Empire State celebrating communism?

China is getting a reputation for asserting its soft power, intent on promoting a more benign image of the communist state – and countering democratic trends. But who would have thought that New York’s iconic Empire State Building would light up red and yellow in honor of 60 years of Communist Party rule?

The Chinese consul and other officials will take part in the lighting ceremony which will bathe the skyscraper in the colors of the People’s Republic until Thursday, building representatives said in a statement.

We’re told that there is a form that interested parties must submit to be considered for this lighting privilege. Selection “is at the sole discretion of the ownership and management of the Empire State Building Company”. (HT: Chris at Freedom House)

Democracy, Totalitarianism, and the Culture of Freedom

The National Endowment for Democracy and The Embassy of Poland invite you to attend a memorial symposium celebrating the life and thought of Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009).

Democracy, Totalitarianism, and the Culture of Freedom

Moderator: Zbigniew Brzezinski, CSIS

Panelists: Richard Pipes, Harvard University;        

George Weigel, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Abbas Milani, Stanford University

Nadia Diuk, National Endowment for Democracy

Thursday, October 15, 2009

4:00 – 6:00 pm. Reception will follow program.

Venue: National Endowment for Democracy 1025 F Street, NW Suite 800

Washington, DC  20004. RSVP (acceptances only) to rsvp@ned.org

Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski will be remembered as the thinker who, more profoundly than any intellectual since George Orwell, explained the origins and deformities of communist totalitarianism and the threat it posed to human freedom.  At the core of his thinking was an understanding of how the utopian urge to overcome “the contingency of human existence” led inevitably to communist despotism, just as the justification of this new order by both the communist regimes and their apologists around the world produced a culture of unparalleled duplicity and moral corruption.  From this understanding flowed his distinctive sense of irony, as he dissected and exposed with piercing wit the foundation of lies upon which the whole system of communism ultimately rested.  But Kolakowski was more than an opponent of communism.  He was a defender of human freedom as “the most precious treasure in life” and the basis on which society can progress and flourish.  He was also a fighter for freedom, having paid the price of exile for his beliefs. He served from exile as the Western representative of OKNO, the underground organization that brought together the principal cultural institutions through which Polish democrats worked to establish an independent civil society.  His devotion to freedom was such that, even in the spring of 1989 when freedom’s advance seemed unstoppable, he warned a NED-sponsored world conference in Washington of the need to remain vigilant, cautioning that “freedom is always vulnerable and its cause is never safe.”  In recognition of his unsurpassed contribution to the cause of democracy and human freedom, the NED is proud to host this symposium celebrating the life and thought of Leszek Kolakowski.

Richard Pipes is the Baird Professor Emeritus of History at Harvard University, where he taught from 1950 until 1996.  From 1968 to 1973 he served as the director of Harvard’s Russian Research Center, and later became the senior consultant at the Stanford Research Institute.  Under President Ronald Reagan, Pipes served as Director of East European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council.  He has authored dozens of books and academic articles on the history of Russia and the former Soviet Union.

George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  Weigel has authored and edited more than 15 books on the subjects of religion and democracy.   From 1989 through June 1996, Weigel was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and as a Senior Fellow of the Center, he began work on Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, which was published to international acclaim in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Later editions were published in Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. 

Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the department of political science. In addition, Dr. Milani is a research fellow and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. His expertise is U.S./Iran relations, and Iranian cultural, political, and security issues. Milani felt that Leszek Kolakowski’s work was especially relevant to the struggle for freedom in Iran and was responsible for translating his work into Farsi.

Nadia Diuk is the Senior Director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she has worked since 1987.  Before coming to the NED, Dr. Diuk taught Soviet Politics and Russian History at Oxford University.  She has published many articles and essays in leading newspapers and journals and is the co-author of two books, The Hidden Nations: The People Challenge the Soviet Union (New York: William Morrow, 1990) and New Nations Rising: The Fall of the Soviets and the Challenge of Independence (John Wiley & Sons, 1993).

Zbigniew Brzezinski is currently a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University‘s School of Advanced International Studies.  From 1977 to 1981 he served as National Security advisor to President Jimmy Carter.  Dr. Brzezinski, who serves on numerous Boards and Committees, was a member of the NED Board of Directors for nine years.

A third way for Iran policy?

Few analysts believe that intensified sanctions or military strikes will do more than delay Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. So why not pursue an alternative, asks Anne Applebaum – a sustained and well-funded human rights campaign would boost the Green opposition and be an unnerving prospect for regime desperately lacking domestic legitimacy .

