88 Generation Students party ‘will benefit Burma’s democracy’

News that Burma’s 88 Generation Students group will form a political party followed a lengthy internal debate, writes Hans Hulst. Apparently, the group was split between two factions: one favoring a focus on civil-society work, spearheaded by Min Ko Naing (above), and another in favor of an active political role, with strategist Ko Ko Gyi as its most notable proponent.

But the decision to enter the political arena will benefit Burma’s democracy in three significant ways, he writes for Irrawaddy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.


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Inspired by Wang Bingzhang – Fred Hiatt’s Nine Days

Inspired by the true story of a teenage girl’s search for her kidnapped father, Wang Bingzhang (left),a Chinese pro-democracy activist, the young adult thriller Nine Days is the latest book by author and Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt.

Wang Bingzhang established China Spring, the first overseas pro-democracy Chinese magazine and launched a movement publicly denouncing one-party rule in the early 1980s, according to Human Rights in China. He also co-founded the China Freedom Democracy Party and the China Democracy Justice Party. He has been imprisoned since being abducted by Chinese secret agents in Vietnam in June 2002. 

Mr. Hiatt will discuss Nine Days along with Ti-Anna Wang, whose struggle to find her father Wang Bingzhang and secure his freedom inspired the book. 

Book Discussion and Reception

Nine Days with Fred Hiatt, author and editorial page editor of the The Washington Post and Ti-Anna Wang, daughter of jailed Chinese activist Wang Bingzhang

Thursday, April 4, 2013 5:00pm to 6:30pm Freedom House 1301 Connecticut Avenue NW, Fourth Floor Washington, DC 20036

Human Rights in China is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Hungary’s Klubradio ‘fights laws of silence’

Independent radio station Klubradio “has found itself at the center of what its director, Andras Arato, calls a government-backed war to weaken and silence the station,” writes Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times:

The clash has become emblematic of what critics call a bald attempt by the [Premier Viktor] Orban government to tighten its grip on the news media, the judiciary, the central bank and education, and the inability of the European Union, which Hungary joined in 2004, to restrain a government not cleaving to the bloc’s democratic standards.

Orban, a charismatic father of five whose bold call for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary in 1989 made him a regional hero, is now being recast as an authoritarian intent on eroding the checks and balances of democratic government. Since coming to power in 2010 with a two-thirds majority, he has adroitly tapped into widespread discontent with a post-1989 order that many Hungarians feel has failed to deliver on its promises.

Hungary’s news media council had denied the station a broadcasting license, until “late last week — after the fourth court ruling, a grass-roots campaign by thousands of listeners and mounting international pressure — the council finally backed down and awarded Klubradio the long-term frequency,” Bilefsky writes.

The case is the latest example of an authoritarian drift that has prompted some commentators to describe Orban’s Hungary as Putinism’s ‘first ideological outpost’?

“Under Communism, there was one state channel, and the government could stop it,” said Akos Balogh, editor in chief of Mandiner, a liberal Web site. “But now if you try and block anything, it will just come out some other way. So the reaction to the media laws is as exaggerated as the law itself.”

Hungary’s democratic regression is also causing alarm within the European Union and EU member states.

The country’s parliament recently passed constitutional amendments limiting the powers of the constitutional court in a move which observers believe will undermine democratic checks and balances, and enhance the authoritarian drift under Orbán.

With its current constitutional setup, Hungary would never have been admitted to the Union, Peter Hack, professor of constitutional law at the Budapest university ELTE, tells the Times:

“But now that it’s in, it thinks it can do what it wants.”

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Yoani to start independent newspaper in Cuba

Celebrated dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez plans to establish an independent digital newspaper upon her return to Cuba.

She expected to be subject to surveillance and harassment back in Cuba, but expressed the hope that her celebrity, which she called “a joke of fate” and “a cross” that she bears, would serve as “a protective shield,” while insisting that she had no intention of seeking political asylum.

New social media platforms such as blogs and Twitter “have helped us create small cracks in the wall of censorship” in Cuba by creating a “black market of information.”

“You can’t imagine the speed with which information is circulating,” she said.

While it took ten years before she saw images of the Berlin Wall being torn down, her son was able to watch Egypt’s Tahrir Square revolt as it happened. But she has no illusions that technology per se will undermine the regime.

“By themselves, these aren’t the instruments that will bring democracy to Cuba,” she said.

The Communist authorities, who denied her applications to travel abroad 20 times over the past five years, probably relented this time because they hoped that she would not return.

“I’m not going to stay in another country, and I’m not going to be afraid,” she told a Washington meeting yesterday.

The fate of two of Cuba’s leading dissidents was a reminder of the threats facing activists, said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (right), a photographer and editor of Voces, an independent on-line journal.

Oswaldo Paya* and Harold Cepero were killed in a car accident last July. The driver of the vehicle recently revealed that it rammed from behind by a car with official license plates.

“It is time for the international community to insist that a thorough investigation occur,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who had sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 

Sanchez said she plans to move beyond her Generación Y blog and produce an independent newspaper, which would necessarily start as a digital publication since the regime bans independent print newspapers as “enemy propaganda.”

Earlier this week, she had hinted at the venture, in comments paying tribute to the ‘Black Spring’ dissidents, saying that “it is time to move beyond the realm of the personal and individual expression of the blog – the catharsis that is the 140 characters on Twitter – into a more civic exercise that would be expressed through an independent press in Cuba.”

Asked why she opposed the US embargo when leading dissidents like Dr. Oscar Biscet (left), and Ladies in White leader Berta Soler support it, she said that the dissident movement “is not monolithic” in its perspectives., while sharing the common goal of democracy in Cuba. Lifting the embargo would immediately remove the Communist authorities’ last remaining excuse for the system’s failures.

“I come from a generation of Cubans that have grown up with an official discourse constantly running through my ears that has expertly used the embargo as its foremost excuse,” Sanchez said.

“I have seen since I was a child how the official media constantly presents the embargo as the big bad wolf from the fairy tales I read as a child,” she continued. “I would love to see how the official propaganda apparatus would function without this big bad wolf. I doubt that it could.”

In a later meeting on Capitol Hill, she said the international community should not confuse Raul Castro’s anemic reforms “from on high” with genuine change.

“I am not here as a politician,” said Sanchez at a meeting in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. “I am not here as a journalist. I am here as a citizen.”

“I am here to share and talk about the Cuba that is undergoing change and how we can help make that move forward,” she said.

*The regime targeted Payá because he “crossed a red line in challenging the government’s relations with the church, which had become a pillar of the government’s strategy of survival…. at a time when the regime, emboldened by the cardinal’s silence at the mass arrests during the pope’s visit to Cuba in March, was not about to tolerate criticism,” said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman.

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