From glasnost to the Arab Spring: the moral foundation of anti-authoritarian revolutions
About This Event

Post-Event Summary
What sparks anti-authoritarian revolutions in today's world? On Wednesday, AEI hosted an impressive lineup of leading anti-authoritarian activists and intellectuals from around the world to discuss the moral foundation of anti-authoritarian struggle.

Ammar Abdulhamid of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies began the first panel by quoting a powerful slogan from the Syrian Revolution: "Death but not humiliation." Akbar Atri, co-founder of E-Collaborative for Civic Education, assured that despite the Iranian regime's corrupted norms and values, the essence of the Green Movement and the Arab Spring epitomizes civic values and universal human rights. Yang Jianli from the Initiatives for China advised U.S. policymakers to start paying attention to students, farmers and street-level society so individuals are prepared for revolutions before they occur.

In the second panel, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of the Federal Political Council of Solidarity, stressed that the renewed quest for civic dignity in today's protests is trigged by the blatant fraud in Russia's November parliamentary elections and the backdoor deal that predetermined the Putin-Medvedev swap. Now, Vladimir Putin's regime is forced to look over its shoulder, Kara-Murza insisted, and can no longer pursue authoritarian policies with complete immunity.

Lilia Shevtsova from the Carnegie Moscow Center disagreed with the first panelists' conclusion that current anti-authoritarian revolutions require Western support. She furthermore stressed the loss of hope as a catalyst for revolution, agreeing with AEI's Leon Aron’s opinion that decency, conscience, honesty and morality are central to the struggle against authoritarian regimes.

The third panel explored the role of historical memory in the struggle to democratize after the dissolution of totalitarianism. Anne Applebaum of the Legatum Institute and Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College noted that the lack of historical memory in Russia and China resulted in general moral decay in those countries. Vladimir Tismaneaunu, on the other hand, cited the success of his truth commission in Romania after the local downfall of communism. While their countries of origin differed, all of the panelists agreed that honest and viable historical memory is crucial to the survival of a new, democratic state.

---Katherine Earle and  Samantha Costello

Event Description

What sparks anti-authoritarian revolutions in today’s world? In his just-published book “Roads to the Temple,” Leon Aron argues that values and morality lie at the heart of every revolution. From glasnost to the Arab Spring, the battle against authoritarians has been characterized by the triumph of human dignity over an over-centralized, brutal and corrupt state. Leading anti-authoritarian activists and intellectuals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, China, Russia and Sudan will share their experiences and provide insights of critical importance to U.S. policymakers seeking to understand and support the international quest for freedom.

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12:00 PM

12:30 PM

12:45 PM
Welcome and Introduction
Leon Aron, AEI

1:00 PM
Panel I:   The Moral Essence of Anti-Authoritarian Movements around the World

Ammar Abdulhamid, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Akbar Atri, E-Collaborative for Civic Education
John Dau, John Dau Foundation
Yang Jianli, Initiatives for China

Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI

2:30 PM
Panel II: Glasnost as a Moral Revolution and Its Echoes in Today’s Russian Protests

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Federal Political Council, Solidarity
Lilia Shevtsova, Carnegie Moscow Center

Leon Aron, AEI

3:40 PM
Panel III: Honest History, Repentance and Moral Renewal

Anne Applebaum, Legatum Institute
Hasan Mneimneh, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Minxin Pei, Claremont McKenna College
Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland

Leon Aron, AEI

5:15 PM
Adjournment and Reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Daniel Vajdic at [email protected], 202.862-5942.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Ammar Abdulhamid is a leading Syrian human rights and pro-democracy activist and author. A fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a member of its Syria Working Group, Abdulhamid is also the founder and director of the Tharwa Foundation — a grassroots organization that works to break the Assad government’s information blockade by enlisting a cadre of local activists and citizen journalists to report on sociopolitical issues in Syria. The activities of the Tharwa team have served to galvanize grassroots support and generate enthusiasm for change, even as the Syrian government continues its crackdown against its opponents. Abdulhamid was previously a visiting fellow at the Project on U.S. Policy Toward the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution and a co-director of DarEmar, a publishing house and non-governmental organization based in Damascus, Syria.

Yevgenia Albats, is the editor-in-chief of the Russian political newspaper The New Times, is a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and an anchor with Echo Moskva broadcasting. Albats is the recipient of several major U.S. and European journalistic awards including the 1989 Golden Pen Award, the highest journalistic honor in the former Soviet Union. She was an Alfred Friendly Fellow in 1990 and a fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in 1993. Albats is also the author of four research books, including “The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia: Past, Present and Future.” She has lectured at both Yale University and Oxford University.

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, covering U.S. and international politics. She is also the director for politics at the Legatum Institute in London and will hold the Phillipe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics in 2012-2013. She writes regularly for a range of publications in the U.S. and the U.K., including the New York Review of Books, the New Republic and the Spectator. Her book “Gulag: A History” (Doubleday, 2003) won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and has been published in more than two dozen translations. Her new book “Iron Curtain” (Doubleday) will be published in the autumn of 2012.

Leon Aron is a resident scholar and the director of Russian Studies at AEI. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, entitled “Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000).” He is also the author of “Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006” (AEI Press, 2007) and “Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideals and Ideas in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991” (Yale University Press, 2012). He is also the editor of “The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy” (The U.S. Institute of Peace, 1994). Aron has contributed numerous essays and articles to newspapers and magazines, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard, the New York Times Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement. A frequent guest of television and radio talk shows, he has commented on Russian affairs for, among others, 60 Minutes, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, CNN International, C-Span and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation.