Many of Iran’s reformists support the nuclear program, but for peaceful civilian purposes. “The Iranian green movement does not want a nuclear bomb, but instead desires peace for the world and democracy for Iran,” one of the movement’s spokesmen, filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, said today. “The green movement in Iran furthermore understands the world’s concerns and in fact has similar concerns itself.”

OSCE risks becoming another SCO?

The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe risks losing its democratic character, an imprisoned human rights activist warned today, as the head of the US delegation to the organization’s Warsaw meeting said that engagement remains the best way to deal with autocratic regimes.

The OSCE is one of the few international organizations that proclaims the human dimension of “democracy, rule of law and human rights” to be as important as economic cooperation and security, said Yevgeniy Zhovtis, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy. But anti-democratic backsliding within its Eurasian members is threatening to unravel the “Third Basket” of OSCE obligations.

A Kazakh court this month sentenced Zhovtis, a member of the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy, to four years in prison for manslaughter following an accident in which the car he was driving struck and killed a man. Human rights and democracy watchdogs insist that the trial was politically motivated.

Unless the OSCE’s semi-authoritarian members like Kazakhstan, which has assumed the OSCE chair, take “clear, visible, and tangible steps in the direction of democratic development,” Zhovtis warned, the OSCE will come to resemble the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Guinea massacre another betrayal of democracy

People scramble to escape gunfire as troops massacre pro-democracy protesters in Guinea

People scramble to escape gunfire as troops massacre pro-democracy protesters in Guinea

Guinea’s military junta appears unrepentant a day after troops open fire on a pro-democracy rally, killing as many as 200 civilians.  The ruling National Council for Democracy and Development refuses to negotiate with opposition figures.

“The protest is yet another example of African civil society groups pushing oppressive governments, though not always successfully, for reform,” one account suggests.

The head of the junta, Moussa Dadis Camara, seized control a day after President Lansana Conte, who had ruled for nearly 25 years, died on December 22 last year, in a military coup initially welcomed by most citizens. Thousands of cheering supporters thronged the streets of the capital, shouting: “Welcome to this change! Welcome to this change!”

“Soldiers reeking of alcohol fired into the air Tuesday,” Associated Press reports, “terrorizing residents a day after troops killed 157 people at a pro-democracy rally and shattered hopes that this West African country was shedding the yoke of dictatorship.”

Dominique Dieudonné, the National Endowment for Democracy’s West Africa Program Officer, writes:

I spoke to NED grantees today and the situation seems to have calmed down in Conakry from yesterday.  Independent verification of the events is difficult, but from what I could gather from our grantees and the internet, yesterday’s event was organized by political parties who oppose a presidential run by current military ruler, Dadis Camara. 

Civil society activists confirmed that the military junta barred this massive demonstration on the pretext that September 28th is a holiday, and that the stadium where the event was to be held was closed for an upcoming soccer match.  Apparently Camara even called the leaders of the various political parties and urged them to cancel the event. 

The political parties opposed to military rule feel stifled because of Camara’s interest in running in the presidential elections scheduled for January 31, 2010, contrary to promises to usher in genuine democracy made when he seized power.  Camara has yet to make his candidacy official but the international community, including the African Union, has strongly voiced opposition to his plan. 

Camara has reportedly announced that he is organizing consultations with religious and traditional leaders and civil society.  After these consultations, he intends to formally announce his plans.

As it stands now, things are calm in Conakry because everyone is staying home and streets are heavily patrolled by military officers.  There is no official curfew and our grantees expect to be back to work tomorrow.

One NED grantee ventured outside today to investigate nearby police stations which were burned and looted of weapons reportedly by supporters of the opposition.   He was unable to confirm reports that troops raped dozens of women in the aftermath of the massacre.

Four prominent leaders of the opposition who were at the stadium were severely beaten and arrested.  They were released today and are meeting to assess the outcome of yesterday’s events and strategize on their future plans.

This is an incredible turning point for Guinea and our grantees’ personal safety is of utmost concern to us.  They will exercise caution as they continue with their activities throughout the country and adjust as dictated by the political situation.  

Guinea is one the most mineral-rich countries in Africa, with considerable deposits of diamonds, gold, iron and half of the world’s reserves of bauxite, the raw material required to make aluminum. But its people remained mired in poverty while two consecutive dictatorships plundered the country’s wealth.