Center for Communications, Health and the Environment
Spring 2013 Vol. 8, Issue 1
The Allure and Hazards of Sugary Foods

A Man for All Freedoms:
Mark Palmer Leaves Legacy of Liberty and Change

On January 28, 2013, CECHE – and up-and-coming democracies around the world – lost an important and influential advocate, advisor and friend. On that winter day, at the age of 71, Robie Marcus Hooker Palmer, known to all as Mark, lost his protracted battle with melanoma, leaving behind a legacy of democratic activism, and a void, both professional and personal, that will forever go unfilled.

Mark Palmer, former U.S. Ambassador and democracy advocate, 1941-2013

Mark may be best remembered as U.S. ambassador to Hungary during the collapse of communism and principal author of President Ronald Reagan’s celebrated 1982 speech to the British Parliament that placed Marxism on “the ash heap of history” and launched the National Endowment for Democracy.

These are indeed ones for the history books.

Yet, while such high-profile undertakings made the front page, they were part of Mark’s larger, lifetime commitment to democracy, freedom and human rights, and the taking of personal risks to advance those causes.

As a student at Yale University in the early 1960s, Mark supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and joined its civil rights demonstrations and Freedom Bus rides in the South, which was a bold and dangerous thing for a white student to do at the time. Taking similar risks, as a young U.S. Foreign Service officer, he sought out and met with dissidents in Moscow and Belgrade in the 1970s – a mantle he would take up again in the late ‘80s as ambassador to Hungary, prompting scrutiny by the media, his mentors and State Department officials.

In addition to U.S. Ambassador in Budapest, Mark served at the U.S. Embassies in New Delhi, Moscow and Belgrade, and in Washington, D.C., as deputy assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, during a Foreign Service career that spanned 26 years, from 1964 to 1990. As the State Department’s top expert on Soviet affairs, Mark was responsible for organizing the 1985 Geneva summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which was considered a “diplomatic breakthrough that led to a thawing of relations between the two superpowers.” He was speechwriter to three U.S. presidents and six U.S. secretaries of state, including sole speechwriter for Henry Kissinger from 1973 to 1975.

“It’s not too much to say that the democracies of Central Europe owe a lot of debt to Mark Palmer,” remarked Andras Simonyi, U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2002 to 2007.

In addition to co-founding the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and serving nine years on its board, for nearly 20 years (from 1994 to 2008), Mark was vice chair of Freedom House, a private pro-democracy organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt. He helped establish the Community of Democracies, an international association of democratic governments that meets annually in support of democracy and human rights, and which now gives The Mark Palmer Prize to diplomats who display valor and take risks or are especially inventive in their efforts to assist civil society to advance democracy. Mark was also co-founder and honorary chair of the International Management Center in Budapest, the first such Western-style school in communist Eastern Europe.

Immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mark, together with several leading U.S. and Canadian businessmen, established the Central European Development Corporation. He served as the corporation’s president from 1990 to 1997, during which time the group developed the American Business Center at Checkpoint Charlie, a 2 million square foot mixed-use, nine-building site in the heart of the unified Berlin.

Around the same time, with his wife of 47 years, Dr. Sushma M. Palmer, Mark co-founded the Center for Communications, Health and the Environment (CECHE) and served as the organization’s vice chairman and treasurer. Over the years, he supported and spearheaded several democracy and health projects for CECHE. These included a Global Democracy and Health Program that emphasized the link between democracy, human rights and human health, and a 2007 Freedom House initiative that brought together U.S. and Chinese experts to examine China’s internal repression and growing support for other non-democratic countries. Because of Mark, CECHE also partners with Freedom House on the “Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies,”an annual report that calls attention to human rights violations.

In 2003, under the umbrella of CECHE, Mark published Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025, in which he argued for revamping U.S. foreign policy to make worldwide promotion of democracy its foremost goal and which became the basis for the “ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007” signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Act significantly strengthened U.S. government and nongovernmental democracy programs, and for the first time required the State Department to work with local democrats and civic activists to develop written strategies for the promotion of democracy in all currently non-democratic countries or those transitioning to democracy.