Akbar Atri is a veteran human rights activist and former Iranian student leader. Born in a small village in Iranian Azerbaijan, he brings significant insight into varied strands of the Iranian social fabric, from the rural farm to the urban factory to the large university and beyond. Atri was elected annually to the leadership of Iran’s largest student organization, Tahkim Vahdat, for 10 years and was the organization’s spokesperson. In this capacity, he was a regular conduit for human rights information to the international media and delivered hundreds of speeches and engaged in countless civic dialogues, sit-ins and protests at universities throughout the country. Atri was one of the original drafters of the Referendum Movement on the Iranian Constitution and has been sentenced in absentia to a minimum of seven years in prison for his human rights activism. He is co-founder and co-director of the E-Collaborative for Civic Education, leading the organization’s strategic vision and outreach.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and a demographer by training, is also a senior adviser to the National Board of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. He researches and writes extensively on economic development, foreign aid, global health, demographics and poverty. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia and countries of the former Soviet Union. His books range from “The End of North Korea” (AEI Press, 1999) to “The Poverty of the Poverty Rate” (AEI Press, 2008).

Yang Jianli
, born in the Shandong Province in northern China and a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party, quickly became disenchanted with the communist system and left China to pursue a career in mathematics at U.C. Berkeley. Returning to China in 1989, Jianli witnessed the massacre in Tiananmen Square. He narrowly escaped and afterward dedicated his life to studying democracy. In 2002, Jianli returned to China to help the labor movement and was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Following an international outcry for his release, including a U.N. Resolution and a unanimous vote in both houses of the U.S. Congress, Jianli was freed in April of 2007. Immediately following his return to the U.S., he formed Initiatives for China, a pro-democracy movement committed to a peaceful democratic transition in China.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a member of the federal council of Solidarnost (“Solidarity”), Russia’s democratic opposition movement that helped organize mass protests after the disputed 2011 parliamentary elections. He was a candidate for the Russian parliament in 2003, representing the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, and has served as both the campaign chairman for presidential candidate Vladimir Bukovsky (2007–2008) and as an adviser to the Duma opposition leader Boris Nemtsov (2000–2003). Kara-Murza is the author of “Reform or Revolution: The Quest for Responsible Government in the First Russian State Duma” (2011) and a contributor to “Russia’s Choices: The Duma Elections and After” (The Centre for Global Studies, 2003) and “Russian Liberalism: Ideas and People” (2007). In 2005, he produced “They Chose Freedom,” a documentary on dissent in the Soviet Union. He is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of the Russian television network RTVi and was previously both the editor-in-chief of the Russian Investment Review and a correspondent for the newspapers Novye Izvestia and Kommersant. He has published op-eds in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal and writes a weekly blog, Spotlight on Russia, for World Affairs.

Hassan Mneimneh joined the German Marshall Fund of the United States as Senior Transatlantic Fellow for MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) and the Islamic World in October 2011. Mneimneh was most recently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute where he assumed a principal role in the conceptualization and implementation of a multi-year project focused on developing and strengthening civil society resistance to radicalizing tendencies in the Muslim world. Before joining Hudson, Mneimneh was a visiting fellow at AEI where he conducted a year-long exploration of the evolution of radical Islamist formations and their prospects worldwide. Between 2003 and 2008, Mneimneh was director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, an organization dedicated to documenting Iraq’s recent past and to inviting Iraqi society to reflect on issues of political responsibility, social order and transitional justice. The Iraq Memory Foundation was the continuation of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project, which Mneimneh co-directed at Harvard University. Mneimneh regularly contributes analysis and opinion pieces to the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Hayat, and has written extensively in English, Arabic and French on political, cultural, historical and intellectual developments in the Muslim world.

Minxin Pei
is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. Before joining Claremont McKenna in July 2009, Pei was a senior associate and the director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. His research focuses on democratization in developing countries, economic reform and governance in China and U.S.-China relations — topics which he explores in many of his books, such as his most recent work, “China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy” (Harvard University Press, 2006). Pei is a frequent commentator on BBC World News, Voice of America and National Public Radio and has authored numerous op-eds for the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek International and the International Herald Tribune. Pei is a recipient of several prestigious fellowships, including the National Fellowship at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the McNamara Fellowship at the World Bank and the Olin Faculty Fellowship at the Olin Foundation.

Lilia Shevtsova is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Moscow Carnegie Center. Shevtsova is also an associate fellow at the Chatham House in London and a member of many organizations world-wide, including the Davos World Economic Forum Council on Terrorism, the boards of the Institute for Humanities, the Liberal Mission Foundation and the New Eurasia Foundation. She also serves on the editorial boards at American Interest and Journal of Democracy. Shevtsova has written extensively on Russian politics and is the author of several books, including “Yeltsin’s Russia: Myths and Reality;” “Putin’s Russia;” “Russia: Lost in Transition: The Yeltsin and Putin Legacies;” “Lonely Power: Why Russia Has Failed to Become the West and Why the West Is Weary of Russia” and “Russia: Change or Decay.”

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at University of Maryland (College Park). He was chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania and chairman of the Scientific Council of the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile. Among his publications in English are “Fantasies of Salvation: Nationalism, Democracy, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe” (Princeton UP, 1998; paperback 2009); and “Stalinism for All Seasons: a Political History of Romanian Communism” (University of California Press, 2003). He has edited and co-edited numerous volumes, the latest, with Bogdan C. Iacob, is “The End and the Beginning: The Revolutions of 1989 and the Resurgence of History” (CEU Press, 2012). His volume “Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the 20th Century” is forthcoming in August 2012 from University of California Press, and he is finalizing a manuscript entitled “Democracy, Memory, and Moral Justice: Romania Confronts Its Communist Past.”

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