Central and Eastern Europe Program Highlights (2007)

While expected to be an extremely challenging year for the region, 2007 also witnessed a number of positive developments leading to a further consolidation of democratic transitions in Southeastern Europe. Progress in the transitions in Bulgaria and Romania was recognized when the two countries were admitted to the European Union.

Montenegro signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia initialed this document, bringing these countries a step closer to the EU. Local elections in Moldova indicated a substantial drop in support for the ruling Communist Party, which has dragged its feet on implementing reforms.

Nevertheless, the region continued to face daunting challenges, with unresolved border issues, political extremism, weak and opaque state institutions, civic apathy and corruption still posing serious obstacles to democratization efforts. The future status of Kosovo remained the single most important issue for political leaders in Serbia, which continued to be a key source of instability in the region. In Kosovo, where independence was unrealistically viewed as the solution to all problems, the postponement of the status decision led to rising pressure. An impasse over state reforms in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina sparked the worst ethnic tensions in the country since 1995, although a broader crisis was averted. Moldova continues to have problems holding free and fair elections and no progress has been made in resolving the status of the break-away region of Transnistria.

Recognizing the fragility of these young democracies and the challenges they continue to face, the Endowment stepped up its support for indigenous NGOs and core grantees in the region, awarding a record 80 grants in 2007.

NED continued to concentrate the majority of its resources on former Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Endowment focused on:

  • promoting youth participation in civic and political life,
  • fostering interethnic understanding and historical reconciliation in the former-Yugoslav countries; and
  • strengthening independent media, especially at the local and regional levels.

NED paid special attention to youth-oriented programs which promoted youth participation at the local and national levels, strengthened leadership skills and built the capacity of youth NGOs, and fostered dialogue and interethnic reconciliation among a future generation of leaders.

In Serbia, where young people are not only becoming more apathetic but also increasingly intolerant towards their peers of different ethnic, religious, and even political backgrounds, NED boosted its support for youth NGOs, especially those outside of the capital. To involve more young people in political and civic life, especially in underdeveloped and neglected regions, NED assisted programs that strengthened the capacity of groups to play a greater role in advocating for youth-related issues in areas such as southern and eastern Serbia.

NED also helped Belgrade-based organizations to expand their reach well beyond the capital. The Center for the Development of Parliamentary Debate’s unique program, which brings together young leaders of Serbia’s prodemocratic parties for a series of mock parliamentary debates, was expanded to include members of all minority parties represented in the National Assembly. The Center also widened the program’s outreach by conducting half of the debates in regional cities.

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) used NED support to conduct a program in 30 Serbian cities in which young people endeavored to bring justice to war crimes victims, organize events examining the recent past, and encourage public debate about other key issues facing Serbia’s youth. Part of the program included a small grants competition which strengthened the capacity of local and regional NGOs to establish new links and crossborder dialogue between youth from Serbia and Kosovo.

In addition to supporting programs promoting conflict resolution, interethnic reconciliation, and civic activism among youth in Kosovo, NED also supported youth organizations fostering government transparency and accountability. At the regional level, the Initiative for Progress worked not only to promote free, fair, and transparent parliamentary and local elections in southern Kosovo, but also conducted an anticorruption campaign targeting the local government of Ferizaj. The youth group’s standout leader and work were featured in Time Europe. Young activists from the Kosova Democratic Institute continued to issue “score cards” on the work of the entity’s Central Assembly and encouraged debate on important governmental initiatives.

Endowment support for youth programs in Bosnia and Herzegovina focused on the innovative use of media to help increase activism among young people. The Youth Information Agency broadcast civic education television programs and created packages of materials on them for use in high schools to demonstrate that youth can make a difference in their communities. The Youth Communication Center combined skills training, enabling student activists in Republika Srpska to play a more effective role in advocating for youth related issues, with a series of radio programs raising awareness about problems facing their peers throughout the country. NED continued to support two of the highest rated and most trusted television programs in the country: the investigative news show “Dossier” and the live, youth-oriented talk show “Buka” (Noise).

A similar approach to encouraging youth participation was employed by the Association for Equality and Tolerance in Montenegro, whose Cool Radio is devoted to broadcasting information fostering democratic values and promoting civic activism. To encourage active youth participation in the political transition of this newly-independent country, the Center for Democratic Transition offered practical experience in government affairs to leading university students through internships at Montenegrin state institutions.

The young activists of the MOST Citizens’ Association from Macedonia encouraged youth activism in political affairs through a project that monitored the performance of Macedonia’s parliamentarians and invited citizen input into the legislative process. In Albania, NDI drew on its similar and successful women’s programs in the region and provided Albanian women with the skills and tools necessary to carry out political organizing efforts and advocacy campaigns.

In 2007, the Endowment doubled the number of programs being supported in Moldova. NED concentrated its resources on two priorities. A series of nonpartisan citizen education, voter mobilization and poll monitoring programs were assisted prior to the June local elections. One of the election-related programs, conducted by the Association for Participatory Democracy, was credited with leading to increased turnout and fewer invalid ballots in an election in which democratic forces made impressive gains. The second focus was on supporting the development of civil society, including NGO resource centers and independent media, in the breakaway region of Transnistria.

While closing down in-country programs in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania, the Endowment continued to assist its long-term partners in these countries to share useful experiences, skills, and program models across borders.

  • The Romanian Academic Society focused its efforts on building the capacity of partners in Croatia and Kosovo to adapt and adopt proven models of anticorruption programs designed to increase the transparency of the electoral process and accountability of elected officials.
  • NDI’s highly successful Roma leadership training academy was expanded from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia to include political and civic Roma activists from Serbia.
  • CIPE broadened the training and advocacy work of its Institute for Organizational Management in Romania to assist prodemocracy business leaders in Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
  • The Bratislava-based regional program of the International Republican Institute provided training and assistance to political parties throughout the region to compete effectively in elections and engage in democracy promotion activities.