International pro-democracy think tank planned for Prague

Prague could soon host an international think tank aimed at promoting democracy in the former Soviet Union and further afield. A joint project of the Czech, US and Swedish governments and several NGOs, the institute should also provide training to future leaders of countries in transition. The Czech Foreign Ministry has confirmed such plans are being discussed but refuses to give details. I spoke to Kateřina Šafaříková of the daily Lidové noviny who reported the story over the weekend.

Victoria Nuland, Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Robert Janás / Czech Foreign MinistryVictoria Nuland, Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Robert Janás / Czech Foreign Ministry “It should be a hub for information about countries in transition or countries with authoritarian regimes that are experiencing civil upheavals and revolutions. The West would like to understand their situation and support pro-democracy forces and the civil society in those countries.

“It should also serve as a training centre; some of the future leaders and civil society representatives would come to Prague for a few months, would give lectures and meet Czech, Swedish, American and other politicians and NGOs, and would be trading their own networks of contacts.”

The focus would be global or would it primarily focus on the post-Soviet region?

“That’s not very clear yet. The Americans’ ambition is to focus on the post-Soviet bloc. It’s also not clear whether it would include Russia. The Czechs and the Swedes would like Russia to be included while the Americans are not clear about it.

“But other partners, like two US foundations, would like its outreach to be more global, to also include the region undergoing what we call the Arab Spring.”

Why is Prague being considered as the headquarters for this kind of institute?

“One thing is geography and the fact that Prague is well-located in the centre of Europe. But more importantly, the Czech Republic is viewed in the West as a country which has successfully undergone a transition, and they see the Czech Republic as a country with substantial and matching experience. The Americans wanted to link both of these things – geographical location and the experience with transition.”

Kateřina Šafaříková, photo: Czech TelevisionKateřina Šafaříková, photo: Czech Television How advanced are these plans? When could the centre open?

“What I understand is that no treaty or agreement has been signed yet but negotiations or discussions have been going on for about a year or so. The partners want to project to be set up as soon as possible.

“The Czech foreign minister is in fact going to discuss the project with his Swedish counterpart in Brussels today; last week, he talked to Victoria Nuland [from the US State Department] about it in Prague. So it could happen in several months’ time if not sooner. But I think we might see some kind of a solid agreement within months.”

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