From glasnost to the Arab Spring

American Enterprise Institute – From glasnost to the Arab Spring: the moral foundation of anti-authoritarian revolutions.

Ammar Abdulhamid: Death But Not Humiliation

Panel One

An Intervention

Post-Event Summary

What sparks anti-authoritarian revolutions in today’s world? On Wednesday, AEI hosted an impressive lineup of leading anti-authoritarian activists and intellectuals from around the world to discuss the moral foundation of anti-authoritarian struggle.

Ammar Abdulhamid of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies began the first panel by quoting a powerful slogan from the Syrian Revolution: “Death but not humiliation.” Akbar Atri, co-founder of E-Collaborative for Civic Education, assured that despite the Iranian regime’s corrupted norms and values, the essence of the Green Movement and the Arab Spring epitomizes civic values and universal human rights. Yang Jianli from the Initiatives for China advised U.S. policymakers to start paying attention to students, farmers and street-level society so individuals are prepared for revolutions before they occur.

In the second panel, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of the Federal Political Council of Solidarity, stressed that the renewed quest for civic dignity in today’s protests is trigged by the blatant fraud in Russia’s November parliamentary elections and the backdoor deal that predetermined the Putin-Medvedev swap. Now, Vladimir Putin’s regime is forced to look over its shoulder, Kara-Murza insisted, and can no longer pursue authoritarian policies with complete immunity.

Lilia Shevtsova from the Carnegie Moscow Center disagreed with the first panelists’ conclusion that current anti-authoritarian revolutions require Western support. She furthermore stressed the loss of hope as a catalyst for revolution, agreeing with AEI’s Leon Aron’s opinion that decency, conscience, honesty and morality are central to the struggle against authoritarian regimes.

The third panel explored the role of historical memory in the struggle to democratize after the dissolution of totalitarianism. Anne Applebaum of the Legatum Institute and Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College noted that the lack of historical memory in Russia and China resulted in general moral decay in those countries. Vladimir Tismaneaunu, on the other hand, cited the success of his truth commission in Romania after the local downfall of communism. While their countries of origin differed, all of the panelists agreed that honest and viable historical memory is crucial to the survival of a new, democratic state.

—Katherine Earle and  Samantha Costello

Event Description

What sparks anti-authoritarian revolutions in today’s world? In his just-published book “Roads to the Temple,” Leon Aron argues that values and morality lie at the heart of every revolution. From glasnost to the Arab Spring, the battle against authoritarians has been characterized by the triumph of human dignity over an over-centralized, brutal and corrupt state. Leading anti-authoritarian activists and intellectuals from Iraq, Iran, Syria, China, Russia and Sudan will share their experiences and provide insights of critical importance to U.S. policymakers seeking to understand and support the international quest for freedom.


12:00 PM

12:30 PM

12:45 PM
Welcome and Introduction
Leon Aron, AEI

1:00 PM
Panel I:   The Moral Essence of Anti-Authoritarian Movements around the World

Ammar Abdulhamid, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Akbar Atri, E-Collaborative for Civic Education
John Dau, John Dau Foundation
Yang Jianli, Initiatives for China

Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI

2:30 PM
Panel II: Glasnost as a Moral Revolution and Its Echoes in Today’s Russian Protests

Vladimir Kara-Murza, Federal Political Council, Solidarity
Lilia Shevtsova, Carnegie Moscow Center

Leon Aron, AEI

3:40 PM
Panel III: Honest History, Repentance and Moral Renewal

Anne Applebaum, Legatum Institute
Hasan Mneimneh, German Marshall Fund of the United States
Minxin Pei, Claremont McKenna College
Vladimir Tismaneanu, University of Maryland

Leon Aron, AEI

5:15 PM
Adjournment and Reception