Kenyatta victory presents Western democracies ‘with tough choices’

Kenya saw a photo finish in its race for president Friday as the last ballots were counted. Uhuru Kenyatta (right), the leading candidate, saw his percentage edge above 50 percent,” The Associated Press reports:

The latest vote tally by the election commission showed Kenyatta with 50.5 percent of the vote. An electoral expert, Tom Wolf, said outstanding votes coming from Kenya’s Rift Valley are an “abundant vote basket” for Kenyatta.

Kenyan authorities were determined to finish the count today as Kenyatta edged ahead of his rival Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Reuters reports:

Technical problems slowed down the count, which has been questioned by both sides but considered broadly credible so far by international observers. Kenyans have had to wait four days already and the result is likely to go down to the wire……The poll is seen as a critical test for Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, after its reputation as a stable democracy was damaged by the bloodshed that followed the 2007 election.

“This time we think it will not be the same because leaders have said they will accept the result or go to court,” said civil society activist Job Ochieng. “Obviously there is still some fear though,” he said. “We are hopeful but also nervous.”

But other experts suggested that a more traumatic scenario seemed likely.

“This looks exactly like a rerun of 2007,” said Maina Kiai (left), formerly head of the National Human Rights Commission that investigated much of the violence after the 2007 election.

“Kenyans queue up to vote peacefully, then there’s this long wait for the results and now that’s opening up the perception of rigging. The only thing that’s keeping people off the streets is that this time they trust the courts as the place to work out electoral disputes, which was not the case last time.”

The high turnout indicates that Kenyans retain a strong commitment to democratic participation, said analysts.

“People didn’t come in a trickle — they flooded,” said Njeri Kabeberi, the executive director of the Center for Multiparty Democracy-Kenya, a nonprofit organization.

But tensions have risen since the party of Prime Minister Odinga claimed that preliminary results had been ‘doctored’ and called for counting to be stopped, the New York Times reports:

The election commission did not comment immediately, and Mr. Odinga’s campaign officials said they were considering seeking a court injunction to immediately halt the tallying process. ……Millions of Kenyans flocked to the polls on Monday in an anxiously awaited presidential election and a winner was supposed have been announced by now, but a breakdown in computer equipment has spawned long delays and mushrooming anxieties.

“We have evidence that the results we are receiving have been doctored,” said Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr. Odinga’s running mate. “The national tallying process lacks integrity and has to be stopped.”

But European Union and other international election observers declared the polls largely free and fair.

Kenyatta’s indictment by the International Criminal Court rebounded in his favor, says a prominent Kenyan human rights defender.

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“The I.C.C. was definitely a factor in this election, but not necessarily the factor you would expect,” said Kiai, now the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association

“It got people out. People were saying, ‘They’re our boys, they’re our sons, we need to protect them.’ ”

A Kenyatta victory will present the US and other Western democracies with a serious dilemma, the New York Times reports:

Does the United States put a premium on its commitment to justice and ending impunity — as it has emphasized across the continent — and distance itself from Mr. Kenyatta should he clinch this election?

Or would that put at risk all the other strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al Qaeda?

“There is really very little leverage that the U.S. and other countries can exercise,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center in Washington.

Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios

 “The tightness of the race bodes ill; it is unlikely that either side will be able to score a quick victory, and it will not take much vote rigging to influence the election’s outcome,” writes analyst Bronwyn Bruton, a former Africa program officer for the National Endowment for Democracy.

“The losing party is virtually certain, therefore, to contest the results. Some violence, in other words, seems all but assured. The question is how long it will last, whether it will spread nationwide, and how many people will be displaced, injured, or killed,” she writes for Foreign Affairs:

If Kenya’s elections spark only limited violence, complaints about the outcome are handled in an orderly manner in the courts, and if the international community respects the outcome of the poll, Kenyans could regain some of their confidence in the democratic process and in their own capacity to resolve difficult political issues peacefully.

The United States should signal its wholehearted commitment to the integrity of the Kenyan electoral process and the rule of law by supporting a swift judicial review of any allegations of irregularity. Comfortingly, in a recent Gallup poll, a stunning 92 percent of Kenyans said that they were confident that their country’s electoral board would be able to manage the elections. Approval ratings for Kenya’s courts were almost as high.

A violent breakdown of political order in Kenya “would have major economic consequences in the region and jeopardize other US objectives,” according to Joel Barkan, a Kenya expert, author of a recent report for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Two major US foreign policy goals in the region – preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan – could be compromised,” wrote Barkan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

“To be honest, there are so many different scenarios, nobody really knows what we’re going to do,” one American official said.

