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Václav Havel Journalism Fellows in Washington

The Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, DC welcomed this year´s Václav Havel Journalism Fellows at an April 9 panel discussion “Media Freedom in the European Neighborhood.”

Introduced by Petr Gandalovic, U.S. Ambassador of the Czech Republic, and Kevin Klose, Acting President and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, fellows Irina Gotisan of Moldova, Seda Stepanyan of Armenia and Tahmina Taghiyeva of Azerbaijan discussed the democracy transitions and the conditions for free journalism in the post-Soviet region 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 noted she 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 fellows attended as part of their two-week stay 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 officials.
 
The Václav Havel Journalism Fellowship was launched as a joint project between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in January 2012. The Fellowship aimes to support young journalists from RFE/RL´s broadcast region, where media freedom continues to be stifled and where journalism often remains a dangerous profession.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg noted during his speech at the celebration of the 60th anniversary of RFE/RL´s broadcast to Czechoslovakia in June 2011, “the Václav Havel Journalism Fellowship is a logical continuation of the relationship between the Czech Republic and the RFE/RL, a US backed institution that was crucial when our country was still a part of the Eastern Block”.

The Fellowship is funded with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellows