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Bosnia/Central Europe: Think Tank To Strengthen Democracy

Vienna, 20 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S., Bosnian and Austrian governments have opened a Center for Democracy in Vienna to help set up and strengthen democratic institutions throughout Central Europe and Bosnia.

Government representatives from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Denmark also attended this weekend's official opening of the first such "think tank," a policy-review and analysis group, in the region. A spokesperson tells RFE/RL the center would bring together experts on the Balkans to discuss how best to foster democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries in Central Europe by building up infrastructure and democratic awareness. The center will receive government and private funding.

The center's first project is to analyze how to improve media freedoms and the conduct of democratic elections.

Bosnia's Vice President Ejup Ganic, who was behind the idea and has been named president of the center, said: "The center can achieve a great deal in solving problems within the region and is a significant step forward."

"We will be able to mobilize many capable individuals, and at a cheap cost. Of course, there is much to be done. We have to build up our democratic institutions and give a chance for tolerance and multi-ethnicity to grow in the broadest sense," said Ganic.

Specific projects have yet to be named, but will be determined over the course of the next three years, during which organizers say they hope the center's focus will be broadened to cover other countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic which might seek advice and funding.

Joan Corbett, U.S. charge d'affairs in Vienna, said the whole project was open to all countries throughout the region, including Serbia and Croatia.

"We aim to promote democracy, human rights and civilian institutions in the Balkans and Central Europe, as a whole, by bringing together scholars, 'think tanks' and experts on the Balkans," said Corbett.

Austria's government has expressed a willingness to support projects proposed by the center over the next three years. Secretary General of Austria's Foreign Ministry, Amassador Albert Rohan, said Austria had been an obvious choice for the center's location because of its promixity to the areas concerned and its neutrality.

The center has also been backed by the Vienna-based, veteran Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal.

The United States, in turn, has agreed to provide space for the center's conferences and exhibitions at Vienna's "Amerika Haus."

"Some losses during the war you can never compensate for. But, we have to live for our grandchildren, not our past, and this (the center) is part of making a better future," said Ganic. "We shouldn't be disappointed by meeting obstacles to democracy on the way, but the important thing is that we are moving in the right direction."

Democracy in Bosnia, he said, would also receive a boost from the mass opposition protests against the government in neighbouring Serbia.

"Nationalists throughout the Balkans are running their last lap," he said.