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(Un)Civil Societies Report: July 6, 2000

6 July 2000, Volume 1, Number 8
INDEPENDENT REPORTER BARRED FROM OSCE MINSK GROUP BRIEFING. OSCE Minsk Group representatives visited Gazakh District in northwestern Azerbaijan near the Armenian border on 3 July and met the press and public in the district executive authorities' building. Eldar Zeynalov, director of the Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, told the MPA news agency that Elkhan Hasanli of the "Yeni Musavat" newspaper was escorted out of the building by the chief of the district police, acting on "instructions from above." (MPA News Agency, 4 July)

RESOURCE CENTER ON NATIONAL MINORITIES. The Resource Center has provided three NGOs, "The Society for the Protection of Women," the Humanitarian Center "Yuva," and the Society "For Democratic Reforms," with information about new developments in the protection of ethnic minority rights--both internationally and in Azerbaijan. For more information about the work of the Resource Center contact Director Nadir Kamaldinov at:

TOO MANY 'TRUTHS' ABOUT CIS? The Moscow-based CIS Executive Committee has announced that the Minsk newspaper "Pravda Narodov Sodruzhestva" ["The Truth of the Peoples of the Commonwealth"] is not the commonwealth's official press organ, Belapan reported on 29 June. Citing sources from CIS headquarters in Minsk, the agency said the committee had become angry with the newspaper because of its negative coverage of all CIS leaders except Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Uladzimir Katyrka, the newspaper's chief editor, commented that he has never asked the committee to approve his publication as the CIS official press organ. Katyrka noted that the committee's announcement was prompted by "unfair competition." He added that a newspaper bearing the same name was granted registration in Moscow two months after he had registered his own in Minsk. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June)

PUBLIC INSULTS PERMISSIBLE--IN SOME CASES. A Minsk district court on 16 June dismissed a lawsuit filed by pensioner Vera Tserlyukevich against Alyaksandr Zimouski, moderator of Belarusian Television's "Rezanans" program, who often combines news with political commentaries. Zimouski has been unwaveringly loyal to the Lukashenka regime and sometimes uses abusive language to describe the regime's opponents. Tserlyukevich, who took part in the opposition Freedom March last fall, felt insulted by remarks Zimouski made in his program. In particular, Zimouski called the demonstrators "a bunch of blockheads." She sued Zimouski, demanding that both he and the Belarusian National Television and Radio Company apologize and pay damages. The court sent footage of Zimouski's televised assessment of the Freedom March to the Institute of Linguistics, Ethnography and Folklore for linguistic expertise. The institute replied that its experts are not equal to the task and advised the court to turn to the Institute of Literature of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences. The court, however, chose to send the footage to the pro-government Belarusian Union of Journalists, of which Zimouski is a member. The union's Ethics Committee concluded that expressions like "a bunch of blockheads" are permissible in the media "in some cases." Additionally, Zimouski's colleagues pointed out that his remarks were addressed to those aggressive demonstrators who clashed with police, not to Tserlyukevich. The court approved these conclusion and rejected Tserlyukevich's claims as "groundless." ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report," 27 June)

CPJ PROTESTS OFFICIAL HARASSMENT OF JOURNALISTS. In a 27 June letter to Alija Izetbegovic, the chairman of the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the organization is deeply disturbed by several recent incidents in which individuals closely linked to his political party attacked individual journalists and a local publishing house in Sarajevo. On 11 June, Muhammed Hamo Korda, reportedly affiliated with the ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA), insulted and threatened Edic Avdic of the Sarajevo-based weekly magazine "Slobodna Bosna." Korda was reportedly incensed buy the magazine's coverage of alleged corruption associated with SDA-sponsored events in Bosnia. In front of several witnesses, Korda made a phone call after which he told Avdic to prepare for a physical assault, which occurred one hour later. (CPJ Press Release, 29 June)

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LAW PUT FORWARD. Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, and Robert Barry, who heads the OSCE Mission there, unveiled a proposed freedom of information law in Sarajevo on 28 June. Opposition deputies from the Social Democrats and New Bosnian Initiative ten took the first steps to submit the measure to the parliament for approval. Petritsch, who has the authority to declare the bill a law if the parliament does not approve it, said that the proposal "will take Bosnia-Herzegovina several steps closer to Europe. It will take Bosnia-Herzegovina closer to a true civil society," AP reported. Barry added that "the initial reaction of bureaucrats is to dislike intensely a law like this because it takes away the shield of anonymity that otherwise cloaks the action of bureaucrats. [But] the public and the media like it very much." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June)

