Citing licensing infractions, both Egypt and
the UAE have shut down Western NGO's – NDI, the
Konrad Adenauer Foundation, International
Republican Institute and Freedom House,
detaining, even arresting staff. Who or what
are these governments afraid of - democracy?
Both the US and EU democracy building NGOs have
credible track records in advancing democracy
throughout the world. I have worked with NDI in
the Balkans and the Middle East, and have
personally experienced their professionalism –
never imposing specific political views, always
sharing experiences by partnering experts from
newer democracies with those from established
If, by advancing democracy, the EU and the
United States are polishing their images and
strengthening their influence in a particular
region, so much the better. For example, as
role models and partners, they helped realize
Latvia's goal of comprehensive security, and
can be trusted to do the same elsewhere.
After Latvia regained independence from the
Soviet Union in 1991, the Hjarmarson, Adenauer,
Schuman and Soros Foundations did incredible
work to help prepare parties for free and open
elections, teach leadership skills to
candidates, assist in NGO organization and
share experiences in building a civil society.
Their assistance was essential in consolidating
the values necessary for Latvia to become a
member of the EU and NATO. Later, these
foundations drew on Latvia's experience in
democracy development to help emerging
democracies in the Balkans Ukraine, Georgia,
Moldova and Azerbaijan.
While Western NGO's export democracy, others
export political instability. I read with great
interest an article written by a Russian
researcher, Boris Volkhonsky, "What is US NGO's
real business?" in which he practically
rejoices at NDI's shutdown by one of US's
closest allies in the Middle East. The
questions should be, what is Putin's foundation
– Russkiy Mir, up to in the "near abroad"?
Three investigative journalists have studied
this organization's opaque funding operation in
the Baltics. I would recommend reading their
findings in: www.rebaltica.lv/en
By clandestine financing of ethnic Russian
politicians in neighboring countries, a
non-democratic country is destabilizing
political legitimacy in democratic countries.
Civic activism that leads to transformational
change is a learned skill, and Western NGO's
have the necessary experience to convey that
skill to people seeking freedom and democracy.
What scares non-democratic regimes to death are
not foreign NGO's per se, but their own people,
whose empowerment can turn civic activism into
sustainable democratic reforms.