NDI Goes to Brussels

NDI President Ken Wollack addressing leaders of the EPP, ALDE and PES parties at EPP headquarters in Brussels, October 2017

 

NDI President Ken Wollack visited Brussels this fall to discuss how democracy is faring in Central and Eastern Europe as the region confronts heightened Kremlin involvement, democratic backsliding and rising skepticism over European integration. Among other interlocutors, Wollack met with leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), and the Party of European Socialists (PES), plus affiliated think tanks. NDI has affiliation with all three party groups and works with them to support political party development and reform.

The European leaders spoke of combining forces in the former Yugoslavia, Central Europe and Eastern Partnership countries to resolve ongoing partisan conflicts that harm good governance and political consensus. It’s the kind of demonstrable engagement that Europe can make at a time when many countries, both in and outside of the European Union (EU), need democracy booster shots. NDI’s in-country programs and longstanding relations with European political parties across the mainstream spectrum make the Institute a bridge between Brussels and Europe’s eastern reaches.

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Roma integrate in one Slovak town—and everyone benefits

Two Roma employed by the municipal enterprise in Spissky Hrhov, Slovakia, show that the “whole community” approach to democracy and human rights begins at the local level

Like other small towns in this mountainous region of Slovakia, Spissky Hrhov faced tremendous uncertainty in the aftermath of the democratic revolution of 1989 and Slovak independence in 1993. People rejoiced in the overthrow of communism. But with a moribund economic base, no evident means to attract investment, and ethnic divisions, Spissky Hrhov seemed consigned to economic subsistence and social conflict.

For Spissky Hrhov’s sizable number of Roma residents, the situation was particularly dire.

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NDI Changemaker: Through the Barbed-Wire Fence Toward Democracy

I grew up in the capital of what is now Slovakia, right on the river that borders Austria. I remember being near this very river, peering over to see what was on the other side. A barbed-wire fence sat between the two countries, a literal and figurative separation between democracy and the “Iron Curtain” that laid itself across Central and Eastern Europe at the time. The presence of the fence is something that I have since held in my mind; it was and continues to be a part of my daily reality - something continuously propelling me toward democracy.

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Grounding Theory in Practice: Youth programs in Jordan and Kosovo

Usharek+ participants in Jordan launch their advocacy campaign with the goal of improving traffic safety. 

NDI’s new theory of change unifies important elements of youth political participation programs and depicts how they can interplay to change practices of youth participation. This theory, which I blogged about last month, was not merely academic exercise from the “ivory tower.” It draws on discussions with young politically active women and men across Africa and Latin America, collaborative discussions with democracy and governance practitioners from around the world, and deep reviews of effective youth programs NDI is conducting in Jordan and Kosovo. The Jordan and Kosovo programs show how the theory of change can play out in practice.

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Fighting for Ethnic and Religious Tolerance in Central Europe: Muneeb’s Story

Muslim in faith, Czech at heart: Muneeb leads fellow participants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a recent NDI gathering on joint responses to growing religious and ethnic intolerance  

Muneeb has a quiet reserve that gives way to a beaming smile when you ask him about his work and life. A long-time resident of Brno, the capital of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, Muneeb’s English is halting, so he is quick to turn to Czech, his everyday language for three decades. Muneeb is married, a father, and runs the Czech Center for Muslim Communities. He reserves his native Arabic for family and spiritual matters.

For Muneeb and other longtime residents of Muslim faith—many if not most Czech citizens—the refugee crisis has lifted the curtain on some unpleasant realities. The unprecedented wave of humanity from the greater Middle East has elicited sympathy and aid from many quarters of Czech society. But many express fear about what the presence of foreigners means for their safety and identity—although few if any refugees have actually set foot on Czech soil, much less settled there.

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Taking the Road Less Traveled: NDI’s Conflict Transformation Program in Kosovo

The emerging leaders group 'Diverse Your-Selfie' used this symbol of a hat to promote diversity by taking selfies and posting them to social media networks.

NDI Kosovo recently concluded a more than two-year long program on Conflict Mitigation, aiming -- through its own activities and with the support of its partners -- to cultivate relationships across the country’s divisions, thus easing ethnic tensions in Kosovo. Through the program, more than 600 Kosovars engaged in diverse dynamics across ethnic lines, overcoming their possible post-war fears, prejudices and mistrust, thus establishing rewarding collaboration.

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Developing Democracy in Kosovo, Europe’s Youngest Country

A workshop on Gender Responsive Budgeting, held in October 2012, where women councilors developed an advocacy plan and timeline for their municipality’s priority issue.

Meaningful democracy means the equal participation of women and men in political and public life.

In 1999, just after the war, I found myself back in my hometown, having spent months as a refugee in Macedonia. As Kosovo recovered, the UN and many international organizations were present to help Kosovars build institutions and capacities and to reconcile communities. I started to run the youth center in my hometown, and I had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with young people while I worked there. We were a new generation and we had gone through difficult and different experiences during the conflict, so getting together in this way was a real challenge at first.

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Slovakia: Democracy from Below, Not from on High

Recent anti-Roma speech throughout Europe, including in Slovakia, negatively impacts Roma children like these, photographed by Nadezhda Mouzykina in a segregated Slovak settlement. 

Editor's Note: Stanislav Daniel, NDI Roma Political Participation Program Alumnus and Coordinator of Romani Early Years Network, contributed to this piece.

Slovakia’ ruling SMER party convened its annual congress in December. Although a social democratic party now in power for a number of years, the congress had the unfortunate political trappings of a populist, right-wing gathering. Instead of pronouncing on poverty and inequality and other issues important to all citizens, the party chose instead to scapegoat Slovakia’s most vulnerable constituency—the Roma—as public support for a far-right political alternative grows.

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Political Parties in Kosovo Should Be the Cornerstone of Democracy, Not a Gimmick.

Cross-party training events like this one, part of the Women Political Empowerment Training conducted by NDI, would have a bigger impact if political parties in Kosovo became more inclusive and created a space for women and youth.

In a small country like Kosovo, in order to “get things done,” you need to be affiliated with a political party, understand how to navigate the political system and lobby hard for your cause. None of these requirements would be an issue if ideologies and policies were at the heart of discussion and negotiations. Instead, party affiliation in Kosovo is based on business relationships - not policy - and this political culture undermines internal party democracy.

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Why Cyber-Attacks Are Anything But a Taste of Our Own Medicine

Headlines are warning us about Russian “mischief” in the U.S. elections. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence have said they are confident that the Russian government is behind hacks into US email accounts and that cyber-probes of some state election systems may also be traced to Russia. A group of prominent national security and defense experts has predicted that Russian hackers will use the stolen emails to build credibility, then leak fake documents in order to manipulate voters’ opinions and, possibly, choices at the ballot box. These cyber-espionage and disinformation campaigns sound like the stuff of spy novels, except they’re real. What’s going on?

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