RFE/RL'S 50TH BROADCAST ANNIVERSARY. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine marked the 50th anniversary of the first Radio Free Europe broadcasts, noting that on 4 July 1950, radio transmitters mounted on trucks first broadcast U.S.-supported Czech and Slovak programs into what was then Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. Shortly afterwards these broadcasts came from Radio Free Europe headquarters in Munich. In 1995, at the invitation of Czech President Vaclav Havel, RFE/RL moved to its current location in Prague. (RFE/RL Press Release, 3 July)

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ABOLISHES (CITIZEN'S) TELEPHONE HOTLINE. The telephone connection established by President Eduard Shevardnadze in March during his campaign for re-election to receive complaints and suggestions from the population has been abolished, Caucasus Press reported on 29 June citing "Dilis gazeti." The members of the presidential apparatus who manned that hotline have been transferred to the taxation ministry. During the three months of the hotline's operation, some 20,000 people called the number to register complaints and make suggestions. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June)

IREX SEEKING APPLICATIONS FOR IATP INTERNET GRANTS PROGRAM. Alumni of U.S. government exchange and training programs and partners of the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) in Eurasian countries can apply for new grants for training and development of Internet skills. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State (ECA) and the International Research and Exchanges Board have announced an open competition for the IATP program. Alumni of ECA programs and IATP partners in Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are invited to apply for this program; awards will average $1,500, with a $5,000 limit. (International Journalists' Network Bulletin, 26-30 June)

WOMEN'S ISSUES TRANSLATION COMPETITION. The Open Society Institute's Network Women's Program and the Center for Publishing Development have announced a competition--with a deadline of 30 July--to support the translation of books on women's issues. The focus for 2000 is "Women in Conflict" and "Minority Women." A list of titles recommended for translation accompanies the announcement. However, publishers may also apply with similar titles from outside these lists. The lists can be found at: requests should not exceed $5,000; publication is expected within 24 months. Contact Yana Genova at; application forms at: (Center for Civil Society International [CCSI], 30 June)

JOURNAL FOCUSES ON 'WOMEN AND THE THIRD SECTOR.' The Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia (ISAR), a U.S.-based NGO, announces the summer issue of its quarterly publication, "Give & Take: A Journal on Civil Society in Eurasia." Drawing on ISAR's 16 years of encouraging civic initiatives in the countries of the former Soviet Union, the journal blends stories of local NGO activity with analyses of trends on civil society developments. The summer issue of "Give & Take" explores female leadership in various aspects of civil society (environmental activism, societal awareness, peace-making, microfinance initiatives), as well as womens' political empowerment. The authors analyze civil engagement in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. (CCSI, 23 June)

HELLMAN/HAMMET GRANT RECIPIENTS NAMED. Human Rights Watch announced on 30 June that a diverse group of writers from 22 countries would receive grants totaling $170,000 in recognition of their courage in the face of political persecution. Included among the recipients of this award are Zeljko Kopanja, editor of "Nezavisne Novine," whose newspaper in Serbia published numerous reports on Serbian army war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later lost both his legs after of a bomb attack; Hamide Berisha-Latifi, an ethnic-Albanian Kosovar writer forced to move to England, where she coordinated the Alliance of Kosovo Journalists and edited its magazine before returning to Kosovo in May 2000; Mamadali Makhmudov, an Uzbek poet of traditional "dastan" epic verse and supporter of the banned "Erk" political party, who suffered numerous acts of repression that culminated in a 14-year prison sentence earlier this year; Svetlana Slapsak, a Serbian university professor whose Slovenian husband is also active in the peace movement; she's also the editor of a feminist quarterly, "ProFemina," and currently registered in Montenegro due to continuing attacks in Belgrade; Pavel Zhuk, an independent source of news and analysis in Belarus despite massive and continuing government attacks forcing the journalist to spend several weeks in hiding; despite such measures, Zhuk's publication, "Nasha Svaboda," appears five days a week as of June and is posted on the Internet. (Human Rights Watch Press Release, 4 July)

ENDANGERED PEOPLES OF SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA. The editor of a book on South and Central Asia, part of an eight-volume series entitled "Endangered Peoples: Struggles to Sustain Cultural Survival," for the high school/college reference market, is seeking contributors. Facing a December 2000 deadline for 14 to 17 chapters (each focusing on a specific group), the book's editor asks that interested parties contact her, Barbara Brower, editor of the Himalyan Research Bulletin at Portland State University.

