CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND RECONCILIATION IN SOUTHEAST EUROPE

Additional Information

The International Community until then had invested a significant amount of effort and resources in Southeast Europe to create institutions and mechanisms building up the region as an integral part of Europe. However, many of the problems that shook the Balkans throughout the 1990s still had not been resolved, and this project addressed one of most difficult issues: how to develop effective tools and mechanisms, programmes and strategies that would change a pattern of hostility and conflicts into co-operation and mutual respect for common values and principles? How to change attitudes and mindsets simultaneously with the building of democratic structures?

On-going ethnic and political tensions in SEE emphasised an urgent need for a common regional initiative from locally generated actions enriched by international experiences of individuals and institutions that share the same goal - to overcome divisions of the past in order to build up a better common future. To create such an initiative, it was necessary to investigate the specific ways of enhancing and encouraging social dialogue and building social cohesion in this part of Europe. Therefore, one of the priorities was to support civil society activities and to develop appropriate tools and mechanisms, programmes and strategies that would change a pattern of hostility and conflicts into cooperation and mutual respect for common values and principles.

In order to add value and bring greater coherence to the wide variety of initiatives that respond to the above questions, the Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE), based in Thessaloniki, in cooperation with the Stability Pact Office for SEE and the Hellenic Presidency of the European Union, developed a plan to enhance the reconciliation process with the following long-term objectives:

  • To encourage a creative vision of how to overcome the legacy of the past and build up genuine peace, a just political and social order and improve the quality of life for all citizens in the South East Europe;
  • To test the waters for the institutionalisation of appropriate mechanisms and instruments that would create a modus vivendi for these societies with a host of moral, religious, political, and social allegiance by creating a regional Charter (working title: Helsinki + ) aiming at cementing European democratic values in the region;

The specific activities were:

  • An exploratory Brainstorming Workshop, in April 2003, to delineate the strategy for redressing reconciliation and seeking ways and means to reach a common vision of a multi-ethnic region at peace with itself and, therefore, that much closer to European Union integration;
  • A Database to catalogue the various initiatives dealing with reconciliation currently active in SEE. This database provided a way to analyse existing initiatives and to avoid duplication in planning future work and to maximize synergies in support of any larger initiative;
  • The facilitation of an agreement on a set of principles that could form the basis of a possible Regional Charter.
  • The Internet Forum. This was the first activity within the initiative "Reconciling for the Future". It was designed as an inclusive dialogue that should facilitate a long-term process of building up a regional consensus on fundamental rights and interests with the intentions of developing both a wider reconciliation network and political initiative for the regional stabilisation and association process. It was planned that the Forum will live until the beginning of the Brainstorming Workshop.

The immediate aims of the Internet Forum were:

  • To start up a region-wide dialogue that will help refine the agenda of the "Reconciling for the Future" Workshop;
  • To collect information of who is doing what in the field of reconciliation in order to start up a regional data-base that will keep record of such activities and projects and provide a mechanism for maximizing synergies and avoiding duplication;
  • To identify visionary projects and local champions of the process and advocate them to potential donors; and
  • To enhance a youth forum that will give a voice to the new generation to say how they want their countries and the region to look like in the future.

The Internet Forum was launched on Tueday, 21st January 2003.

Being aware of the complexity and delicacy of the addressed issue(s), the Forum debate started with several guiding questions and set up basic rules of a dialogue. Participants were encouraged to freely express their views and interests in an open and constructive fashion.

Project Timetable:

20 January 2003: Internet Forum debate. Starting up the Database
3-6 April 2003: Brainstorming Workshop
April - June 2003: Completion of the Database. Establishing the follow-up activities.

Methodology

The methodology of the project aimed at an evolving, organic, open initiative to be enriched by all involved, but it rested on solid guiding principles that run throughout each phase and each activity. These main principles were inclusiveness, local ownership, seeking thorough and accurate information, and learning other "truths" through dialogue. The following components formed the basis of this project:

  • Full participation and co-operation of local actors - individuals and institutions and their structural and operational cohesion strengthened by a system of IT communication;
  • Building on, rather than replacing or repeating existing initiatives and ensuring that the various groups are linked up because to be successful, they must be stronger than the individual sum of their actions;
  • The promotion of common values and knowledge about facts based on empirical research and analysis conducted with a comparative method;
  • Understanding common interests and ensuring a constant process of ideas mingling with other ideas, experiences mingling with other experiences.