Recent momentous changes, shifts and events in Europe over the past few months have given rise to not only concern, but also fear, anger and reactionary responses. However, small signs of hopeful progress in politics, social advancements and civil society must be celebrated and seized on as the first steps for real change, while not being naïve about the challenges that still lie ahead. The CDRSEE has always striven to maintain a manner of cautious optimism; working hard to build on every cause for hope and advancement while being practical and planning for the possibility that sometimes ‘two steps forward’ can be followed by ‘one step back’.
Overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles, the FYR of Macedonia has nonetheless established a democratic, diverse government, based on the ideals of inclusion and representation for all and is making distinct, positive strides towards compromises and conciliation on the way towards potential NATO membership and an EU future. Likewise, the Greek government, noting the willingness of the new government of their neighbours in the north to concede some ground on certain issues, are starting to re-examine their approaches. One gesture, however small, invites a similarly positive response, or at least, an opening of minds towards possibilities. This potential domino effect should be seen as a source of inspiration. The recent induction of Montenegro into the NATO family is also a clear sign of progress of the region towards not only greater cooperation, but also a widening of attitudes and worldviews. Serbia, meanwhile, has nominated its first woman and first openly gay prime minister. While this position is one that is determined by the president (not the public) and has yet to be confirmed by parliament, we should, in fact, we MUST, recognise the significance of is event as one that is a huge leap towards open-mindedness in Europe as a whole. At a time when it is deemed newsworthy that the new Prime Minister of a Western EU country is openly gay and at a point when LGBT rights are being eroded in many countries of the wider Europe, that this could happen in a country in which the gay pride parades are routinely disrupted and LGBT rights are repressed, is nothing short of a moment to celebrate.
There is cause for hope. There is always a need for optimism, but we must not be swept up in hyperbole or assume that there is no more work to be done. We must continue on our path, dedicate ourselves to the defence of diversity and the promotion of an open, tolerant civil society.