NATIONAL NGO CENTER ON HEALTH ISSUES. Kazakhstan's National Center for Problems of Healthy Lifestyle Development and the Association of Health Promoters have created a network to promote health care issues. Among the many health issues it is concerned with are primary health care, disease prevention and education, public health, and cooperation with the mass media. The center is interested in further international cooperation. Its director, Professor Aikan Akanov, can be contacted at (CCSI, 28 June)

OSH TV REFUSES TO COMPLY WITH DECREE. The Kyrgyzstan Republic State Commission on Radio Frequencies issued a decree on 29 June directing OshTV--a private TV station based in Osh broadcasting mainly in Uzbek--to cease broadcasting on the fifth VHF channel and to switch to the 23rd UHF channel. This move not only would require viewers to have special receivers, but mean that the station would attract a much smaller audience. In addition, Khaliljan Khudaiberdiev, Osh TV director, estimated this switch would cost some $42,000. According to local media experts, the decree probably reflects a government desire to shut down privately-owned media outlets, particularly in light of the 29 October Kyrgyz presidential elections. Contact Alisher Khamidov, director of the Osh Media Center, at: (Osh Media Resource Center Press Release, 5 July)

JOURNALIST WANTS TO BE PRESIDENT. The owner of the independent "Asaba" weekly, Melis Eshimkanov, announced in Bishkek on 30 June that he will run for president. According to Eshimkanov, who was a founder of the "El" (People) Party, the party congress to be held in early July will decide who to nominate for president. (RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service, 30 June)

SUPREME COURT ADMITS JUDGES MISINTERPRET FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION LAWS. The Moldovan Supreme Court acknowledged on 19 June that "some judges misinterpret laws concerning freedom of expression" and issued "recommendations" on how the European Convention on Human Rights should be applied. The ruling state that the limits of press criticism acceptable for political personalities or government agencies are wider than for private persons. Meanwhile, judges "should not tolerate criticism in the same measure other government bodies do and that judges should benefit from the highest degree of protection [against criticism]." (BASA Press, 20 June)

PARLIAMENT BANS PRIVATE PRODUCERS FROM PUBLIC STATIONS. The Moldovan parliament prohibited private producers on 22 June from inserting their own programs--except ads--on public radio and TV stations which rebroadcast foreign channels. Lawmakers told BASA that the new modification applied most directly to the ORT-Moldova channel, which is seen as supporting President Petru Lucinschi. The parliament recently modified the election code to ban foreign radio and TV stations from broadcasting electoral advertising. In mid-June, a broadcast watchdog council fined an unauthorized program producer for electoral criticism. (BASA Press, 22 June)

AUDITOR'S OFFICE FINDS EMBEZZLEMENTS AT 'TELERADIO-MOLDOVA.' The management of the state-owned "Teleradio-Moldova" company has admitted that in 1998 and 1999 it incurred overruns of the state budget of some 1.37 million lei and 874,000 lei, respectively. An audit found that the embezzlement of state funds was the result of "non-observance" by the former company's president and insufficient control by the Ministry of Finance. (AP Flux, 22 June)

PARLIAMENT MOVES AGAINST AUDIO-VISUAL PIRACY. The parliament approved a measure to ban the re-transmission of foreign audio-visual programs with the production and transmission of original programs on the same frequencies--except for advertisements. (AP Flux, 22 June)

RSF PROTESTS THREATS AGAINST MOLDOVAN JOURNALIST. Reporters without Borders (RSF) on 5 July sent a letter to the Moldovan interior minister protesting threats against journalist Andrei Turcanu, a regular contributor to the opposition weekly "Messagerul." According to the RSF, unknown persons threatened to "liquidate [Turcanu] and his family if he continued to write." In June of this year, the journalist published a reported denouncing the corruption of certain government departments--corruption is a topic on which Turcanu often writes investigative articles. (RSF Press Release, 5 July)

MEDIA MANAGEMENT TRAINING PROGRAM LAUNCHED. The Center for Independent Journalism in Bucharest is soliciting applications from local and national print publications for a media-management training program. Training will include on-site consultations on issues such as business and editorial management, long-term strategies, and in-house communications. The deadline for applications is 7 July. Contact Ioana Avadani, CIJ executive director,

ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS REPORTED IN RUSSIA... The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ)'s report on "Ant-Semitism, Xenophobia and Religious Persecution in Russia's Regions, 1998-1999," has been published. An update on 29 June reports that more than "150 neo-Nazi skinheads took part in a pitched battle with Russian police" after attending a neo-Nazi rock concert. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the UCSJ says, "local police deny that the skinheads are members of any neo-Nazi group and classified them instead as 'ordinary hooligans.'" Russian media reported that the skinheads belonged to "Russian Purpose," the same neo-Nazi group whose leader, Semyon Tokmakov, was freed from imprisonment (for attacking an African-American U.S. Marine) after serving 17 months of a three-year sentence. (UCSJ Press Release, 30 June)

...WHILE NEO-NAZI GROUP IS CO-LED BY KGB-LINKED JOURNALIST. Another neo-Nazi group in Russia, the Russian People's Union (SRN), is co-headed by former KGB officer, Stanislav Terentev, who is also editor-in-chief of "Kolokol" (The Bell), one of the most notoriously anti-Semitic publications in Russia. "Kolokol," published in Volgograd, where many other extremist publications are printed, enjoys the dubious record of having received 64 warnings for its incitement to racial hatred. But only in 1998 was a criminal case opened against Terentev. Instead of appearing in court, Terentev sent a bus of supporters who formed a human chain around the court, whereupon the case was hushed up and never restarted. ("RFE/RL East European Perspectives," 5 July)

HELSINKI COMMISSION DENOUNCES MOSCOW'S TRAVEL BAN ON BABITSKY. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-New Jersey) today criticized the Russian government for refusing to allow a Russian journalist to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Bucharest, Romania, to accept an award for his journalistic heroism. "This is just another indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is committed to punishing Andrei Babitsky for his courageous reports from Chechnya when Moscow wanted to silence him," said Smith, referring to the travel restrictions imposed on RFE/RL reporter Andrei Babitsky. (Helsinki Commission Press Release, 5 July)

GUSINSKY AFFAIR FALLOUT. Russian Trade and Economy Minister German Gref denied that his government was trying to deny freedom of the press, while trying "to convince foreign investors Russia was a safe place for their money," reported Reuters on 29 June. In remarks published in the "Jerusalem Post" on 30 June, Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky said that his recent arrest was intended as a message to U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had appeared on one of Gusinsky's radio stations. Gusinsky said that the "great danger" now is that Russian President Vladimir Putin will seek to create "manageable democracy" and that Russian society is too weak to stop it. The same day, Gusinsky was again denied permission to leave Russia. Meanwhile, Media-MOST announced that it is talking to foreign investors to take over Gazprom's shares in the media giant. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July)

A NEW TRILINGUAL LEXICON OF RUSSIAN CULTURE. The lexicon "Ideas in Russia," the first volume of which has just been published, will contain some 600 articles in Russian, Polish, and English and it will supplement current encyclopedias and dictionaries with new perspectives on broad concepts of Russian theological, philosophical, social, and political thought from medieval times to the present. Another goal of this publication is to deepen understanding of Russian mentality and culture. For more information, contact Professor Andrzej de Lazari at or

RUSSIAN-ENGLISH GLOSSARY OF SOCIAL SERVICE TERMINOLOGY. At the request of the Perm Regional Committee of Social Protection, in cooperation with the BEARR Trust, the Oxfordshire Perm Voluntary Action Link, and funded by the Webb Memorial Trust and the British Know How Fund, a 116-page booklet for social service professionals and students of social work provides translations and detailed commentary on 400 relevant English terms. (CCSI, 22 June)

DIRECTORY OF RUSSIAN NGO PUBLIC INTERNET RESOURCES. A Russian-language website ( contains news on Internet resources of interest to Russian NGOs. The site has descriptions and links to online libraries and databases of NGOs, listservers for the Russian NGO community, funders, and more. (CCSI, 29 June)

KAZAN SOFTWARE PRODUCER ASKS FOR TAX LAW CHANGES. A Tatar-British software company appealed to Russian State Duma chairman Gennady Seleznov to make tax laws more flexible for domestic software producers, Tatarstan media reported on 5 July. (RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, 5 July)

RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST CPJ OMISSION. An open letter signed by Russian and foreign correspondents in Moscow on 27 June protested to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for its omission of the names of 16 Radio Television Serbia employees killed during the NATO air raid on the Belgrade TV tower from its annual list of murdered journalists. "The sixteen people who died in the bombing were, without exception, technical staff, make-up artists, lighting technicians, etc.," the letter said. "None of them had any influence on the content of Radio Television Serbia broadcasts." (ANEM Report, 24-30 June)

SIT IN BY NIS MAYOR LEADS TO RELEASE OF ACTIVISTS. Opposition Mayor Zoran Zivkovic led a sit-in outside the police headquarters in Nis on 28 June to demand the release of eight activists from the Otpor (Resistance) student movement and three news photographers. Police took the 11 people into custody at a demonstration which was intended to satirize the proposed presentation of the Order of the National Hero to Milosevic. An unnamed police official told Reuters that "the rally was not banned, but it was not approved, either." Police released the 11 people after holding them for two hours. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June)

THE NEXT DAY, TV CREW DETAINED IN KRALJEVO. A television crew from TV Kraljevo was arrested on 29 June by local police, along with four Otpor activists and a Democratic Party official. They were arrested after an Otpor protest, Mass Repentance, in which members of the movement tried to join the Socialist Party en mass. All those arrested were released early in the afternoon, but police confiscated a videotape belonging to the TV crew. (ANEM Report, 24-30 June)

FOREIGN JOURNALIST GROUP WARNS SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT. A spokesman for the International Federation of Journalists said in Ljubljana that the new government of Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk should not make changes for political reasons in the management of state-run media. The spokesman stressed that the credibility and image of Slovenia as a democratic country could be jeopardized if the government made such a move. The Bajuk government is the first one since independence in 1991 that is not led by former members of the Communist-era nomenklatura. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June)

FINAL SHUTDOWN OF PRIVATE INTERNET PROVIDER? Despite efforts by the OSCE Center, several embassies, and even some agencies of the Turkmen government, the Ashgabat authorities shut down the country's last private Internet and e-mail provider on 30 June. But efforts continue to save at least "the shell" of the [Ariana] Internet provider. For more information, contact Bella Sewall, executive director, Law and Environment Eurasia Partnership at or Andrei Zatoka, Dashkhovuz Ecological Club at (Law and Environment Eurasia Partnership Press Release, 1 July)

UKRAINIAN NGO NET LISTSERVER. On 3 July, the Innovation and Development Center (IDC) announced the launch of a listserver which provides space for various announcements, bulletins, donor assistance program updates, new publication reviews, and questions and answers on a wide spectrum of NGO-related topics. After subscribing, all members are welcome to post messages in Ukrainian, Russian, or English. To subscribe, send a message to: Or visit the IDC online website at

U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION DECRIES TORTURE OF WRITER. Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-New Jersey) called on Uzbek authorities on 29 June to permit international observers to meet with an Uzbek writer jailed and tortured for allegedly trying to overturn the state's constitutional order and insulting the country's president. Mamadali Makhmudov, a renowned writer who has received international awards for his work, was convicted in August 1999 in a trial marred by numerous violations of due process. Charged with trying to overthrow the constitutional order, membership in illegal organizations, and insulting President Islam Karimov, Makhmudov was sentenced to 14 years in jail. Smith said, "Mamadali Makhmudov is languishing in an Uzbek prison known as 'the place from which no one returns.' According to credible reports, he has been repeatedly tortured: his fingernails and toenails have been torn out, he has been beaten in the kidneys, he has lost weight, and is dangerously ill. There is now reason to fear that Mr. Makhmudov will not survive his mistreatment."


By Thomas A. Dine

Government attacks on independent media in the post-communist world are becoming commonplace...Recent attacks highlight the extreme fragility of free media in unfree or less than free societies. They call attention to the fact the foundation for all other freedoms is media freedom to which peoples of this region have so often been denied. They point out continuing, even growing importance of international broadcasting to these countries.

[B]ecause of the obvious and demonstrated power of free media to transform unfree societies, all too many people in both the post-Soviet states and in the West came to believe that nothing could prevent the domestic media from playing that role, that democracy was secure, and that the future was one of unalloyed brightness...

The reason for that is that while the media are powerful, they are also extremely fragile -- and nowhere more than in the post-communist countries. Some of the reasons for that are a survival of the authoritarian political past; others are to be found in specific features of the post-communist transition; and still a third group are the result of the nature of the media themselves. But each of these reasons continues to cast a shadow not only on media freedom in these countries but on all the other freedoms on which a civil society is based.