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Cuba dissident ‘forced off road’ to death

“The daughter of Cuban dissident Oswado Payá said Thursday that the Spanish politician convicted in her fathers’ death told her in person that another vehicle rammed his — and that Payá first survived the accident,” the Miami Herald reports:

Angel Carromero “confirmed the events that we had already alleged,” Rosa Maria Payá told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Madrid after a news conference in which she laid out details of the allegation that Cuban security agents caused the fatal accident.

The car he was driving was struck from behind just before the accident and he was heavily drugged when he appeared to admit to reckless driving, he said in an interview with The Washington Post:

Carromero, a member of the youth wing of Spain’s ruling conservative Popular Party, was at the wheel of a rental car when it crashed in eastern Cuba about 500 miles from Havana, killing Oswaldo Payá , a leading dissident, and Payá ’s colleague Harold Cepero.

“I drove carefully, giving them no reason to stop us,” Carromero said. “The last time I looked in the mirror, I realized that the car had gotten too close — and suddenly I felt a thunderous impact from behind.”

Carromero said he lost consciousness and thinks his memory of the events was affected by drugs administered while he was in the care of Cuban authorities. He said that he told investigators that his car was struck from behind and that they were angered by his statement.

“They warned me that I was their enemy and that I was very young to lose my life,” he said. “One of them told me that what I had told them had not happened and that I should be careful, that depending on what I said things could go very well or very badly for me.”

A recent must-see film (above) shot undercover by Al Jazeera, features footage from Payá’s funeral and shocking scenes of police attacks on the mourners.

At a funeral mass attended by hundreds of people in Havana, Payá‘s son, Oswaldo, told the BBC that his father had received many death threats and that the car had been pushed off the road deliberately.

The latest revelations appear to confirm suspicions of foul play voiced at the time of Payá’s death by his fellow dissidents and democracy advocates.

The regime targeted Payá (right) 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:

Visiting Bayamo with foreigners — the two survivors of the crash were fellow Catholics from Spain and Sweden — crossed another red line. The city is the center of the cholera outbreak in the eastern part of Cuba, and for the regime, the disease is not just a medical problem but also an economic and political threat. ….The spread of the disease also challenges Cuba’s self-image as a medical superpower and could arouse anger in citizens who believe that sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela and other countries detracts from the care they receive at home. The fact that Bayamo has experienced labor unrest the past two years and was a rebel stronghold during Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and the uprising against Batista further arouses the regime’s anxiety.

“He had said they were going to kill him. And this was the third accident he had this year,” charged Martha Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident economist.

“Something has got to be done urgently so that this does not go any further,” said Roque, one of 75 dissidents jailed after the 2003 Black Spring crackdown.

The Communist regime had a further incentive to remove Paya, said analysts.

“What really distinguished him was that unlike almost all the others, he engaged in retail politics,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute. “His Varela Project stands out as the only initiative of its time that enlisted citizen participation on a large scale. No one else did that, before or since.”

“The most important thing for me is that the Payá family always has defended my innocence, when they are the most injured by this tragedy,” Carromero said. “That’s why, when I met Rosa Maria [Payá’s daughter] this week, I could not hide the truth anymore. I am not only innocent — I am another victim, who might also be dead now.”


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Chávez’s death leaves ‘bitterly divided’ Venezuela

“The United States is open to a ‘more constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government’ following the death of Hugo Chávez and the expulsion of two military attaches,” CNN reports:

However, the action against the United States is “not a sign of strength,” according to a senior Obama administration official, describing the move as an internal political ploy to stir nationalistic fervor.The official said Venezuela‘s vice president, Nicolas Maduro (abovem left), “is not charismatic” and is trying to sustain the Chávez legacy and win an election by advancing “conspiracy theories.”

While the president’s death was widely expected, some observers questioned the viability of chavismo without Chávez.

“Chávez’s death is a game changer in Venezuela and will inevitably imply a reorganization of the political order,” said IHS Latin America analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos. “It creates a power vacuum that will be hard to fill and a political crisis could take place should Maduro fail to guarantee continuity for the chavismo movement.”

Chávez’s passing could provide an opening for the democratic opposition, analysts suggest.

“In regimes that are so person-based, the moment that the person on which everything hangs is removed, the entire foundation becomes very weak because there was nothing else supporting this other than this figure,” Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College, told the New York Times:

Chávez’s death could provide an opportunity for the political opposition, which was never able to defeat him in a head-to-head contest. Mr. Capriles [right] lost to Mr. Chávez by 11 percentage points in October. But he has twice beaten top Chávez lieutenants in running for governor of his state, Miranda, which includes part of Caracas.

