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Civic Bridges (Kosova, Montenegro, Serbia)
       Civic Bridges (originally called Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges) is a program begun in 1997 by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) and Civic Initiatives in Belgrade as a means to foster civic and democratic development. Initially one program covering all of Yugoslavia, the BBBB program was unique in that it brought together and supported civic organizations around common themes with the aim of building a network that could transcend the region's conflicts. While the goal of supporting pro-democracy NGOs supporting moderation was sound, after the end of the Kosova war in 1999, IDEE organized separate, but similar, Civic Bridges programs in Kosova, Montenegro, and Serbia. Each provided a wide range of training, education, outreach, and assistance programs that cross ethnic, religious, and national boundaries.

          Civic Bridges' work in Kosova and Montenegro supported the development of key NGOs leading the civic movement at a time of movement towards independence. Small grants programs aided more than 25 NGOs in both Kosova and Montenegro; additionally, IDEE and its partners, Kosova Action for Civic Initiatives and the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Montengro, organized workshops for nearly 100 NGO activists each involving trainers from different parts of Eastern Europe. Both organizations played important roles in fostering an atmosphere of civic dialogue, human and minority rights, and democratic principles at a central time in their countries' histories.

          The main part of the Civic Bridges program, however, was support for the work of Civic Initiatives in Serbia, which had begun the broader program in 1997. from 1997 to 2003, Civic Initiatives organized:

  • 250 basic and advanced NGO training workshops, reaching 2,000 NGO activists from nearly 500 NGOs. These workshops are taught by CI’s own team of trainers called Tim Tri;
  • approximately 150 Democracy School classes and Democracy Seminars for more than 1,000 people;
  • nearly 40 Town Hall Meetings from 1997 to 2000) and 70 Candidate Forums (in 2000), and ongoing youth forums;
  • an NGO Resource Center, serving between 25 and 50 NGOs each month;
  • a Small Grants Program, which helped 70 local NGOs and regional NGO centers;
  • published more than a dozen pamphlets and books on civic life and democratic values;
  • initiated the process for creation a national organization of NGOs.
  •           One of the most important aspects of the program was the participation of democracy activists and scholars from the Centers for Pluralism Network in a series of Democracy Seminars, which became a schooling ground for many of the activists that became prominent in 2000 during the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. The Democracy Seminars featured sociologist and democracy theorist Jakub Karpinski (who provided three of the main texts used by the Democracy Schools), Vincuk Viacorka, leader of the Belarus Popular Front and founder of the Supolnasc Civil Society Center, and human and minority rights specialists Istvan Haller and Gabriel Andreescu from Romania. (Later, partnerships with Centers for Pluralism in Romania led to the Young Political Leaders School.)

              Drawing on these and other efforts (such as a “Back to Europe” public action campaign), Civic Initiatives helped organize a number of NGO coalitions to act against the repression of the Slobodan Milosevic regime and to mobilize the civic community around a successful non-partisan election campaign called Izlaz 2000 (Exit 2000). This coalition of 200 NGOs organized a national civic campaign, facilitated donor assistance to over 200 local campaigns, and successfully worked in minority and disadvantaged areas to encourage citizens to vote in the September 24 elections. Izlaz 2000's civic campaign, as well as the efforts of Otpor and other civic groups, is considered one of the most successful pro-democracy efforts in the last ten years. 

               Through the Civic Bridges program, IDEE has also provided support to a number of other civic and human rights groups and independent media, including the Yugoslav Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Students Union of Serbia, TV VIN, Free Serbia, and the Committee for Human Rights in Leskovac, among others. Civic Bridges was supported through grants of USAID and supplemented by grants from the German Marshall Fund, the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as several European donors.

              The Civic Bridges and Civic Initiatives models have been adopted by a number of NGOs and international organizations. In 2003, IDEE launched a new program called Civic Bridges-Central Asia that established its training, education, networking, and publications program for NGO leaders and activists from the five countries in that region.

              For more information about this program, please contact Eric Chenoweth or Irena Lasota, [email protected]


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