Investing in Common Aspirations: Lewis Madanick on the Former Eastern Bloc, Democracy and Humanity

Publication Date: 
18 Apr 2013

Lewis Madanick, Program Manager at Open World Leadership Center, has watched Eastern Europe’s rocky to transition to democracy. A child of the Cold War and a student of Russian/Soviet history, he has a deep interest in global politics and the role of the individual in democracy.

While at IFES from 1999-2000, Madanick served as Program Officer for Russia. He now works to build ties between emerging leaders in Eurasia and the United States. A week after the death of Margaret Thatcher – who recognized the first Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev as reform-oriented –  Madanick comments on the march of democracy in former Eastern Bloc.


When and how did you get into this line of work?

It started after getting master’s degree from Georgetown University in May 2000 in international diplomacy and strategic studies. With a deep understanding of the countries of the former Soviet Union and Russian language skills, I soon began working to implement programming for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the International Executive Service Corps in Central and Eastern Europe when the Supporting Eastern European Democracy Act (SEED) Act came into being.

Shortly thereafter, my portfolio grew to include Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union that had programming funded by the Freedom Support Act. A child of the Cold War and a student of Russian/Soviet history, I was always fascinated by the global chess board, and had faith in the intrinsic goodness of people to resolve conflicts and improve the livelihood of all. I have always thought that while cultures differed, people had the same basic desires and goals: the health of their families, communities, and society. I have always worked toward these objectives.

You were working on IFES’ Russia program when Vladimir Putin became president of Russia for the first time in 2000. How did things change when Putin came into power?

Throughout my tenure at IFES, IFES had a close working relationship with the Central Election Commission of Russia.  .It is unfortunate that IFES’ funding for Russia was cut at this time as we were making significant improvement to the elections’ systems in that country.

Unrelated to IFES’ departure, Putin's rise to power in the 2000s was/is marked by the consolidation of power and wealth in Russia, and the extremely effective use of administrative resources to manipulate elections and maintain control of society. I am very saddened by the path the Putin administration has taken toward the consolidation of power and the limiting of freedoms – one that has been enabled by great oil and mineral wealth.

Since IFES’ program in Russia closed, you have continued to work on Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. What trends have you seen in these countries when it comes to democracy and elections?

In general, I am optimistic about the march of democracy in Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. There is now an established history of peaceful relinquishing/transition of power through the electoral process, which has its good and bad days. 

However, I would say that Russia and Ukraine are taking the proverbial one step back right now, and this step is significant, as it includes the imprisoning of some in the political opposition to silence potential political foes. The government in Georgia has been formed to recently to make a real judgment call at present, but the current leadership seems eager to consolidate power in a similar fashion as the past government by manipulating the legal system to thwart opposition.

Your present work focuses on increasing interactions and the exchange of ideas between leaders abroad and in the U.S. Why is this important?

I am very proud of the work that I have been doing over the past decade to implement the Open World program, a legislative branch initiative that develops and sustains ongoing ties between the emerging leaders of Eurasia and the United States. This will soon include Egypt and Turkey. I find this work important, as the greater ties are between people/nations with common understanding, the more inter-connected and safe the world will be.

Also, providing emerging leaders the opportunity to explore best practices with their colleagues in such areas as fighting human trafficking; minimizing domestic violence; improving legislative processes and government transparency; providing a social safety net to those in need; furthering the use of green technologies; promoting increased trade and investment; and promoting the rule of law will provide future generations with a better society. I am a firm believer in the phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats," and I love riding the waves!

What can the international community do to help ensure leaders around the world remain accountable to their citizens and the laws of the countries?

I think the international community should continue to emphasize transparency and openness to ensure that leaders remain accountable to their citizens. There is also no greater enabler of free, fair and decent societies than education. Having an educated, robust and engaged civil society and media to act as a check on power is quite important. Special emphasis should be made on these areas.

Finally, the use of social media is making the planet a smaller place and providing great opportunity for mutual advancement, but there will always be a need for people to compare notes and experiences in person. It is more difficult for propaganda to color the views of people once they have met and developed a greater understanding of one another. As we move forward, I am a strong proponent of increasing exchanges, such as those conducted by the Open World program.

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