And Mr. Maduro is far from having Mr. Chávez’s visceral connection to the masses of Venezuela’s poor. Even so, most analysts believe that Mr. Maduro will have an advantage, and that he will receive a surge of support if the vote occurs soon.

Some Latin America analysts expect a period of upheaval in Venezuela will complicate U.S. efforts to re-establish cordial relations.

“You’re going to have forces within ‘Chavismo’ vying for power and for the spot of Hugo Chávez,” said Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Is it going to get better?” he asked, referring to U.S. ties. “I’d say probably not.”

The authoritarian populist “leaves behind a country that’s very, very polarized, very divided. There’s tremendous mistrust,” says a prominent observer.

“A lot of people had a lot of hopes and expectations for him…He was somebody who put his finger on the legitimate grievances, the social injustice and social inequality in Venezuela,” according to Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue:

But in the end, he couldn’t solve the problems, because he concentrated power in his own hands. There was only one person who made decisions for 14 years, and that was Hugo Chávez. And that doesn’t work in this day in age. And so it’s a country that has high rates of inflation, tremendous crime, scarcity of goods, fiscal deficit. It’s not in good shape, decaying infrastructure. So whoever takes over, whatever happens, it’s going to be very, very difficult.

Chávez was “a pioneer and one of the most adroit practitioners” of competitive authoritarianism, says a leading analyst.

“These are regimes where leaders gain power through democratic elections and then change the constitution and other laws to weaken checks and balances on the executive, thus ensuring the regime’s continuity and its almost total autonomy while still retaining a patina of democratic legitimacy,” writes Moises Naím (left}, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and a former Venezuelan minister of trade and industry:

Chávez’s most enduring and positive legacy is his shattering of Venezuela’s peaceful coexistence with poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. He was not the first political leader who placed the poor at the center of the national conversation. Nor was he the first to use a spike in oil revenue to help the poor. But none of his predecessors did it so aggressively and with such a passionate sense of urgency as Chávez did.

On the other hand, Chávez “did not leave the nation a stronger democracy or a more prosperous economy,” notes Naím:

Chávez and his supporters claim that during his tenure 15 national elections and referenda took place and that his social programs promoted participation and “direct” or “radical democracy.” Yet, as Scott Mainwaring, a respected U.S. academic has noted, democracy requires “free and fair elections for the executive and legislature, nearly universal adult enfranchisement in the contemporary period, the protection of political rights and civil liberties, and civilian control of the military. The Chávez regime falls far short on the first and third of these defining characteristics of democracy. The electoral playing field is highly skewed, and respect for opposition rights has eroded seriously. The military is much more politicized and more involved in politics than it was before Chávez.”

Chávez’s death will not change regional geo-politics, says a leading analyst, except for the power and influence of the ALBA Bolivarian Alliance.

“Ecuador’s Correa looks like he could take over, but he lacks the bombast that Chávez had….ALBA will remain, but it will be much less flamboyant than when Chávez was at the controls,” said Chris Sabatini, the senior policy director at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas: Chávez leaves a mixed legacy in his country and throughout the world. While experts seem almost universally to agree that the Chavistas will consolidate their power in the short term, what happens to Chavismo and Venezuela in the long term remains unknown.

Venezuela without Chávez is almost unthinkable. The country’s situation post-Chávez is unpredictable,” said Sabatini, a former NED Latin America program officer. Chávez’s designated heir Maduro is known to be close to Cuba but he is not consistent in his radicalism, said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College.

“On the one hand, he has been behind some of the most radical, crazy foreign policy decisions of the Chávez administration. Support for Libya, you name it, all the radical decisions, he has been behind them,” Corrales said. “But he also has been behind some of the most pragmatic and conciliatory decisions, including the turnaround in relations with Colombia.”

Chávez’s political strength was largely fueled by his ability to personally connect with throngs of dedicated followers — dubbed “Chavistas” for their devotion to the president.

Polls have indicated that several possible successors from within the party’s ranks haven’t generated the same kind of enthusiasm among Chávez’s supporters. A February 2012 poll by the Datanalisis firm showed Maduro with 9.8% support among militant members of Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Robert Menendez, chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee, called for free and fair elections to replace Chávez.

Other observers highlighted Chávez’s ambiguous legacy.

“Within his administration he gave opportunities to people who would never have had them otherwise,” said political analyst Carlos Romero:

But his methods were roundly condemned by sectors of society that found themselves out of favour.

“There’s never been as big a division of the classes as there is now,” said Mr Romero.

Maduro’s personal loyalty and pro-Cuban sympathies made him the lead contender to succeed Chávez, observers said.

