Congratulations to all on this important anniversary, especially our excellent staff under Nenad Sebek’s direction, for all that has been accomplished during the past 15 years. I certainly believe we have made a contribution.
As one of the founders, and the founding chairman of the CDRSEE, I recall vividly our origins and original conception and am very proud that we have remained true to it. A group of us attended a conference at Ditchley House, near Oxford, I believe in 1996, which focused on the issues relating to the Balkans in the post-Soviet, post-Yugoslav period. John Bradamas was there, as were Costa Carras, Nikos Efthymiadis and of course quite a few other international experts. There was a similar meeting in Thessaloniki in 1996, chaired by John and sponsored by the Association for Democracy in the Balkans, which was chaired by Costa.
At these two conferences it became clear that the southeast European region was undergoing major changes and that democratic institutions as well as better understanding among the various peoples of the region were of high importance if the Balkan area was to make progress and avoid further conflict. A small group of us gathered in Nikos Efthymiadis’s small apartment in London and talked about the need to establish an organization that would promote these goals, and we were a bit audacious. We didn’t have significant funding (barely any at all), an office or a staff when we started. But we did have a conception, and through the leadership of our Greek participants, Nikos and Costas, we put together a terrific board and staff and, with small small funding and lots of high expectation, started right up.
We decided early on not to have government participation on our board; we decided to have board representation from civil society and academic and business communities from the entire region if possible, and to stand firm on developing programs that were based on firm democratic principals.
As I recall we had a long discussion about the name of the organization, and what we decided upon was probably a name that is too long and a bit cumbersome -- but we very much wanted our two themes, reconciliation as well as democracy, to be enshrined in our name (as I recall Costa was most insistent on this). And so we constituted ourselves as the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe, and set to work.
In thinking back on our early days, I want to make special note of the inspirational leadership provided by my longtime friend and mentor, U.S. Congressman John Bradamas, who provided to us vision and guidance, as well as practical help with policy makers in Washington and Europe, and also the important roles of Nikos Efthymiadis as a trusted business leader and forward-looking thinker in Thessaloniki, and Costas Carras as a person of principle, a deep thinker and an active doer.
Let’s all work to make an impact over the next 15 years!
Matthew Nimetz, founding chair and board member