WASHINGTON, DC – The Embassy of the Czech Republic welcomed RFE/RL’s 2013 class of Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellows to discuss their work at an April 9 panel discussion “Media Freedom in the European Neighborhood.”
After introductions by Petr Gandalovic, U.S. Ambassador of the Czech Republic, and Kevin Klose, Acting President and CEO of RFE/RL, fellows Irina Gotisan of Moldova, Seda Stepanyan of Armenia and Tahmina Taghiyeva of Azerbaijan engaged in a spirited conversation with panel moderator David Kramer, President of Freedom House.
The fellows are part of a new generation of journalists, born into emerging democracies of the post-Soviet era, which they noted affords them optimism for the future of a free press in their home countries.
The 28-year-old Gotisan explained that youth in her country are able to travel outside Moldova’s borders and learn from other societies, but added, “This new generation of journalists, scholars and politicians plan to return and make a difference in our country.”
“My generation is used to not being corrupted. As we grow up and become politicians, we will not be corrupted,” added Stepanyan, 21, who was born in the same year and the same month as the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The problem regarding the actual implementation of democracy remains, especially in Azerbaijan, which Kramer noted is designated as “Not Free” in Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom of the Press Index. (Armenia is also listed as “Not Free” while Moldova is “Partly Free.”) According to 30-year-old Taghiyeva, authorities give lip service to democratic initiatives in Azerbaijan. “Democracy is just a word for our country. It doesn’t matter to (the government),” she says. Still, she believes 2013 will be a turning point for the people of Azerbaijan, as the citizenry becomes engaged in the political processes and are given opportunities to speak out.
The embassy reception was just one of many events the women will attend as part of their two-week training period in the U.S., including Capitol Hill visits with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Lamar Alexander; a day of training at University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism; a tour of the United Nations in New York City; and meetings with media professionals, advocacy experts and government staff.
“The Havel Fellows are a living example of the work RFE/RL does and this fellowship is part of our ongoing endeavor of promoting a free press and handing it off to the next generation,” said Kevin Klose, Acting President and CEO of RFE/RL.
The Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship launched in February 2012 and aims to honor the late Czech Republic president’s dedication to democracy and the transformational role of journalism in challenging tyranny in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship is funded with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, and television — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the republics of Central Asia. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).