Eurasia Program Highlights (2007)

2007 was characterized by continuing backsliding on democracy in many Eurasian states, most notably in post-Rose Revolution Georgia, and especially in Russia. The one bright spot in the region was Ukraine, which managed to break out of a constitutional crisis that had paralyzed the government and political elite by holding pre-term elections for a new parliament.

In Russia, while preparations for the December 2007 parliamentary and March 2008 presidential elections dominated politics, many NGOs came under intense pressure from the authorities: the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society was prevented from holding a conference in memory of murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya and IRI and NDI were forced to curtail many of their programs.

In spite of these impediments, Endowment grantees continued to be active. The Solidarity Center supported the growth of Russia’s independent trade union movement. The International Protection Center and the Centre de la Protection Internationale helped plaintiffs prepare cases for the European Court of Human Rights and trained lawyers in its procedures.

The Information Analytical Center “Sova” and the website continued to investigate important issues like the growth of racism and fascist politics and the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. The Kabardin-Balkar Social Center for Human-Rights Activism and the Chechen Committee for National Salvation reported on human rights abuses in the region and Nonviolence International implemented a unique training program for government officials in the North Caucasus designed to overcome interethnic tensions.

In Ukraine, politics revolved around a protracted crisis stemming from constitutional changes made in 2004 that blurred the lines of authority between the President and the Prime Minister. After months of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached to hold new parliamentary elections, which were held on September 30, and declared free and fair by all the major international observer organizations. NED provided support for 12 projects around the elections including exit polls, campaign and vote monitoring, and televised town hall meetings. IRI and NDI conducted observation missions and the Solidarity Center and CIPE supported democratic forces during the election.

The Ukrainian Catholic University, the Institute of Mass Information, and Telekritika provided objective news for print and electronic media. Legiteam worked to ensure the observance of European standards of justice, while think tanks like the European Choice Business Club and the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation promoted greater public awareness of European business and government practices. Finally, numerous groups such as the Ukrainian Youth Association of Ukraine, the Youth of Cherkassy Coalition, and the Vinnytsya Oblast Committee of Youth Organizations worked to foster democratic ideals in Ukraine’s younger generation.

In Belarus, the democratic opposition continued its struggle in “Europe’s last dictatorship.” NED supported new organizations of small entrepreneurs, religious minorities, environmentalists, and youth who are working on cutting-edge issues while continuing to support the traditional opposition and increasing support for human rights groups providing legal and humanitarian assistance to oppressed activists. Support for registered independent newspapers continued with more assistance devoted to samizdat publications.

NED remained a leader in the area of “new media,” supporting Internet news sites, online and email newspapers, blogging initiatives, CD publications, and Internet discussion forums. Nonpartisan voter education and mobilization campaigns were supported prior to the January local elections. Support to broad-based local coalitions of NGOs, political parties, and trade unions for get-out-the-vote efforts resulted in the election of a handful of prodemocratic local councilors.

In the Caucasus, NED funding focused on increasing the capacity of independent media, fostering youth participation in civil society, developing NGOs outside the capital cities, and ensuring human rights and rule of law. In Armenia, NED supported two programs that linked Yerevan-based groups and regional networks of television stations and NGOs.

Supporting independent media and providing legal assistance to the population were the main priorities for NED in Azerbaijan. TheInstitute for Reporter Safety and Freedom conducted advocacy campaigns on behalf of journalists who were imprisoned, leading to the release of five journalists at the end of the year. NED supported independent newspapers Gyun, Yukselish Namine, and Janub Khabarlari, as well as internet sites Turan, Media Forum, and Ganja Media Center. Other groups conducted a campaign to persuade parliament to publish its voting records, monitored abuses in the judiciary, and organized forums for constituents to meet with members of parliament.

Four years after the “Rose Revolution,” Georgia is still in need of greater reforms. NDI expanded the capacity of the election monitoring NGO International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, CIPE supported research on improving the legislative framework for entrepreneurs, and the Solidarity Center provided training for unions to help them expand membership. Studio Reporter made films about flaws in judicial reform and abuses by the police, while Georgia for NATO produced radio talk shows about the reforms in transparency and accountability that are required for membership. Article 42 of the Constitution conducted strategic litigation to challenge new legislation in the Constitutional Court.

Central Asia is among the most authoritarian regions in the world and most countries continue to endure harsh conditions for NGOs and the deterioration of basic freedoms.

In Kazakhstan, the Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Almaty Helsinki Committee, and the National Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters worked to protect the rights of journalists, refugees, and minorities. In the area of freedom of information, NED supported the internet newspaper , the discussion forum Polyton, and internet radio among others.

In Kyrgyzstan, NED expanded support to programs that fostered the rule of law, youth participation in civil society, and human rights such as the Youth Human Rights Group and Institute for Public Policy, which aimed to increase the political skills of youth activists. NDI ran a network of regional information centers and IRI supported the development of political parties in the south of the country. CIPE worked with the Bishkek Business Club to develop a national business agenda and the Solidarity Center implemented a regional program to enhance the capacity of trade unions in Central Asia. Programs in

Tajikistan fostered freedom of information by supporting two independent internet publications, Avesta and Asia Plus; a local Uzbek language newspaper, Tong; a journalism resource center in Khuzhand; and legal assistance for independent journalists through the National Association of Independent Mass Media. NGO Women Voters and Youth of the 21st Century sought to involve these underrepresented groups in public life.

Despite a deepening crackdown against NGOs in Uzbekistan, NED’s support for regional human rights efforts were critical to protecting refugees and documenting and distributing information about human rights abuses. NED also supports several rule of law and human rights programs in Turkmenistan.

NED has been a pioneer in cross border democracy-building programs in which NGOs from Central Europe assist their counterparts in the Balkans and Eurasia. In 2007, approximately 20 NGOs from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia worked with more than 200 independent organizations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Serbia, and Central Asia. The Central European NGOs shared their experiences, best practices, program models, and lessons learned by conducting training programs, internships, study visits, small grants competitions, and other joint programs across borders.

The Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity Foundation, Polish-American-Ukrainian Cooperation Initiative, East European Democratic Center, and Foundation for Education for Democracy promoted independent media, local government, civic education, NGO development, and youth activism. The Bratislava-based MEMO 98 worked with the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations to monitor the media coverage of Russia’s parliamentary elections. NED also began funding Ukrainian NGOs to work with counterparts across the border in Russia.