This month, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosts the fourth annual Ion Ratiu Democracy Lecture. Previous awardees include Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist, and Belarusian democracy activist Anatoli Mikhailov, president of the European Humanities University in Vilnius, Lithuania.
This year's award recipient, Eleonora Cercavschi from Moldova, draws attention to an often forgotten frozen conflict at the borders of the European Union: Transnistria. With a world in turmoil and on the heels of a shooting war in Georgia, the relative quiet of Transnistria fails to make headlines. Yet even as the guns stay silent and the Russian tanks idle in their barracks, Cercavschi paints a picture of the formidable toll the conflict is taking on the children of the region.
As in previous years, this year's Ion Ratiu Democracy Lecture provides a forum for thoughtful practitioners and engaged thinkers to discuss challenges to democracy. Education has been a red thread in these discussions. In the first lecture held at the Wilson Center, Saad Ibrahim, himself an educator, discussed the lessons Arab states stand to learn from Eastern Europe's experience of transition from totalitarianism to democracy. In 2007, Anatoli Mikhailov suggested that democracy cannot take root in a country where free education is denied. Mikhailov showed the detrimental effects of political repression on the emergence of a democratic political elite.
This year, Cercavschi discusses the effects of the violent repression of the cultural identity of children in an effort to force their assimilation. Only a few hundred miles from the borders of the European Union, Moldovan children in Transniistria have to suffer physical abuse and humiliation as they pass through border points on their 20-mile daily commute to school.
The Ion Ratiu Democracy Lecture at the Wilson Center continues to broaden the dialogue on democratic values. Future awardees—nominations are welcome!—will join the growing network of alumni, sharing in their successes and learning from their experiences.