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By Joerg Forbrig, David Marples, Pavol Demes (Ed.s)

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Even its most ardent supporters were aware at the outset that issues such as the war on terror or less grand but equally intrusive issues such as energy policy would make it impossible to apply such lofty ideals in practice with any great degree of speed or consistency. The administration’s enemies would inevitably seize upon such inconsistencies as evidence of “double standards” or “hypocrisy”. What value is there really, many have asked, in setting out a strategy for the democratization of the world, while the Bush administration stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan?

An important element of civil society are independent structures of social, political and economic research, or think tanks, which inform and influence the public debate on developments in a given country. In Belarus today, few such independent institutes remain. As soon as a think tank achieves a certain degree of visibility and influence, it is either closed down or taken over by the authorities and their cronies. The Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies and the Sociological Laboratory Novak are most noteworthy.

In one attempt to offer justification to the blatantly rigged presidential election, the authorities even spoke about civil society coming out strongly in support of the existing regime – a clear admission by the authorities that they were aware of the potential and importance of civil society. Civic organizations can be and have been closed down or condemned to financial ruin using a variety of different methods including politically motivated tax swoops and fines for holding unauthorized seminars or distributing non-registered information materials.

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