News and Notes

Issue Date Summer 1991
Volume 2
Issue 3
Page Numbers 123-26
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Moscow Hosts Sakharov Congress

The First International Andrei Sakharov Memorial Congress on “Peace, Progress, and Human Rights” opened on 21 May 1991, the 70th anniversary of Sakharov’s birth, with an audience of two thousand guests, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, scholar Robert Conquest, U.S. labor leader Lane Kirkland, and President Mário Soares of Portugal. Speeches by such noted figures as Alexander Dubček and physicist and human fights activist Yuri Orlov were followed by a remarkable concert in which pianist Sviatoslav Richter, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and violinist Vladimir Spivakov paid tribute to the memory of Andrei Sakharov.

For the next four days, scientists and scholars debated the two primary themes of the Congress: “The Consequences of Chernobyl for the USSR and the World” and “The USSR and Eastern Europe on the Road from Totalitarianism to Democracy.” Among their extensive findings and proposals were a plea for “intense efforts to improve all aspects of management, training, and maintenance” of Soviet nuclear reactors, and a recommendation that no law or regulation take effect until it is published in an Official Register and widely disseminated to the public.

The chairman and the guiding spirit of the event was Sakharov’s widow Elena Bonner, who was ably assisted in the year-long planning and preparation for the Congress by executive director Yuri Samodurov. Their efforts provided a forum for Soviet intellectuals and more than 200 foreign participants to commemorate Sakharov’s contribution to the rebirth of civil society in the USSR. True to his spirit, the Congress identified critical problems in the Soviet Union and suggested constructive approaches to solving them. It provided a timely reaffirmation of Sakharov’s commitment to freedom, the rule of law, and parliamentary democracy. [End Page 123]

Havel, Chamorro Receive Democracy Award

Presidents Václav Havel of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic and Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua were presented with the National Endowment for Democracy’s 1991 Democracy Award at an April 16 dinner ceremony in Washington following the Endowment’s two-day conference on “The Unfinished Revolution.” The Democracy Award is presented every other year in recognition of outstanding contributions to furthering the cause of democracy.

After an invocation given by the Dalai Lama, Congressman Dante Fascell presented Havel’s award, which was accepted on his behalf by Foreign Minister Jiří Dienstbier. Dienstbier stated: “In choosing as this year’s Democracy Award recipients the bearers of the highest offices in two countries that have only recently emerged in the family of democratic nations, you have reminded the people in democratic movements around the world struggling under terrible conditions for what the free world considers to be essential and inalienable human rights that their efforts are not in vain, that no situation is so hopeless, no defeat so definite that it cannot be turned to victory.”

President Chamorro’s award was presented by Senator Nancy Kassebaum, who recognized her courage and commitment to national reconciliation in Nicaragua. In her acceptance speech, Chamorro noted that in Nicaragua “the advent of democracy did not occur through violence or force—it took place solely through free elections.” She concluded with a plea to the democratic world: “New democracies need moral and effective solidarity. We need help from all of you so that the disastrous economic situation that we inherited from the mistakes of the previous regime does not . . . handicap the development of our growing democracy.”

The program concluded with remarks by Vice-President Quayle, who stated, “Presidents Havel and Chamorro represent democratic statesmanship at its very finest–brave, principled, and committed to the defense of human rights and democratic values.”

Meeting in Romania on Post-Communist Societies

Intellectuals and political activists from Eastern Europe and the United States met in Timisoara on March 25-27 for a conference on “Power and Opposition in Post-Communist Societies” sponsored by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia) and the University of Maryland. East European participants included representatives from the Union of the Democratic Forces of Bulgaria, the Hungarian Alliance of Free Democrats, the Civic Alliance of Romania, the Social Democratic League of Yugoslavia, the Social Democratic Party of Moldavia, and [End Page 124] Charter ’77 of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

After an opening address by French political thinker Jean-Franqois Revel, the participants presented papers on the challenges of the transition period, including the rise of populist and ethnocentric movements and the difficulty of eradicating the remnants of the old regimes. They concluded that democracy is not an inevitable outcome of the break with communism, and that the real struggle now in Eastern Europe is between democracy and ethnic chauvinism.

