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The Eurasia Center’s Civil Society Program: Civil Freedoms, Religious and Ethnic Toleration, Rule of Law

Throughout Eurasia there has been an effort to promote a civil society and greater freedoms for its citizenry after the collapse of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Other citizens within Eurasia, for example, in Burma, Iran and North Korea, still have not realized their basic freedoms. The Eurasia Center’s Civil Society Program focuses on the important questions of our day - what is necessary to build institutions that encourage governments to provide basic freedoms, allow religious and ethnic toleration, while ensuring minority rights for its citizens. For example, the goal of creating a middle class - the mainstay of durable civil society, would be crucial in Russia. Another crucial goal would be building an honest and effective law enforcement system in countries where corruption exists in governing institutions. Instilling a positive civic ethos on all levels of the population is also an important requirement for reform if the rule of law is to succeed. These critical aspects will bring a politics of positive participation, not a cycle of despair and civil war.

A positive relationship between the federal government, local governments, and citizenry is also a fundamental goal of building a civil society. Civil society values the basic freedoms of man: freedom of association, freedom of expression, representative government, and respect for a diversity of ethnicities and religions. A vigorous civil society is important for insuring that the freedoms of the citizenry are preserved in times of crisis and change. The Eurasia Center's Civil Society Program evaluates real progress in building civil society made by nations in Eurasia. The Eurasia Center’s Civil Society Program is developing the Freedom Computer Network which connects activists and universities in order to exchange information on measuring progress within these nations.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union, old ethnic rivalries and neo-nationalist efforts created new conflicts within Eurasia. Such conflicts have stimulated racial hatred as well as ethnic cleansing, in some nations, which has in some cases led to genocide. There remains a chance for future war if the principles of cooperation, ethnic and religious toleration are not promoted. Negative forces have reemerged within Europe in the form of the radical extremist movements and reactionary political forces that have spread eastward, assaulting refugees from other countries, resident Jewish populations, and foreigners living abroad.

This program promotes religious and ethnic tolerance and seeks to educate and provide new alternatives toward stopping these negative trends developing in these areas. Protecting the rights of ethnic minorities constitutionally and providing religious freedom and ethnic toleration for citizens is one of the hallmark lessons of the American historical experience. By highlighting problems in Eurasia and providing new effective solutions, which promote religious and ethnic tolerance and minority rights, the Eurasia Center continues to be a positive force in changing attitudes within these nations. The Program for Civil Society’s focus from Europe to Asia and that of the Middle East, presents a host of challenging problems which our Civil Society specialists are addressing through our research and publications, as well as our activity in the field.