February 19, 2015 / 3:03 PM / 3 years ago

Czechs open center for civil society activists from ex-Soviet countries

PRAGUE (Reuters) - An international center to support activists in former Soviet Union countries who face pressure from their governments is to open in the Czech capital Prague.

The Prague Civil Society Center is being launched at a time of severe tensions between the West and Russia after the annexation of Crimea last year and fighting in eastern Ukraine.

It plans to organize training and workshops for activists from Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, plus Russia and Central Asia.

“We are establishing a new center because civil society in the region has tremendous potential, yet it is under growing pressure, especially in some of the countries,” the center’s director, Rostislav Valvoda, said in a statement.

It will promote the values of openness, tolerance, rule of law, and human rights and dignity. It will not seek to replace governments, he said.

The center is being set up by a Czech humanitarian organization, People in Need, and co-financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Swedish and Czech governments, and two private U.S. foundations.

Russia says the West used its influence to support what it sees as the illegal overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine a year ago. Moscow has also tightened conditions for foreign and domestic non-governmental organizations.

Prague already hosts Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which made its name broadcasting into Russia and its communist allies during the Cold War and is funded by the U.S. Congress.

Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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