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open society | John Feffer
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The Populist Reformation

Europe underwent a profound transformation in the 16th century with the Protestant reformation. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their co-religionists attacked the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and its corrupt practices. They also advocated a different, more direct relationship between the individual and God. They were aided by the new technology of the printing press, which churned out...
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Roma as Game Changers

In Bulgaria, the political system has been roughly balanced between the Left and the Right for the last two decades. As a result, the party that represents ethnic Turkish interests – the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) – can provide its constituency base, which is only about 10 percent of the population, with the benefits of the party’s kingmaker position. Similarly, the Roma are a...
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The Czech Culture of Corruption

The Czech playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel popularized the notion of “living in truth.” He was dismayed at the degree to which lies had permeated Czechoslovak society under Communism. It wasn’t only government and Party officials who lied about history, the economy, the state of human rights, the opposition Charter 77 movement, and so on. Virtually everyone in society was complicit in...
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Helping from Outside

In the wake of the changes of 1989, many outside organizations rushed to East-Central Europe to see how they could be involved. I was hired, for instance, by the American Friends Service Committee to travel through the region and conduct interviews with leading activists and NGO representatives to see how AFSC could help. During my travels, I met with many other outsiders eager to pitch in. In...
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Blog: Return to Adversity

In the 1970s and 1980s, the nascent civil society movements in East-Central Europe leveraged their marginal position in society into a form of social power. Because they were largely disconnected from an unjust power structure – and suffered considerably from the repression of that power structure – they commanded what Vaclav Havel famously called “the power of the powerless.” The...
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