As a tireless supporter of pro-democracy efforts in the world’s most repressive regimes, Mark was a frequent contributor of policy and advocacy pieces to leading media outlets, of expert testimony and policy counsel to Congress and the executive branch, and of advice and advocacy to nongovernmental groups, political leaders, activists and others seeking self-rule. In partnership with the Community of Democracies (which represents 120 democratic governments and nongovernmental organizations from free and not-free countries) and support from foreign and local governments and private sources, Mark and CECHE developed A Diplomat’s Handbook for Democratic Development Support, a guide for diplomats to use on the ground that was followed by a similar military handbook to address the role of the armed forces in supporting pro-democracy efforts.

As vice chair of CECHE, Mark also led U.S. efforts to support the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, an initiative to overcome the internet firewalls of China, Iran and other authoritarian states with anti-censorship systems. In addition, he chaired the advisory board of New Tang Dynasty Television, strongly backing the launch of the first uncensored satellite TV broadcasts into China.

As an extension of his CECHE alliances and pro-democracy efforts, Mark also founded Central European Media Enterprises Ltd. (CEME), which, with local partners, established, owned and operated the first politically independent national television stations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. The Czech station, NOVA TV, whose board Mark chaired for its first two years, was described by the Financial Times as the most successful start-up in television history, and today, it and the other CEME stations reach more then 50 million people across the region. In 1997, NOVA TV aired CECHE’s five-part multilingual TV series, A Family Year, and assisted in its evaluation of the series’ impact on the lives of Czech citizens.

Expanding beyond Central and Eastern Europe, Mark was also a director and investor in MCT Corporation, a mobile telecommunications company in Russia and Central Asia, and co-founder of Television Development Partners and SignalOne Media Corporation – both ventures for the establishment of independent, commercial satellite TV channels in the Middle East.

Back in the United States, as president of Capital Development Company and Building DC LLC in Washington, D.C., Mark focused on projects aimed at economically productive redevelopment of the Capital’s metropolitan area, beginning in the late 1990s with the construction of Knox Hill Village, a planned development of more than 100 houses for low- to middle-income families in Southeast D.C. He also supported and participated in the purchase and rehabilitation of more than a dozen apartment buildings in other inner-city neighborhoods.

Mark’s passion and fight for freedom did not go unrecognized. He was the recipient of three Presidential Awards and two Superior Honor Awards from the Department of State in the course of his U.S. Foreign Service career. In addition to Hungary’s Marton Aron Prize and the Baltic Freedom Award, he received the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary and the Officers Cross of the Polish Republic for assisting in Poland’s liberation from communism. During his lifetime, he served on the boards of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, the Budapest International Centre for Democratic Transition, the American Academy of Diplomacy, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, the University of the District of Columbia and the Friends of Falun Gong. From 2006 to 2009, he was also a member of the Secretary of State’s Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion.

Mark Palmer was born on July 14, 1941 in Ann Arbor, Mich., to the late U.S. Navy Captain (later Commander) Robie Ellis Palmer and the late Katherine Hooker Palmer, granddaughter of Civil War Colonel George W. Hooker, an Antietam Medal of Honor awardee who was appointed assistant adjutant general of volunteers for the Union Army by President Lincoln.

Mark made a difference for millions around the world with his words and actions, and his passing has left a hole in many hearts.

“[He] was more than an impassioned democracy advocate. He was an unsurpassed entrepreneur of democracy – innovative in coming up with creative new ideas to advance the cause, savvy in seizing the right moment to act, and sophisticated in developing practical strategies to get things done,” eulogized NED President Carl Gershman in April 2013.

“He was the right man at the right time at the right place,” noted Hungarian Prime Minister György Gordon Bajnai in 2009 when awarding Mark his country’s Order of Merit.

Mark succeeded where people thought it was impossible, and his determination, charisma and vision will live on and continue to inspire others in the fight for freedom that he so passionately and tirelessly championed.

For more insight into Mark’s life and legacy, visit https://vimeo.com/64315036 to view a professionally produced 12-minute documentary about him.


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Dr. Sushma Palmer, Program Director
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