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Remarks by Carl Gershman, President of the NED

October 26, 2009

At the International Conference
“For Our Freedom and Yours! For Our Common Future!”
Lviv, Ukraine, October 25, 2009

The conference held in Wroclaw twenty years ago, which we’re gathered here both to commemorate and to build upon, was different from the many other historic events that occurred in 1989 and that changed this region and the world forever. The Wroclaw conference was not a revolution but rather what Vaclav Havel called a “prologue” to the one that broke out in Prague soon thereafter. While it took place in the year of revolutions, as the culmination of more than a decade of underground work by dissident activists, it is remembered today for the work it set in motion in the years and decades that followed. And while its purpose was to influence developments in a single country, Czechoslovakia, it launched a new form of democracy assistance called cross-border work that is today carried out in different ways throughout the former Soviet bloc and even in many countries in Africa and Asia.

Wroclaw, which I visited earlier this week, was the natural place for inaugurating this work. It was the principal city of Silesia, “a region of passage between East and West,” as the historian Norman Davies has called it, and the key nexus for cooperation between Poland’s Committee for the Defense of Workers (KOR) and Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77. Given its strategic location near the Karkonosze Mountains, it was the hub for organizing the illicit meetings of dissidents on the “green border” between Poland and Czechoslovakia,for initiating parallel linkages with activists in Ukraine and Hungary, and even for establishing the region’s first independent international news agency. Our late friend Jan Nowak called Wroclaw “a strategic outpost” for building better ties with Poland’s eastern neighbors.

And Lviv, Wroclaw’s sister city, is the logical place for us to be meeting twenty years later to consider how this work of aiding democracy across borders can be carried forward in the period ahead. Like Wroclaw, Lviv has been a multicultural outpost of Europe in the East, connected to Wroclaw by a similar fate of forced population transfers after the war and centuries-old cultural ties. It was the site of the meeting in June 1988 that brought together national rights campaigners from five other Soviet republics to establish the Coordinating Committee of Patriotic Movements of the Peoples of the USSR. It was also the home of the leading dissidents Vyacheslav Chornovil and Mykhailo Horyn, both of whom returned to Lviv from the Gulag following Gorbachev’s general amnesty in 1987 to support the Rukh, Ukraine’s national movement, and spearhead the massive demonstrations that led eventually to Ukraine’s independence. The largest of these demonstrations, a gathering of a quarter of a million citizens, was held just outside this university in September 1989. Ukraine’s national liberation, which unalterably transformed the political map of Europe and Eurasia, was dramatically symbolized by the unveiling of the statue of Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine’s national poet, which replaced the one of Lenin that had stood until the liberation in front of the Lviv opera.

Our host, the Lion’s Society – Tovarystvo Leva – was one of the earliest practitioners in Ukraine of cross-border work and is, therefore, an appropriate host for this meeting. In the late 1980s it reached out to Polish and Baltic democrats to build solidarity after decades of isolation and enmity -- for example, by working to restore the Eaglets Cemetery containing the remains young Polish soldiers killed in the Polish-Ukrainian War that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The official reopening of the cemetery in 2005 was the occasion for the meeting between presidents Kwasniewski and Yushchenko that cemented the new Polish-Ukrainian friendship. In the post-independence period, the Lion’s Society has increasingly expanded its work to the east, providing civic education to teachers and NGO activists in Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia and encouraging other Ukrainian NGOs to join the cross-border effort. In fact, Ukraine has today become a key platform for cross-border work in the former Soviet Union. When Russian human rights activists were unable to open an international center for youth activists in Voronezh, they did it in Kharkiv. U.S., European, and international democracy-building organizations now have offices in Kyiv to support work in Belarus and other countries further east. Hardly a week goes by in Ukraine without a civil society meeting or event that includes Belarusians, Moldovans, Georgians, and Russians.

