A conference of the non-governmental organizations of Yugoslavia took place in Belgrade, September 3 to September 5, 1999. The conference was organized by the Belgrade-based NGO, Civic Initiatives, in the framework of the project "Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges" coordinated in cooperation with the Washington-based Institute for Democracy in East Europe.

The conference included 206 participants from 144 non-governmental organizations from 38 of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's towns and 20 international and Central and Eastern Europe non-governmental organizations. It was also the first time the representatives of Citizen's Parliaments attended such a gathering.

The conference assessed the conditions under which NGOs functioned in the post-war period and discussed topics for future priority. It was concluded that relations between the state and non-governmental organizations were negative. Partnership relations, characteristic of developed democracy, should be established through a drastic alteration of existing legal regulations. This will be feasible only with widespread political change.

NGOs play a decisive role in the process of change and the promotion of civic activism for democratic governance. In that context, the example of Slovakia's OK 98 Campaign, presented to the participants by keynote speaker, Pavol Demes, was extremely useful.

The tragic humanitarian situation of both refugees as well as the local population, requires urgent and efficient resolution. Non-governmental organizations are ready and capable to provide and distribute needed humanitarian aid, yet a state-established monopoly prevents the implementation of this effort. Consequently, this conference resulted in the creation of a coordinating body of NGOs for humanitarian issues and in the launching of an initiative for the urgent change of the current law.

Inter-ethnic relations were highlighted as one of the causes of the current social crisis. Apart from resolving the impending crisis situation, it was also suggested that future conflicts could be prevented by more and better education advocating tolerance and inter-ethnic dialogue. This discussion also focused on the question of responsibility for:

* the start of the war
* the ethnic cleansing campaign; and
* the complete exclusion of Yugoslavia from the international community.

NGOs consider the establishment of intensive local and regional networks as the only means for the efficient functioning of civil society. The first concrete moves in that direction were made at the conference - intensified cooperation between women's organizations from Subotica, Ulcinj (an Albanian organization), Novi Pazar, Nis and Kraljevo was agreed on, with the final goal of establishing a Forum of women's organizations. In addition, the Vrsac-based (in Serbia) NGO, The Urban Workshop together with the Society for Education in Malopolska, Poland agreed on a joint project on alternative education.

The conference also discussed the current financial and staff situation in the Yugoslav NGO sector. It was underlined that significant changes would take time and that the strategy of patient incremental development was the only way to ensure stable results.