The President’s Message for Winter 2018
This Newsletter issue, as we have all come to appreciate, will spark many memories. For me, it recalls my last years at the Foundation as I assumed the role of Director of the International Affairs program. I had been at the Foundation for 12 years, three as a program officer in higher education and rural development in Brazil and one in New York as program advisor to the Latin American program, before Frank Thomas appointed me Director of the Human Rights and Social Justice and Governance and Public Policy programs.
It was a spectacularly privileged job, and my time working for Frank was a period of profound learning and high pride, accompanied by the humility of seeing the work being done by extraordinary grantees. Yet, I thought it was time for me to move on and make room for Lynne Walker (later Huntley) and David Arnold, then deputy directors in the respective programs, to imbue these areas of the Foundation’s work with their own perspectives, ideas and energies.
I asked Frank and Susan Berresford for their help and counsel in finding my way to Life After.... To my surprise, they came back to me the next day with a proposal that, despite my best intentions, I could not refuse. It was time to reshape the International Affairs program, I recall Frank saying, and to loose it from its Cold War moorings. Would I give the Foundation five more years?
Could I take the international human rights work with me, I asked, and join it to Foundation funding in international law, and could the program I would come to direct take the lead in developing the Foundation’s growing portfolio in Russia and Central Europe, this latter of particular interest to me because of my family’s Baltic and Ukrainian origins. With both of those agreed to, I embarked on one more great Foundation adventure, this one stretching to six years until my retirement in 1996.
Arthur Cyr’s remembrance of Crauford Goodwin reminds us that the international economics program, always considered an outlier to the Foundation’s dominant commitment to development economics, was among the most difficult and loneliest portfolios to manage. Frank, however, saw the connections between the two and, with the merger of the international and domestic divisions, created an opportunity to bring them closer together. This we accomplished when the trade economist, Seamus O’Cleireacain, joined the program and demonstrated that international economics was not “rather effete”, as Cyr notes it was held to be within the Foundation, but central to the development and growth aspirations in countries increasingly caught up in the liberal democratic order.
Which brings me to Mary McAuley’s and Irena Gross’s beautifully juxtaposed essays on the Foundation’s work in Russia and Central Europe. I could devote pages to the heady exploratory work Enid Schoettle, Norm Collins, Paul Balaran, Margo Picken and I did in the region starting in 1989: the launch of in loco programming around 1991, the dozens of visits to Moscow, Prague and Warsaw in preparation for a Trustees’ trip that year, and the opening of the Moscow office in 1996.
Mary reminds us with some mirth of scouting missions to hotels, restaurants, meeting venues and, yes, toilet facilities. I recall carrying soap, toothpaste and other basics as gifts. I remember with some embarrassment when the then U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic told me the Foundation’s reconnaissance was more complete and time-consuming than what the Embassy had just done for the President’s visit.
The trips were intense and exhausting, and not without intrigue. The Trustees were visiting the American Embassy in Moscow when Boris Yeltsin mounted a Russian tank in defiance of the attempted anti-democratic coup in 1991. Ambassador Tom Pickering called me aside to say he thought it best to truncate the visit and that a bus was waiting to take us back to our hotel. We wended our way through streets crowded with protesters but made it back well, albeit with renewed questions about the stability and direction of the country.
There was a discomforting night in Prague when Joe Schull, Paul Balaran and I found one of the few restaurants then open in the city. The menu, stark as the room, was only in Czech and we struggled to make a choice. Mine was something flambéed and inadvertently spilled in my lap as the waiter served it. Knowing the alcohol would burn off with no effect, I stayed calm while Joe and Paul fled the restaurant.
The contributions the Foundation ultimately made in support of civil society, human rights and public policy development in the transitional societies was, for the time, significant, as was its decision to close the Moscow office and cease operations in Central Europe. I could make an argument on either side of the “stay or leave” debate that occurred, given the difficulties of grant making in an increasingly authoritarian Russia and Central Europe’s seemingly comfortable inclusion in the European Union, though my argument would be stronger on the stay side, especially given the post-democratic climates that Irena describes.
The exciting promise that we witnessed and the Foundation backed in the 1990s has regressed dramatically in the face of the extreme nationalisms that have re-emerged over the last quarter century. These tragic reversals are not confined to that region, and we see them threatening liberal democratic aspirations and civic engagement elsewhere, including prominently in the United States. The work we remember and the stories we tell remain a source of hope and optimism. As in this issue, LAFF is determined, with your help, to capture them.
I am pleased to welcome Bird Runningwater to the LAFF Executive Committee. As a Program Associate in Media, Arts and Culture at the Foundation in the late 1990s, and now Director of the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program, Bird brings new generational energy and perspectives to governance at LAFF. Unfortunately, Judy Barsalou has resigned from the committee. She helped guide us so well at LAFF for many years and we look forward to her continuing membership. Shep