As Europe celebrated 25 years since the ‘Fall of the Wall,’ the countries in which NED grantees are active exhibited two trajectories. Some, like Ukraine, Moldova and Albania, made important strides in reinvigorating their democratic transitions and moving closer to the West. These historic steps towards EU integration committed their governments to further democratization. The Endowment assisted civil society in supporting these countries’ European choice, pushing for greater reforms, and holding officials responsible for the obligations they have taken on. Other countries, such as Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia, made no democratic progress or actually regressed.
In response, NED supported civil society groups opposing backsliding, assisting democrats at risk, and expanding space for alternative views and voices. The region also faced the common challenges of unaccountable governments, endemic corruption, threats to free media space, and divided societies. These trends and problems were at the forefront of elections held in almost every country in the region during the year.
For Ukraine, 2014 was a dynamic and tumultuous year. Mass protests beginning in late 2013 ultimately led to the fall of the Yanukovych government in February 2014. While the motivation of the Maidan demonstrators varied widely, it found common ground in frustration with a corrupt and imperious government and the failure of the authorities to address a myriad of grievances. One of the new government’s most serious initial short-term internal challenges was to restore public confidence in the political process. Pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections, in May and October respectively, were key first steps in stabilizing the country and legitimizing the government.
NED supported a broad spectrum of initiatives fostering free and fair elections, including observing the polls at the local and regional levels, monitoring the media environment, disseminating information about candidates and analyses of their platforms, and supporting a national exit poll. NED also assisted initiatives that educated the electorate and defended voters’ rights, with an emphasis on divided or contentious regions. The high voter turnout demonstrated a genuine desire for political renewal. Both the presidential election, which resulted in Petro Poroshenko being elected in the first round, and parliamentary elections met international standards, giving the new government a clear mandate to rule and move ahead with reforms.
In Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka devoted his 20th year in power to avoiding the Ukraine contagion and using conflict there to shore up his popularity and public support for his autocratic system. It was not surprising that the March local elections were the most fraudulent and repressive on record. NED supported an election observation initiative that was the largest civil society campaign of 2014, and human rights groups assisting persecuted activists. A new restrictive media law and the blocking of websites at the end of the year portended greater repression in the run-up to the fall 2015 presidential election. NED continued to support independent media reporting on the country’s political, economic and international challenges.
After signing an EU Association Agreement in June, Moldova held important parliamentary elections in November. NED supported grantees that held politicians accountable, educated the electorate, and mobilized voters. On election day, the Endowment supported a Quick Count and Parallel Voter Tabulation, in addition to an observation mission that covered 1,975 polling stations throughout the country. A second NED focus was on strengthening NGOs and promoting human rights in the breakaway region of Transnistria and autonomous region of Gagauzia.
After tolerating a deteriorating economy, declining social services, and detrimental government performance for almost two decades, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina rose up in protest in February, demanding political changes and a better quality of life. In the aftermath of violent unrest not seen since the end of the war, as well as unprecedented floods in May, voters had an opportunity to hold politicians accountable for their lack of responsiveness to citizens’ real needs in the October presidential and parliamentary elections. Ahead of elections, NED supported projects using new technology and other innovative tools to scrutinize the performance of elected leaders and promote a greater demand for good governance.
In Kosovo, early parliamentary elections were held in June; in their aftermath, however, the country found itself in limbo as major political parties squabbled over forming a new government. The protracted impasse slowed progress on the 2014 normalization agreement with Serbia. The Endowment addressed these challenges by supporting voter education and mobilization initiatives targeting minority communities, with a particular emphasis on youth and women, and assisting minority media, to send a strong message for integration.
Following another snap parliamentary election in April, the democratic decline in Macedonia accelerated. Disputed polls led to an opposition boycott, relations between the country’s two largest ethnic communities deteriorated, and the space for free media shrank. To counter this backsliding, NED supported rare sources of independent news and analysis, as well as watchdog groups addressing key accountability issues. NED grantees addressed growing hate speech and intolerance by engaging youth, and by expanding human rights and civic education programs.
After the ruling coalition in Serbia cemented a comfortable parliamentary majority in early elections in March, nationalist rhetoric enjoyed a resurgence and the censorship of critical media took on new, pernicious forms. Cyberattacks on critical web portals were followed by the cancellation of several outspoken television news magazines and political talk shows. In response, NED continued long-term support to independent media outlets providing high-quality reporting on corruption and youth organizations promoting tolerance through civic education programs.
Albania finally received EU candidate member status in 2014, but persistent challenges to good governance and the rule of law remain. Ahead of the summer 2015 local elections, which will be a bellwether for the country’s democratic progress, NED grantees promoted the greater participation of women and youth in the political process. NED also continued supporting watchdog organizations and media outlets tackling the key issues of corruption and conflict of interest.
To learn more about NED grants and grantees, explore the regional links on this site.
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