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The Undiminished Passion of a Democrat

Chris Green  |  2012-02-17 11:42
[imText1]Carl Gershman believes that there is change not far over the horizon, and that everyone should be getting ready for it just as he, as the 68-year old president of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), always is.

Given everything that has happened in the region over the last fifteen years, its not unlikely that therell be change in North Korea, he asserts. So you should prepare by engaging; dont just wait for the change.

As head of the NED for the better part of 30 years since its founding back in 1984, Gershman is a man who has prepared for and seen plenty of this kind of change, both in Asia and around the world. The NED, formed and funded by the U.S. Congress but administered independently from offices in Washington, DC, remains active in a wide variety of countries: Thailand and the Philippines, where democracy is still under periodic threat, and also places where it is not; for example Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

If a situation like Burma opens up, NED has to stay for the period of transition, he offers by way of explanation for the organizations ongoing presence, pointing out that when aid and assistance do finally flow in it can bring new and different risks.

Regardless of which, North Korea is not even as close to freedom as its repressive Asian neighbor Burma, so it is only natural that Gershman should remain steadfastly committed to seeing through the project to bring democracy to Pyongyang.

As Dr. Yu Sae Hee of NKnet, one of the many groups working on North Korea that receive grants from the NED, would later comment at a reception for Gershman, At the end of the 1990s, at a time when nobody had an interest in it, Mr. Gershman actively worked for North Korean democratization and human rights improvement. When the international community and even the Korean government were turning away, Mr. Gershman never scrimped in his support for North Korean human rights groups.

For while Gershman and the organization he leads do not see democracy as the answer to all the worlds problems (indeed he says democracy is "never a finished product"), he does believe that for as long as good and evil remain part and parcel of human nature, it will be democracy which best minimizes the dangers inherent in the human condition.

What we do is try to help create conditions to contain the evil thats always going to be there, he concludes.


And pleasingly, despite the immense distance left to travel on the road he has chosen, Gershman sees hope in North Korea. It is a rigid dictatorship, he says, and therefore brittle. In the spirit of engaging with something unsavory rather than waiting for it to change, he urges groups to connect with North Korean civil society, strengthen the country's markets and improve the capacity of defectors in South Korea to provide professional leadership when the time for change arrives.

What civil society? Daily NK inquires.

Gershman is quick to answer: there are the aforementioned markets, he points out, and there is also the growing group of brave and dedicated people who make the likes of Daily NK and Rimjingang what they are; people willing to take notes, to make videos, to risk their lives to get information about North Korea out to the international community.

He says he has even met a defector who said he had been part of a university group inside North Korea. Although the defector said this group only used to meet and talk, it was enough to inspire him. This is gradually starting in North Korea, he asserts. The conditions for change are there. We can change the regime by changing the society.

After all, he points out, You cant have reconciliation without freedom.
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