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open society foundation | John Feffer
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Foreign Agents

It’s time for a confession. I have worked as a “foreign agent.” When I lived and traveled in Asia and Eastern Europe, I was an employee of U.S.-based NGOs. I was paid by these organizations to promote social change in those parts of the world. I worked hand-in-hand with groups that often criticized their own governments. Of course, they were also critical of U.S. policies and those of many...
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Making the Castle Transparent

The classic novel about government structures in East-Central Europe is Franz Kafka’s The Castle. A land surveyor, K., arrives in a provincial town after being summoned for a meeting at the local Castle. But the summons apparently has been sent in error. The land surveyor tries to visit the Castle to get to the bottom of his predicament. But he can only ever seem to circle the structure without...
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Creating an NGO Culture

When I started working on U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, I encountered my first GONGO. This was a “government-organized non-governmental organization.” It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland. An early GONGO, the Soviet Peace Committee styled itself as an NGO. It worked with various NGOs in the West. But it closely hewed to the Party line. Later, as Gorbachev began to shake up...
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Losing My Illusions

Anyone engaged in social change has grappled with the essential question. Should I work within the system or outside the system? In the United States, the question is often expressed geographically: to operate “inside the Beltway” or “outside the Beltway.” The Beltway is, of course, the ring road that encircles Washington, DC. Some start off on one path and jump to the other. Barack...
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Defending the Underdogs

It looked and sounded like something out of the Deep South during the civil rights era in the United States. Angry protesters, men and women, were shouting racist slogans and trying to prevent a group of 50 young schoolchildren from entering an integrated preschool. Except that this wasn’t happening a half-century ago. It was happening this last fall, in Croatia’s Medjimurje County. There are...
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