Only in the year 2000 are we beginning to face up to the destructive heritage of that system, to the impact it had on rulers and ruled, and to the difficulties of escaping from that past...

[O]ur subject here is the media, and there the problem is especially grave. Even where more or less free media have emerged, overcoming the Soviet-style training and expectations of journalists themselves, they must contend with the absence of a completely free readership or listenership. ...

Many in both this region and the West thought that privatization of the media would guarantee its independence. But things have not worked out that way...[A]lmost all of the electronic media -- radio and television -- from which ever more people get their news remains state-owned and state-controlled. As incomes have declined, people have stopped buying newspapers and journals, the prices of which have increased because the Soviet-era subsidies that kept them inexpensive are a thing of the past.

[G]iven the absence of a large advertising sector to provide diverse financing of the media, many journalists find themselves forced to advance the interests of their owners rather than the interests of objectivity and truth.

[Y]ou are often at risk from government pressures of the kinds we have seen ranging from the recent arrest of Vladimir Gusinsky in Moscow, to the detention of our RFE/RL's Andrei Babitsky because of his truthful, factual reporting of the war in Chechnya, to the denial of electricity or newsprint in virtually every city in this region of the world, to the raids of the tax police, to intimidation and threats of individual journalists...

Because the media are so strong, we have failed to note that the media at the same time are enormously fragile. They are fragile in all countries because they depend on a bond of trust between those who produce and disseminate news and those who receive it, a bond that can be broken all too easily by those who are enemies of a free press.

And they are especially fragile in post-communist countries not only because of the absence of the free reader or free listener in many cases but also because many of us -- you and we alike -- may be asking the media to do more than the media can in fact achieve on its own. All too many of us have assumed that with a free media, we will not only get a free parliament as Jefferson promised, but a broadly free society -- and therefore as long as we keep the media free, our task is relatively simple. I think it is time to confront this assumption...

First, in many of the countries in this region, there is a growing gap between the existence of independent media and the rise of the other institutions of civil society--instead of the narrowing one we had expected. Second, in several of them, there has been a retreat from earlier progress toward a civil society...But third and most important, there is a growing body of scholarship which calls into question some of the most widespread notions about the rise of civil society.

...[E]conomic growth may at least for a time stabilize existing authoritarian structures rather than lead to their replacement by the stable and independent institutions that are at the core of civil society. ...[F]ree media can and do play a larger role than does economic growth in this process, but that even they cannot simply produce civil societies where they have not existed unless other changes take place as well.

...In a recent book with the provocative but deadly accurate title "Democracy from Scratch," Steven Fish, an American political scientist professor, suggests that the challenge of creating civil societies in post-communist countries is far greater than many of us had assumed.

...[C]ommunist regimes were far more effective than other authoritarian regimes in suppressing the institutions of civil society and preventing their reemergence. And they left in their wake countries which "resembled less a civil society, with its established political parties, unions, and interest associations, than a movement society--that is, a myriad of complex, interacting, apocalyptic political campaigns."

In such circumstances, Fish notes, a free media often serves to advance the programmatic causes of these "campaigns"--a term he uses to denote the informal and deeply political activities of groups defined by their opposition to the existing state rather than in terms of their own specific interests--rather than to consolidate the more typical institutions of civil society.

...Instead of providing the kind of information necessary to help to create institutions most of whose actions are independent of state power, journalists in these countries may fall into the trap of reifying the conflict with state power as the defining element of social groups. And that in some cases can serve as a brake on the development of a civil society in which groups have a more independent life.

But if part of our common challenge lies in the heritage of communist regimes, another part lies in the nature of journalism as practiced everywhere. As journalists, we cover conflicts. Indeed, many of us define that as news. But such coverage, or at least such coverage untempered by the understanding Fish provides, can land us and other journalists in trouble - and can certainly lengthen the troubled transitions of the post-communist countries.

Reporting on trade unions, on informal associations, on law and the courts, and on all the other elements of an emerging civil society is inevitably less dramatic than covering conflicts between the state and political movements opposed to it. No one should ignore these conflicts. But Fish's insight suggests that focusing on them alone could actually retard development of the other institutions and of civil society as a whole. And it suggests that the media must be sensitive to this lest its own freedom fail to promote or even retard the development of freedom elsewhere.

Mr. Dine is the president of RFE/RL. This was the keynote speech at the RFE/RL Affiliates Assembly in Gudauri, Georgia on 24 June 2000.