“Maduro combines two characteristics that influenced Chávez in his decision to designate him as successor: first, his loyalty to the party leadership, and second, his positions in favor of popular measures,” such as social programs for the poor, said Steve Ellner, a political scientist at Venezuela’s University of Oriente:

After Chávez was elected president in 1998, Maduro was selected to join a special assembly to draft a new constitution. He was later elected to the National Assembly and then became president of the legislature…..Maduro was named foreign minister in 2006 and oversaw international efforts such as consolidating the regional diplomatic blocs ALBA and Unasur, strengthening relations with countries such as Russia, Iran and China, and overseeing a rapprochement with U.S.-allied Colombia.

The former bus driver and union activist “is perceived by Chávez as a negotiator with diplomatic skills who could potentially gather the support of the different factions and keep it united in the difficult months ahead,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst with the London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight.

“Nevertheless, he is not necessarily perceived as such within all the top ranks of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the armed forces,” Moya-Ocampos added.

Some analysts believe change will come, but not immediately.

“Chávez has played an outsized role in the hemisphere,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank. “So his passing will change hemisphere politics. This is an ending of an era or the beginning of a new one.”

But Chávez’s political intolerance and alliances with authoritarian regimes is not the only unsavory aspect of Chávez’s legacy, say analysts.

Another ugly facet of Chávez’s tenure is that under his watch Venezuela became one of the world’s most murderous countries,” says Naím, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, author of the forthcoming book The End of Power, and the former editor of Foreign Policy:

Kabul or Baghdad is safer than Caracas, where homicides and kidnappings have become part of daily life. The country is also considered by international law enforcement agencies as a haven for counterfeiters, money launderers, and traffickers in persons, weapons, and, of course, drugs. According to the United Nations, Venezuela has become the main supplier of drugs to Europe. The U.S. Treasury has named eight high-ranking members of the Chávez government, including the former head of intelligence and the minister of defense, as drug kingpins.

Through it all Chávez was uncharacteristically silent and passive. His complacency as he watched his nation fall into a vortex of murder and criminality will be one of the most ugly and unforgivable aspects of his years in power.


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The Leveretts’ Iran Syndrome

There has been a dramatic spike in public executions in Iran, says UN report

“History is cluttered with the examples of academics, philosophers, renowned writers, and eminent advocates of humane ideals who have aligned themselves with or apologized for the world’s most despicable tyrants,” said Arch Puddington, vice president of research at Freedom House.

He was referring to eccentric basketball star Dennis Rodman’s BFF-fest with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but the point seems equally applicable to two prominent foreign policy analysts-turned-apologists for the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“While Iran is no North Korea, there is overwhelming evidence the situation is closer to the one portrayed in Argo, rather than the modern and civil society Iran’s theocratic leaders claim to allow,” Ilana Glazer writes for The Daily Beast.

That was confirmed this week by two United Nations reports in which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. special investigator on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, highlighted a marked rise in the frequency and gravity of rights abuses. The reports outline Iran’s stepped up executions of prisoners, including juveniles, and arrests of political dissidents who are sometimes tortured to death in jail.

The Islamic Republic has failed to investigate “widespread, systemic and systematic violations of human rights”, Shaheed’s report said. Hundreds of political prisoners have been detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression during protests following the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.

“There has been a dramatic spike in public executions in Iran,” (above) Ban said. Most took place at dawn in front of crowds.


Dozens of journalists, bloggers and rights defenders have been arrested in recent months, including the celebrated lawyer Abdolfatah Soltani (left) and the blogger Sattar Beheshti (below) who died in prison shortly after his arrest.

An informed source communicated that Mr. Beheshti was tortured for the purpose of retrieving his Facebook user name and password, that he was repeatedly threatened with death during his interrogation and that he was beaten in the face and torso with a baton,” Shaheed said, adding that torture by means of truncheons, rapes and electric shocks have been widely reported.

Blogger Sattar Beheshti – tortured and killed in jail

The Secretary-General said he was “deeply troubled by reports of increasing numbers of executions, including of juvenile offenders and in public; continuing amputations and flogging; arbitrary arrest and detention; unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment; and severe restrictions targeting media professionals, human rights defenders, lawyers and opposition activities, as well as religious minorities.”

But such concerns are only evidence of fundamental misconceptions about the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people, according to two veterans of the State Department and the National Security Council.  

Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett “purport to know how the Iranian people think. And it turns out that they think exactly like their government,” notes analyst Laura Secor.

