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The US German Marshall Fund's "A New Quest for Democracy: Shaping the Agenda for the Euro-Atlantic Community" conference brought together representatives of non-profit organizations and grassroots movements from Central and Eastern Europe and leading policy experts from the US and Europe. The conference, which drew about 300 people over the course of the all-day event, gave those passionate about democratic principles a chance to discuss the problems of democratic transformations in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

In association with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association and the Institute for Public Affairs in Slovakia, the conference brought together a prestigious group of participants, among them Jan Kubis, the Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Irina Krasovskaya, President of the We Remember Foundation in Belarus, which she started after her husband's disappearance; Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy; Bruce Jackson, President of the Project on Transitional Democracies; and Jacques Rupnik, Director of Studies at the Center for International Research, Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, France.

Many contributors expressed optimism about the future of democracy in wider Europe following recent events in Ukraine. Activists and civil society groups from Serbia and Montenegro shared their hard-won experience from the front lines of the former Yugoslavian states. Ukraine and Georgia served as a beacon of hope for groups from Belarus and Moldova.
Sonja Licht, a longtime member of the Yugoslav democratic opposition and one of the featured panelists, said the best thing to come out of the conference was the public acknowledgement that the strong democracies of Europe and the United States are collectively responsible for the future of democracy in post Communist countries.
According to Russian NTV Russia was represented at the New Quest for Democracy conference by one person - a member of the human rights organization, Memorial Grigory Shevdov. As the NTV channel informs, well-known political analysts Gleb Payloysky and Vyacheslav Nikonov wanted to come to the conference, but they were not allowed to come. The German Marshall Fund allegedly told to the press, "It is a conference about democracy, and [Pavlovsky and Nikonov] are not the best representatives of Russian democracy.
One strong voice advocating a tripartite relationship (US-Europe- Russia), particularly to help support democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. was career diplomat and Slovak, Jan Kubis. Kubis, the secretary general of the OSCE {Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), told the conference: "Partnership is a key factor. Working with Russia is important." He stressed building a tripartite relationship throughout his talk.
Russia was not the only country to endure criticism, however.
Jacques Rupnik is the director of studies at the Centre for International Research at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politique in France. As one of the few Western European panelists, the Sorbonne graduate and BBC World Service alum called on the European Union to develop a strong democratic strategy. "A condition of the credible promotion of democracy has to start at home", he said.
Rupnik added that The Patriot Act in the United States, for example, which limits specific civil liberties in the effort to fight 1errorism, made it easier for Putin to deflect criticism from President Bush for Russia's brand of democracy. Rupnik, did concede a "noticeable change in the attitude of the United States toward the EU." He described a warm and friendly demeanor presented by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her European visits -a contrast to her attitude towards Europe when an invasion of Iraq was being debated.
According to Rupnik, the US understands it needs allies in Europe. He said the Bush administration's emphasis on democracy and liberty in its second term bodes particularly well for transatlantic cooperation on democracy in Central and Eastern Europe.
However, "What goes down better in the EU goes down worse in Russia," he said.
Rupnik also cautioned his colleagues not to get too comfortable regarding Slovakia's success, pointing out that democracy in reformist countries is weakened, by the fact that tangible benefits can be delayed for years.
European Commissioner Figel' also spoke to this point. ?U enlargement and cooperation between the US and the ?U to promote democracy in "third states" (i.e., Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova) would necessarily help the reformist government defend democracy in Slovakia, according to Figel'.
One of the most celebrated activists in Central and Eastern Europe, Pavol Demes described Slovakia's "thorny road to democracy", Demes, who helped organize the opposition to Meciar and then went on to advise the opposition in Serbia and Ukraine, took a systematic, 15-year outlook on the country, starting with the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and ending with Slovakia's present preoccupation with image building.
"This last period (May 1, 2004 to the present) is characterized by adjustment, a "search for added value. Slovakia is busy changing its image from 'black hole' to 'Tatra Tiger'. There are many things to accomplish before we can be considered a regular democratic country," Demes said.
From the perspective of Irina Krasovskaya, the leader of two important democratic civil initiatives in Belarus, We Remember and Free Belarus, Slovakia's state of democracy is a worthy goal. Addressing the international conference, she described the political changes in Belarus and urged the international community to exert pressure on Lukashenka's regime. In closing, she said: "We are not different from Georgians or Ukrainians. Just like them we have what it takes to win -the desire to be free. ? am often asked "When will Belarus gain its freedom?" Speaking in Bratislava, a city closely associated with the spirit of freedom and democracy, ? can give you a confident answer, 'Real soon'".
? question directed at conference panelists by an audience member at the end of the Conference did not get answered. It likely will continue to gnaw at NGOs and other organizations trying to secure democracy in Russia's near abroad: How can international organizations make a difference in countries like Belarus, for example; or in other regions struggling to become democracies, where the efforts of NGOs are blocked?
Perhaps the community activists in Ukraine or Georgia, can offer some advice. Or maybe the answer was embodied in the conference itself?

Prepared by from different internet sources

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