Youth Initiative for Human Rights
Young Albanians participated in a capacity building training organized by the Youth in Free Initiative.

Central and Eastern Europe

The Endowment’s priority in Europe has been to assist civil society in promoting government accountability and the reforms necessary for Euro-Atlantic integration. Since 1989, the prospects of EU and NATO accession have been key factors in fostering democratization in Eastern Europe. But while virtually all of the region’s governments have identified integration as a top priority, most appear unwilling to take the steps necessary to complete this process. In 2011, NED assisted NGOs striving to consolidate transitions and push officials to meet the requirements for integration.

Ukraine’s transition is facing its most significant challenge in the country’s 20 years of independence. Since its 2010 election, the Yanukovych government has rolled back the gains of the Orange Revolution (see Spotlight). In response, NED boosted support to analytical centers that monitor officials and track the country’s backsliding. With pressure mounting against civil society, NED strengthened regional NGOs engaging in grassroots campaigns to foster local civic activism. Support also went to traditional and new media outlets fostering freedom of the press, defending journalists, and informing citizens about the country’s direction.

Following the flawed December 2010 presidential election and brutal crackdown spanning 2011, Belarus again became Europe’s pariah. In difficult conditions, NED increased support to core programs promoting human rights, freedom of information, political party building and the preservation of civil society. Aiding the crackdown’s victims was a priority (see Spotlight). Another focus was on strengthening independent media reporting on the country’s political and economic crisis. NED assisted scores of newspapers and websites. NED also helped to keep civil society alive and functioning by supporting third sector resource centers, which have proven to be the best means of assisting local NGOs and independent media, in Belarus’ regions.

After breakthrough elections in 2009-10, Moldova emerged as one of the few success stories in the former Soviet space. The country, however, still faces many problems, including faltering reforms and ineffective governance. Moldova also remains divided, with the rogue region of Transnistria run by an authoritarian regime. In 2011, NED supported civil society organizations monitoring and advocating for reforms while improving government performace. NED also continued to support groups nurturing civil society and promoting human rights in Transnistria (See Spotlight).

With its faltering transition, Bosnia and Herzegovina became NED’s leading priority in the Balkans. While the October 2010 election saw progress in bringing about greater issue-based rather than ethnic-based voting, it took 14 months to form a government. A lack of dialogue and an ongoing political stalemate are blocking the country’s European integration and even renewing fears of conflict. In response, the Endowment provided increased support to watchdog, advocacy and policy initiatives promoting greater accountability and pro-democratic political institutions. NED also assisted youth and independent media groups that fostered freedom of expression, instilled democratic values, and promoted a better understanding of human rights among a new generation of political and civic leaders.

Despite arresting two leading war criminals in 2011, Serbia failed to meet all of the conditions necessary for Euro-Atlantic integration, especially building a constructive relationship with Kosovo. Ethnic unrest grew in troubled regions, and intolerance and extremism still plagues the country. As a result, NED supported youth NGOs working in multiethnic, vulnerable, and underdeveloped parts of the country, as well as those addressing persistent discrimination against minorities. Political and other special interests in Serbia continued to put pressure on independent media. NED therefore promoted freedom of information through support for technical assistance, investigative journalism training, and disseminating objective information.

Europe’s newest state, Kosovo, continued to face serious international and domestic challenges, and Kosovar society is still divided along ethnic lines. Pressure on free media and anticorruption NGOs grew. In 2011, NED supported programs monitoring accountability, boosting transparency, and strengthening the country’s fragile political institutions. NED particularly focused on supporting minority media, which faced difficult market conditions and struggled to maintain their objectivity and independence.

While Albania and Macedonia have made progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration, their transitions have been hampered by polarization between governing and opposition parties and flawed and contested elections. In 2011, NED supported some of the only programs that bridged the political divide in these two countries by bringing together youth and women from different political parties. In Macedonia, NED contributed to a cleaner election by supporting new media accountability tools and election monitoring.

In 2011, NED continued to work with civil society in Central Europe to assist democrats on a crossborder and regional basis in the former communist bloc and beyond. This work consisted primarily but not exclusively of Czech, Polish and Lithuanian NGOs sharing lessons learned, best practices and innovative program models with counterparts in Russia’s regions, Belarus, Moldova, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The projects transferred practical skills in the fields of independent media, strengthening political institutions and youth activism. A specific focus was on reinvigorating the Community of Democracies during Lithuania’s presidency. In 2011, the Europe Section also launched its first crossborder programs to assist democratic activists in Egypt.