were five pre-election observer missions from July to September each lasting from one week to ten days. They monitored the general pre-election situation, the situation of NGOs, the media, and the rule of law.  The monitors included an MP from the Czech Republic, Daniel Korte; Rony Koven, European representative of the  World Press Freedom Committee, and Tatiana Vaksberg, an independent journalist and former RFE/RL reporter; Belarusan democracy leader Vincuk Viacorka and IDEE co-director Eric Chenoweth; and a Belarusan team of two senior civil society activists, Siarhiej and Tamara Mackiewicz. Each of the teams prepared reports that were widely distributed to the Centers for Pluralism network, to the short-term monitors who later traveled to Georgia, and to a wider network of Western NGOs, media, and government officials; they were also posted on IDEE’s web site for general access (see link). Altogether, these reports had a strong impact. They confirmed what some people knew to be the case: that the Georgian elections were a significant test for democracy in the region; that widespread violations of fairness in electoral conduct were taking place; and that the NGO community had raised serious human rights concerns about the government’s overall behavior and direction. IDEE also brought many Eastern Europe political leaders and six well known journalists who were sympathizing with and even actively supporting President Saakhashvili  within the EU and the media, who after their trips were more sympathetic to the opposition point of view, wrote both journalistic and opinion articles changing the public view in their countries.
IDEE also co-produced a documentary film on Georgia that was shown on election day.

    IDEE established a coordinating office in Tbilisi to arrange meetings, transportation, and registration and deployment of monitors. For the elections, IDEE brought 82 monitors coming from seven countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the West. It was the second largest international monitoring mission next to that of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The monitors came  from the Czech Republic (18 participants); Azerbaijan (16); Poland (12); Belarus (11); Serbia (10); Lithuania (3); Romania (20; Bulgaria (1); and from Sweden, France, and the U.S (8 total). The observers, who came for seven days,  represented a broad cross-section of civil society, independent media, and political parties; all had experience living in undemocratic countries; and most had experience in election observing in their own or in other countries.

    Although the process proved difficult, all monitors were registered to observe the elections. They were sent to eight strategic areas where it was suspected the regime would organize major fraud or use basic intimidation and other techniques to effect voters: Gori (1 monitor), Kareli (8), Sagarejo (36), Samtredia (7), Tbilisi (7), Tskhaltubo (6), Tsalka (4), and Zugdidi (8). The size of the Sagarejo group was based on the high likelihood of massive fraud using an increased count among the ethnic Azeri community; for this reason, IDEE organized a team of 16 Azerbaijanis each matched with a non-Azeri monitor in 14 precincts. Four persons served as roving monitors. 

    IDEE’s’ monitors had a real impact. In Sagarejo, it was clear that the focus on Azeri communities was a needed one. According to expert advisor Ivlian Haindrava, director of the Republican Institute, the total vote in Azeri-dominated precincts in 2008 was 13,000; well more than 90 percent of these “voters” had been counted in the Saakashvili-UNM column. This year, the total number of Azeri voters in the same precincts was less than four thousand and the voter breakdown was approximately 66 percent UNM to 33 percent Georgia Dream, both of which figures this time actually reflected turnout and preference. The difference was due to the IDEE observance vigilance in not allowing additional illegal ballots to be counted and remaining in the polling places until the final counting. The victorious GT candidate for the district, Tina Khidasheli, publicly acknowledged IDEE’s observers and the IDEE monitoring mission on national television. She said that they were essential to a fair vote.

    Both in Sagarejo and the other seven districts monitored by IDEE’s international monitors witnessed a great deal of fraud or attempted fraud. In an initial report released at a press conference the next day, IDEE was the only international organization to report such level of fraud and illegal electoral practices. These were later confirmed by regional and national electoral commissions and forced the CEC to invalidate seven electoral mandates won by UNM and require a repeat election (in the re-run, GD won 3 of these seats). The press conference was widely covered by Georgian media, including two feature articles in the weekly Georgian Journal, including an interview with one of the mission’s key members and one of IDEE’s key partners, Smaranda Enache, director of Liga Pro Europa in Romania and Irena Lasota.

    The overwhelming vote for Georgia Dream (55 percent to 40 percent for UNM) was what ultimately prevented greater election fraud than occurred or than was planned by governing officials. Still, all of these issues (and more) will need to be addressed by the new government in order to ensure that democratic elections become a regular and ordinary occurrence in Georgia such that competing parties can campaign with relative certainty as to the elections’ honesty.

    Instead of organizing a new web site for the Georgia program, IDEE used its existing website ( —  based on a simple content-driven formula — in order to publicize the events in Georgia. These were featured on the home page and a special Georgia elections page was created to include all the thematic mission reports, the initial report of the international mission, and articles and reports on the general situation featuring NGO web sites and news sources on Georgia (such as and


    From 2007 to 2010, IDEE organized a wide ranging two-and-a-half year program called “Raise Awareness for Freedom” that supported a consortium of ten key civil society organizations that represented different constituencies (civil society, culture, education, human rights, independent media, medical personnel, students, trade unions, and women). Through this program, funded by State Departments DRL Bureau, these organizations reached hundreds of thousands of citizens with sustained pro-democratic events, publications, and messages; built new pro-democratic networks in different constituencies; trained a new generation in human rights monitoring; and blunted the effects of the regime’s social control through independent organizations and events. Although the program is no longer funded, the Raise Consciousness for Freedom network remains a central part of civil society in Belarus. Many of these organizations were at the core of the monitoring of Belarus’s September 2012 parliamentary elections. IDEE has also been able to involve key Belarusan democracy activists in its other programs (Cuba and Georgia), thereby helping them maintain vital networks in the region.

