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Frontpage News 2009 Tearing down the walls

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Tearing down the walls

On 9 November 1989, civil action by non-violent demonstrators led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, leading to democracy and the reunification of Europe. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway acknowledge the importance of NGOs in promoting democratic societies and have placed funding for civil society at the core of the EEA and Norway Grants.

A strong civil society is fundamental for achieving democratic development. A vivid reminder is today’s anniversary of the non-violent demonstrations that sparked the fall of the Berlin Wall on the night of 9 November 1989. Beyond the unification of Germany, the event has become the prime symbol of the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the beginning of the political and economical transformation in Central and Eastern Europe that has played out over the last 20 years.

European cohesion

Based on European Union led reforms and financial flows from the west to the east, convergence towards Western Europe has been promoted over the last two decades in the economic, political and social realms. The contribution of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to this wider European integration effort includes NGO funds established in all of the 10 Central European countries which have joined the EU in this decade. To date, 1500 projects are supported, with 400 of them specifically targeting democracy, human rights, and antidiscrimination. The Berlin Wall is gone, but civil society still has a vital role in tearing down walls of inequality, injustice and discrimination in our societies.

Polish media watchdog

The transition to democratic rule included a gradual process from censorship to a free press. Among the supported NGO projects are activities to protect this media freedom and remove remaining barriers to free speech. Polish journalists are among the groups benefiting from financial support for their actions to broaden their press freedom. One project under the Polish NGO fund is “WatchDog of media freedom in Poland” by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland. 16 correspondents in each of Poland’s regions report monthly on violations of media freedom, the foundation press for changes to legislation narrowing or hampering the freedom of speech, and initiate public debates on media freedom.

Grantmakers East Forum

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is also the backdrop of the Grantmakers East Forum 2009 (GEF), an annual gathering of grant makers working in countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, taking place in Berlin on 11-12 November. Among the events at this year’s GEF, centred on the progress made in the transition towards democratic societies in Central and Eastern Europe, is a session put forward by the EEA and Norway Grants on sustaining the commitment to human rights and democracy.