“On the basis of opinion polls taken under repressive conditions, the Leveretts write that most Iranians support their government’s crackdown on protesters after the 2009 election,” she writes in the New York Times:

They claim that Iranians overwhelmingly believe in the divine right of the clerics to rule, and happily accept the conservative clerics’ role in choosing the candidates who can stand for elections. As evidence of popular satisfaction with the political process, the Leveretts cite official election turnout statistics, including those from last year’s parliamentary election, which the state-controlled news media published the day before the vote. At one point the Leveretts cite, and quote at length, a personal e-mail from an unnamed “defender of the system” explaining what “the overwhelming majority of Iranians believe.”

“The Leveretts might be advised to exercise the same humility, and the same skepticism toward their most invested sources, that they rightly urge on other analysts,” says Secor, who is writing a book about Iran:

Following the 2009 election, Iran’s government sent militias into the streets to beat demonstrators; it arrested reformist political figures en masse, beginning on election day before the polls were closed; it placed them on show trials with confessions clearly obtained under duress; it banned reformist political parties and continues to hold journalists, former government ministers and human rights lawyers in prison. Even if most Iranians truly did support these actions, it’s not at all clear that Western analysts should be in the business of justifying them.

Beatrice and Sidney Webb

“Nowhere do the Leveretts take account of the role physical intimidation, imprisonment and censorship have played in silencing critics of the Iranian regime,” Secor notes. “But they ascribe the ensuing silence to consent.”By contrast, the UN report notes that electoral laws are consistently violated and “significant and unreasonable limitations” imposed on citizens’ rights to run for office.

Authoritarian regimes appreciate that elections matter, at least in terms of providing a veneer of democratic legitimacy, which is why adaptable autocrats have mastered the art of election management and manipulation.

Not all elections worthy of the name

“Iran has elected government,” writes Jeffrey Gedmin, president of the Legatum Institute, but Western politicians and commentators should know better than to imply that it’s democratic, since “not all elections are created equal.”

In a 2002 essay in the Journal of Democracy, he notes, political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way drew clear distinctions between democratic and authoritarian approaches to elections, with the former characterized by:

1) executives and legislatures selected through open, fair and free elections;

2) virtually all adults permitted to vote;

3) political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of press and freedom to criticize the government without fear of reprisal; and

4) elected authorities who are not subject to control by the military or clerical leaders.

How do elections in Iran measure up?

“For starters, not very well,” Gedmin writes for Foreign Policy:

Iran’s head of intelligence recently acknowledged that his services are currently conducting “heavy monitoring” of the populace in advance of the country’s Presidential elections scheduled for June. …….As in the past, the Supreme Leader’s Guardian Council, a group of 12 theologians, will vet candidates for the election….. At the same time, the government appears to be pursuing a deliberate strategy aimed at ratcheting up the climate of intimidation and fear, according to Denise Ajiri, another Iranian journalist and founder of Iran Election Watch.

The process will exclude “reformists, liberals, individuals who are not in line with the Islamic establishment, and women,” says Golnaz Esfandiari, the Iranian human rights reporter and curator of the blog Persian Letters.


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Vytautas Landsbergis & The Other Dream Team

The National Endowment for Democracy and the Embassy of Lithuania invite you to the presentation of the Democracy Service Medal to Vytautas Landsbergis, preceded by a screening of the film The Other Dream Team. 

Vytautas Landsbergis, along with Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, is among the heroes of the revolutions of 1989 to 1991 that brought democracy to Eastern Europe. As a founder and leader of the democratic movement Sajudis, he spearheaded Lithuania’s struggle to regain its freedom after more than 40 years of Soviet occupation. After being elected Chairman of the Supreme Council, he oversaw the drafting of Lithuania’s declaration of independence on March 11, 1990. This process initiated the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Lithuania served as an inspiration for democracy movements across the USSR.

For more than two decades, Professor Landsbergis has been a pioneer, leader and guiding force of center-right political parties and parliamentary politics in Lithuania. Since 2004, he has served Lithuania as a member of the European Parliament. From his earliest days in politics, he has also opposed authoritarianism and supported freedom fighters around the globe. Prof. Landsbergis is a founding member of the Parliamentary Forum for Democracy, an international network of parliamentarians who support democracy and human rights. It is for these accomplishments and contributions to democracy that NED will honor Vytautas Landsbergis with its Democracy Service Medal.

Prior to the medal presentation, and at a time when many of us are looking forward to college basketball’s “March Madness,” there will be a special screening of The Other Dream Team, the critically acclaimed documentary about Lithuania’s struggle for independence and the triumph of their 1992 Olympic Basketball team against the former Soviet Union. This film is about more than the sport of basketball—it is about a team that emerged as a symbol of democracy, unity, and pride in a country once shackled by Communism.


National Endowment for Democracy

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Washington, DC

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