Spreading Democracy – From Offices In The USA
Spreading democracy – from offices in the USA
Prague, 6 June 2007
They are fighting for democracy – in countries most of them haven't beeng to in years. Either they cannot, or they would rather not try their luck.
Dissidents from countries with the worst reputations in the world on human rights - Belarus, China, Cuba and Syria – have come to Prague to meet with prominent American politicians at the Democracy and Security conference.
"I was last in Syria 10 years ago. As soon as I return, they will imprison me," says Farid Ghadri, the founder of the Syrian Reform Party, pressuring for a democratization of the regime. "Our organization is banned. There is a risk of torture and death.
In his dark suit and with his professional demeanor, Ghadri looks rather like a regular politician. He speaks perfect English and his address is Washington, where lobbying can be done more effectively.
He appears at Harvard, in the European Parliament, and they even invite him to Israel.
His colleague, leading Libyan opposition representative Mohamed Eljahmi, also has a business card with an American address. He has not been in the country whose democratization he is fighting for since 1977 - he lives not far from Boston.
"I wouldn't go to Libya. I have been requested by someone from the Libyan regime to come. My brother, who is imprisoned, doesn't want someone from the family to lobby for him. He knows that Qaddafi's regime is manipulative," Eljahmi explains.
Politics does not employ these "modern dissidents" full time. While Ghadri invests on the international real estate market, Eljahmi is a software engineer. Their colleague, the 35-year-old Iraqi Zainab Al-Suwaij, falls into the same profile. She wears a Muslim veil, but has not lived in Iraq for 25 years. A poet, a lecturer at Yale University and an activist for women's rights, she also lives in Washington. "I go back to Iraq once every few weeks," she says.
Traditional notions of a persecuted political opposition are refined by Chinese human rights defender Yunning Liu. "It is hard to define who is really a dissident," reflects Liu, who has translated several books on democracy into Chinese. Among the participants at the Prague conference, he was an exception in that he actually lives in his native country. "I've really had enough trouble, but I don't have problems with traveling anymore. They used to forbid me from traveling, but not anymore. I am not a dissident. I am a democrat."
Author/s : Lucie Beranová, Jan Bumba