Roger Potocki, Director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), spoke about the changing face of democracy promotion in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia during a visit to RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters.
Potocki argued for a review of the traditional European approach towards dictatorships and authoritarianism and urged European governments to push harder for tangible political reforms in their eastern neighborhood. To this end, Potocki favors the establishment of a European democracy-promotion NGO, and he considers the NED to be a good model: a government-funded but independent organization dedicated to hands-on democracy promotion activities. Potocki was enthusiastic about the first steps Europeans had already taken in that direction, but hoped to see these efforts intensify.
Potocki discussed the close cooperation the NED enjoys with some Central and Eastern European governments and was optimistic that a concerted European effort could grow from this: “This has to be a European initiative, and we are looking to Eastern Europe to be leaders in this.” Potocki also pointed towards the still recent transformational experience of Central and Eastern European countries as invaluable experience which these countries can now pass on: “They used to live under authoritarian regimes. Former dissidents are now politicians and can help Western European governments to focus on the former Soviet Union.”
Despite many disagreements between the U.S. and Europe about the most efficient way to promote democratic development, Potocki claimed that close cooperation is needed between governments on both continents to achieve lasting changes. He praised the cooperation that already exists between the NED and European NGOs.
During his visit to RFE/RL, Potocki also took part in an online conference hosted by RFE/RL's Belarus service and answered live questions from RFE/RL's Belarusian audience on a wide range of topics. Participants were eager to present their ideas for democracy projects and to receive guidance how to apply for NED grants. The on-line conference with Potocki was the most read publication that day on the web site of RFE/RL's Belarus service, www.svaboda.org