At the conclusion of the conference, the participants adopted a statement declaring their “moral solidarity in their efforts to reinstate democracy and political pluralism in East Central Europe.”

Civic Leaders Discuss Education for Democracy

On 17 April 1991, the Educational Excellence Network held a workshop on “Democracy Education: From Principle to Practice” in Washington, DC. This event was part of Education for Democracy International, a joint project of the Network, the American Federation of Teachers, and Freedom House. The workshop brought together democratic educators and activists from around the world to discuss the ways in which they promote democratic education within their own countries, how they might help other nations to do so, and what forms of outside assistance would be most valuable to them in advancing their efforts. It combined roundtable discussions with a demonstration lesson on democracy in the classroom taught by Mary Butz, a teacher in the New York City public school system. The participants were also asked to bring examples of civic education materials from their countries, which were on display during the workshop.

Some of the participants and their organizations included:

  • Saidou Agbantou, Benin Human Rights Commission. This commission has organized nationwide seminars and conferences and has made proposals to the government about the legal conditions necessary for democracy.
  • Dimon Liu, Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy in China. The FHRDC, established by leaders of the Chinese pro-democracy movement, coordinates activities and fundraising for overseas Chinese democratic groups.
  • Dette Pascual, KABATID, Philippines. KABATID organizes women leaders and provides nonpartisan seminars for citizens and local officials.
  • Martin Šimečka, Archa Publishing House, Czech and Slovak Federal Republic. Archa was an active player in the November 1989 revolution and continues to promote democracy by publishing a variety of democracy education materials.
  • Agustin Arias, Centro Pro [End Page 125] Democracia, Panama. The Centro conducts civic workshops, political seminars and conferences, civic education programs through the media, and youth leadership orientation programs to help develop democratic institutions in Panama.
  • The presidents of Conciencia in Argentina (Maria Rosa de Martini), Colombia (Olga de Pizano), Ecuador (Brenda Pombar) and Peru (Esther Silva de Ghersi). Conciencia is a women’s organization that sponsors courses, research, conferences, and other programs to encourage the development of democratic values in Latin America.
  • Carlos Quiñonez, Via Civica, Nicaragua. Via Civica holds seminars and workshops for high school students and civic forums for professionals on the principles of democracy.
  • Charles Tampio, Close-Up Foundation, USA. Close-Up’ s many activities include having brought over 300,000 high school students to Washington, D.C. to experience democracy in action.

The participants identified several obstacles to democratization, pointing out that the fragility of democracy can never truly be overcome. They cited citizen misunderstanding of the economic consequences of democracy, their ignorance of democratic rights and responsibilities, a general lack of tolerance, widespread illiteracy, and the dearth of adequate materials for teaching democracy as particular problems that their organizations have faced. They recommended that an international democracy education clearinghouse be created to link their organizations on a more permanent basis and that an international democracy education curriculum framework be established to assist in teaching democracy around the world. The workshop defined some significant common needs of the groups and provided an excellent basis from which to embark on concrete cooperative programs in the future.

Eastern & Central Europe: Democracy’s Dawn

Democracy’s Dawn, edited by A.E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia, is an invaluable new reference guide to public and private organizations in the United States that assist democratization in Eastern and Central Europe. A project initiated by the U.S. Institute of Peace, this book provides information on 117 organizations, including contact people, addresses, and phone numbers, along with detailed descriptions of their technical assistance programs, conferences, exchange programs, publications, reference services, and past grants. It also cross-references the organizations by countries covered and types of assistance offered.

Democracy’s Dawn can be ordered from the University Press of Virginia, Box 3608, University Station, Charlottesville, VA 22903-0608; Telephone: (804) 924-3469. [End Page 126]


Copyright © 1991 National Endowment for Democracy