    Since 2010, however, the regime has increased its repression and arrests, including nearly all opposition candidates in the 2010 presidential elections. In 2011, Alas Bialatski, director of Viasna Human Rights Center and one of Belarus’s leading democratic figures, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in a hard-regime prison on false charges. Despite his international prominence, he remains in prison and there has been no sustained effort by the world community to obtain his release. IDEE has participated in international protest campaigns in support of Alas Bialatski through its Centers for Pluralism Network and through Viasna’s Facebook campaign “We Are All Alas.” [LINK]

    In 2010 and 2012, IDEE helped organize trips to the U.S. of the Belarusan youth leader Franislav Viacorka. In each case, he met with congressional aides, State Department officials, foundation staff, opinion makers, RFE/RL, and the Belarusan community, among others, to brief them on the situation in Belarus and to urge greater action to support the democracy movement.


    IDEE began activities in Cuba in 1995 at the request of democratic activists on the island who believed that the experience of Eastern Europe was a potential model for their own country’s change. Eastern Europeans for their part felt a responsibility for helping to democratize any communist country, but especially Cuba, the participation of Eastern European secret police services in training Cuba’s apparatus of repression. IDEE began organizing trips of Eastern European democracy activists, publishing existing and new texts in Spanish on the transition in Eastern Europe, and providing support to Cuban dissident groups. Funding was intermittent until 2005, when IDEE began a series of programs funded over five years by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) of the State Department. These greatly enhanced IDEE’s ability to organize exchanges and trips, publish pro-democracy materials, and provide support to Cuban civil society organizations (see previous activities reports for 2005–09).

    In one grant period from July 2008 to April 2011, IDEE was able to provide substantial support for this democratic community through its Democracy for Cuba program. More than half of these activities were organized in 2010–11:

    • IDEE organized 22 trips to Cuba involving 50 human rights, political, civic, and cultural leaders (and experienced interpreters) drawing largely upon the Centers for Pluralism Network in 7 Central and Eastern European countries;

    • They met with 650 persons from 200 civil society groups in 13 of 14 regions of Cuba and carried out dozens of workshops related to democracy, human rights, and Eastern Europe;

    • IDEE delivered 135 small grants totaling $460,009 in cash and material assistance that supported a range of activities, including assistance to families of political prisoners; workshops; community meetings; preparing a future constitution and laws of a democratic Cuba; organizing exhibitions of banned art and forbidden topics; film and book discussion clubs; independent libraries; independent theater and concerts; recordings of banned rock groups; civic education; national meetings of civic and opposition groups; human rights documentation; demonstrations; independent publications; scouting; sociological surveys; blogging; independent trade union organizing and education; women’s groups; youth initiatives, among others.

    • Cuban groups carried out 1,050 workshops involving more than 12,000 participants as part of these small grants and the trips of Eastern Europeans;

    • Cuban underground and unofficial journals, performances and web journals supported through this grant reached an unknown number of people but IDEE believes certainly also in the tens of thousands.
    • IDEE distributed more than 6,000 pen drives, CDs, DVDs, and books throughout the island, including to 20 film and book discussion clubs and numerous independent libraries that organize regular community meetings. Pen drives included a wide range of educational materials, especially on the subjects of democracy and the transition in Eastern Europe; and

    • IDEE maintained the web site as a resource for Cubans.

    Unfortunately, DRL decided not to continue funding this program, choosing instead to fund thematic grants such as AIDS prevention among prostitutes or difficult to accomplish grants such as remote or virtual training for journalists. The decision was unfortunate in IDEE’s view. Many groups IDEE was supporting were using the funding and equipment they received to build on their previous activities, to increase citizen participation in the democracy movement, and thus build momentum for broader civic activism. In this overall effort, they were establishing stronger structures, creating more effective community networks, and developing more articulate programs. IDEE has been unable to find other sources of funding for its program but is continuing to look. So far, many of the groups that received support are continuing their efforts. Without ongoing support, however, these efforts are diminished.

Other Activities

    Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota participated in a number of events related to the thirtieth anniversary of Solidarity, the thirtieth anniversary of martial law, and other notable events. In October 2010, both co-directors made presentations to the conference “Solidarity and the World” sponsored by the Institute for National Memory and held in Wroclaw, Poland. Chenoweth’s presentation was on the AFL-CIO’s support of Solidarity; Lasota’s on the impact of foreign support for Solidarity and especially the role of the Committee in Support of Solidarity. In October 2011, Eric Chenoweth participated in a conference on AFL-CIO foreign policy where he expanded his Wroclaw paper to make a fuller presentation on the AFL-CIO’s role in supporting the Solidarity movement in Poland financially, morally, and politically. The paper will be part of a book published based on the conference later in 2012. Irena Lasota also participated in a conference on the 30th anniversary of martial law, which included a major presentation on the substantial work of the Committee in Support of Solidarity.

    Several historians have recently reviewed the files of the Committee in Support of Solidarity for PhDs and post-doctoral dissertations on the periods of Solidarity’s initial legal existence and martial law. One has contributed to the CSS archives by digitalizing its paper files.

    IDEE’s co-director Eric Chenoweth was the recipient of major state awards from the Republic of Poland.  In August 2011, he was presented with the Commander’s Cross for his support of the Solidarity movement at the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

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 Edith Bond, director of programs at the Albert Shanker Institute; Heba el Shazli, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and former Regional Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Solidarity Center; Charles Fairbanks, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, as well as Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Systems, Ilia State University, Tbilisi and President, American-Georgian Initiative for Liberal Education; Arch Puddington, 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.

See Also:
IDEE Activities 2009-2010
IDEE Activities 2007-2008
IDEE Activities 2004-2006
IDEE Activities 2002-2003
IDEE Activities 2000-2001

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<>Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe
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Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth, Directors