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

Central and Eastern Europe

2013 was a year of divergence for the countries in Europe where the Endowment was active. Some states took historic steps in consolidating their democratic transitions and moving closer to joining the European Union. In others, vested interests blocked or rejected the reforms necessary for greater integration. Perhaps nowhere in the region were these contrasts so clear as in Ukraine. As the year came to a close, hopes were high that the Yanukovych government would sign an EU Association Agreement and reverse more than three years of democratic backsliding.

For much of 2013, NED’s Ukraine partners documented, spotlighted and opposed the government’s abuses of power, misuse of state resources, economic mismanagement, and biased media. President Yanukovych’s decision to not sign the long-negotiated agreement at the Vilnius Summit in late November unleashed a massive wave of protests and launched Ukraine’s most significant crisis and greatest opportunity since the country gained independence.

The Maidan demonstrations reflected Ukrainian society’s increased demands and expectations for greater accountability, good governance, freedom of expression and respect for rule of law, all of which have been NED priorities in the country. Endowment grantees played important roles in the peaceful protests in Kyiv. Organizations engaged in monitoring and reporting on the performance of elected and appointed officials contributed to the growing public awareness of corruption and impunity. Independent media groups played a key role in informing domestic and international audiences before and during the demonstrations. They also helped to secure the safety of journalists covering the protests by providing them with protective gear. Other partners carried out civic and youth activism campaigns that played a crucial role in the Maidan movement in Ukraine’s regions.

Belarus continued to suffer a hangover from the December 2010 political crackdown and 2011 financial crisis. In the absence of any major political events or developments during the year, the bulk of NED support went to independent media, which informed citizens about the country’s political deadlock, economic decline, and international isolation. The objective and accurate reporting of non-state newspapers, websites and bulletins contributed to the erosion of public support for the Lukashenka regime. Endowment assistance also helped human rights groups to aid the victims of ongoing repression and NGOs to support civic initiatives in the country’s regions.

In November, Moldova initialed an EU Association Agreement at the Vilnius Summit, taking a historic step towards closer integration with Europe. However, the country still faces many problems, including ineffective governance and rampant corruption. With NED support, organizations monitored the promises and performance of politicians and political parties, with a focus on corruption, such as violations of the conflict of interest law by government officials. As the situation in Transnistria deteriorated, NED grantees continued to promote human rights and civil society in the breakaway region.

Bosnia and Herzegovina remained Southeast Europe’s worst performing EU aspirant. With constitutional change deadlocked, the October census was expected to have major implications on needed reforms. The census offered civil society the opportunity to promote the equal rights of citizens and the challenge of monitoring a process prone to manipulation. Endowment support helped a coalition of NGOs from across the country to mount online campaigns fostering debate on equal rights and civic identity and enabling citizens to report irregularities with the process.

After the breakthrough April agreement with Serbia, Kosovo held important local elections in November. Although marred by violence, these historic contests were the first to induce Serbs in the north to participate and elect legitimate local representatives since the country became independent. NED partners organized candidate debates and nonpartisan get-out-the-vote campaigns in minority communities to educate and mobilize first-time and young voters.

Having improved relations with Kosovo, Serbia received a start date for EU accession talks. Yet coming to terms with the human rights violations committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia remains a critical step in the country’s democratic consolidation. Endowment support assisted youth organizations in Belgrade and the regions to promote transitional justice and defend the rights of vulnerable minorities.
With its Euro-Atlantic integration stymied by the protracted name dispute with Greece, Macedonia’s democratic development lost ground. Significant independent media outlets have been shuttered and political discourse has devolved into divisive and populist rhetoric that is inflaming interethnic relations. In response, NED grantees engaged young people in independent media and other projects promoting greater civic engagement and dialogue across ethnic lines.

After meeting the key EU demand of holding free and fair parliamentary elections in June, Albania was recommended for candidate status. But if the peaceful transfer of power is to translate into further democratic gains, citizens – especially young people – must play a greater role in promoting reforms and holding the government accountable. Endowment partners fostered youth involvement in local decision-making processes and worked to prepare the next generation of civic and political leaders.

Many of the problems confronting the Europe region are not confined to individual states. NED and its institutes continued to address the challenges of weak legislatures, underdeveloped political parties, ineffectual trade unions, apathetic youth, endemic corruption and violations of minority rights a regional basis. As well, NED continued to work with civil society groups in Central Europe to build democracy on a crossborder basis in the former communist bloc. A particular focus in 2013 was on crossborder programs fostering civil society development in the countries of the Eastern Partnership Initiative.