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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.1 (2001) 51-56

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Promoting Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe

John Brademas

The people of Yugoslavia have taken a dramatic step, ending the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic and moving to rejoin the international community as a democracy. But the transition to genuinely free and democratic institutions in Yugoslavia will not be easy. The new president, Vojislav Kostunica, faces immense challenges in picking up the pieces from a decade of authoritarianism and ethnic conflict. The costs of Milosevic's iron-handed rule have been devastating in loss of human life, a decimated economy, a web of corruption and criminality, and a breakdown of the social fabric of the country. In applauding the victory for democracy in Yugoslavia, we in the United States and Europe must at the same time recognize our own responsibility to reinforce the democratic gains there and throughout the Balkans.

Last summer in Berlin, at a forum on "Promoting Democracy in Southeast Europe," cosponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which I chair, I heard Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speak words I believe directly relevant to the changing configuration of forces in Yugoslavia. She said:

First, democracy may be the most stable form of government in the long run, but in the short run it is among the most fragile. The leaders of new [End Page 51] democracies are often required to implement dramatic economic and political reforms in countries with little democratic tradition and a host of inherited problems. In such situations, democratic processes must be relentlessly nurtured, for their success cannot be assumed.

Second, as democracy has spread, truly global cooperation on its behalf has become possible. However, [globalization] has also made democracy more vulnerable in more places. Southeastern Europe is a prime example. So our new Community of Democracies will begin life with much work to do.

Since its founding in 1983, the NED has played a significant role in supporting democrats throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans. A nongovernmental organization financed by the federal government, the NED exists to encourage democracy through grants to private organizations that work for free and fair elections, independent media, an independent judiciary, and the other components of a genuine democracy in countries that either do not enjoy democracy or where it is struggling to survive. The NED and other democracy-promoting foundations in the West must not fail to assist the peoples of southeastern Europe as they move toward fully free and open systems of self-government.

I have been involved in another initiative that bears directly on the Balkans and which complements the work of NED in the region. Three years ago, a small group of persons, chiefly from the Balkans, decided to create what we call the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe. The center officially opened its offices in spring 2000 in the northern Greek city of Salonika. It is dedicated to building networks among individuals and groups working for the democratic and peaceful development of southeastern Europe.

The chairman of the center's board is a distinguished American diplomat, Matthew Nimetz, who was under secretary of state with Cyrus Vance and is special envoy for United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mediate between Athens and Skopje, and is a founder of Mediterranean Quarterly and member of its editorial board. The center's board is composed overwhelmingly of leaders from throughout southeastern Europe. Ambassador Nimetz and I are the only two American members. [End Page 52]

Although the center is administratively headquartered in Salonika, which, with excellent transportation and communications facilities, is easily accessible from throughout the region, its activities are carried out in the several countries of southeastern Europe.

The center's inaugural program is the Joint History Project, which brings together professors of Balkan history from throughout the region to discuss ways in which history is used to influence political and social relations in southeastern Europe. The scholars seek to produce more constructive, less nationalistic history textbooks and thereby ultimately enhance the understanding and respect of the peoples of the region for each other.

It is evident...


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