- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Atlas Economic Research Foundation has a task comparable to that of the Greek mythological figure who held the world on his shoulders, as it strives to bring Western-style freedom to repressed societies.

The name Atlas was chosen for the Arlington-based group “to emphasize our worldwide mission,” said Brad Lips, chief operating officer for AERF, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.

“We think the principle of liberty applies to all nations,” he added.

Atlas’ goals are in line with those of the Bush administration, which hopes to see democracy replace autocratic regimes throughout the world.

But the “United States government … can only do so much to advance freedom around the world. Progress of this sort typically is painstakingly slow and almost always comes from within,” said Atlas consultant Herb Berkowitz.

For that reason, he said, for nearly a quarter of a century Atlas has been providing local organizations around the globe with “encouragement, advice, seed money and — more recently, thanks to a $2 million grant from international financier and philanthropist John Templeton — monetary awards and grants to promote such changes from within.”

Since 1981, Atlas has been the leading international organization supporting independent think tanks advancing freedom, officials said. It works with more than 200 think tanks in 67 countries.

Mr. Berkowitz said the results of those efforts rarely make headlines like the U.S.-led wars of liberation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“But they are no less encouraging — even startling at times,” he said.

Heading the list are achievements made in Bulgaria, a former communist country. In 1996, a major economic downturn led to the fall of its socialist government. But Bulgaria is still “secretive, closed and repressive,” Mr. Berkowitz said.

He pointed out that a nonprofit group in Bulgaria, the Access to Information Program Foundation, was the driving force behind enactment and enforcement of legislation that is the equivalent of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Mr. Lips said AERF’s goal is to find people in foreign countries “who favor free markets and individual liberties” and who can “build from scratch policies that may not agree with their country’s government.”

The Access to Information Program in Bulgaria is such a group, he said. “They have put the spotlight on the [Freedom of Information] law. And they have brought litigation to make sure the government enforces it and improves its accountability.”

For its efforts, the Bulgarian think tank will be honored at Atlas’ 2005 Templeton Freedom Awards program Thursday in Miami and will receive a cash prize.

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