The cross-border work that has taken root in this region over the past quarter of a century grew out of an understanding that the countries of this region, which has sometimes been called “The Lands Between” -- meaning between Russia and Germany, or between East and West – shared a common interest in overcoming historic enmities and building a mutually reinforcing association of sovereign and democratic states. This idea became the foundation of the ‘eastern policy’ that was developed in the pages of the journal Kultura, edited by Jerzy Giedroyc. It was also contained in a proposal the NED received in 1989 from two Polish groups to establish a Multinational Fund for Friendship and Cooperation intended to be, in the words of the proposal, “the region’s first institution whose exclusive purpose is to support…trans-national cooperation.” The Fund was to be guided by the principles underlying the ‘eastern policy’ -- open borders, the renunciation of territorial claims, and respect for minority rights. The first project of the fund, using $7,500 of the $25,000 grant, was to support the Wroclaw conference – dollar for dollar the best grant the NED has ever made.

In the years since, the cross-border idea has evolved from being a manifestation of the “eastern policy,” with a focus on replacing the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with a modern regional community of sovereign democratic nations, to becoming an expression of a much broader and more ambitious concept – the gradual expansion of democracy eastward and the eventual integration of newly democratic countries into Europe and the transatlantic community. That concept is certainly the purpose of this conference, which will develop strategies and recommendations for aiding democracy in the six Eastern Partnership countries of the European Union -- Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- that will be submitted to the Eastern Partnership’s Civil Society Forum when it meets next month in Brussels. And as we know, the strategic purpose of this conference is being challenged today by an alternative strategic concept emanating from Moscow, the purpose of which is to isolate the post-communist countries from the West and to subordinate them, economically and politically, to newly assertive Russian power. But Russia, too, is not impervious to democratic enlargement, which will ultimately be its salvation as well.

The first part of the title of this conference clearly suggests what is at stake and how we need to respond. “For Our Freedom and Yours” was first used by democrats of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the rebellion of 1830 and in support of the Russian Decembrists. The original banner was written in both Polish and Russian. The slogan was also used during the 1848 Hungarian Uprising and Spring of Nations, and the Commonwealth uprising in 1864. It was used by Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. And the Russian version was used by seven Soviet dissidents -- one of them, Larisa Bogoraz, was born in Ukraine – in the 1968 Red Square demonstration in support of the Prague Spring, the first public demonstration of its kind in the USSR, which helped launch the Soviet human rights movement. It was even used by Ukrainian students when they organized a hunger strike in sympathy with the Chinese students killed in Tiananmen Square. Thus what started as an expression of the idea that there could be no free and secure Central Europe without a democratic Russia has now evolved into a call for democratic solidarity around the world.

We’re clearly a very long way from realizing this vision, and the forces arrayed against democracy today are quite determined – more so, it sometimes appears, than the democratic leaders of the West who should be standing firmly in its defense. Still, it’s important to retain perspective. The progress of democracy, over time, has been inexorable, despite many setbacks. As is suggested by the second part of the conference title, “For Our Common Future,” this is largely because people have not given up hope and continue to believe that the best way forward is through mutual help and democratic solidarity.

My colleague at the NED Nadia Diuk tells me she was present in the autumn of 1980 at a large meeting in Warsaw’s University’s Great Hall when Jacek Kuron declared that “Without a free Ukraine, there cannot be a free Poland.” Kuron was born in Lviv and had a special commitment to solidarity with Ukraine. But this sentiment was far from palatable to many Poles who were still reacting to decades of imposed propaganda by the Polish Communist regime, which had published reams of books and articles containing negative stereotypes of Ukrainians. And when Solidarity was driven underground soon thereafter, it looked for a time as if there might never be a free Poland or a free Ukraine.

But Solidarity triumphed, Ukraine was liberated, and a whole new chapter in human history was opened. That happened because people did not give up hope or the commitment to democratic solidarity. So let us proceed, despite all the obstacles, “For Our Freedom and Yours! For Our Common Future!”

Thank you!

 

 



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