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Featured: Tim Karr, Free Press
Our Common Cause International partners the Centres for Civic Initiatives from Bosnia Herzegovina came to visit us in Washington DC this month instead of our staff travelling to them as we have in the past.  Before I talk more about the nature of our collaboration I want to do my American friends and others a solid who might get confused  about how all the words describing Bosnia Herzegovina (abbreviated BiH) and its people fit in (as I did when I first started working there).

Few quick facts:

Bosnia and Herzegovina are part of what was Yugoslavia (Don't just call it Bosnia-people from the Herzegovina region get offended...)

The country consist of three ethnic groups:

Bosniaks-who are Bosnians who adhere to the Muslim religion
Bosnian Serbs-who identify with Serb identity
Bosnian Croates-who identify with Croation identity

(It's ok to refer to everyone as Bosnian in english)

CCI leadership were here in Washington to meet with leading advocates in Washington DC to glean ideas about how they might improve their lobbying and advocacy work in Bosnia.  CCI is the largest advocacy group in southeastern Europe and they've managed to do a lot right.  You can visit their website here, it is pretty fancy and has cool sound effects.  Their work is very similar to what Common Cause does in the United States in terms of trying to increase government accountability to citizen input.  A major challenge they face, and one which many post communist countries face, is how to overcome public attitudes toward joining membership organizations and confronting apathy and cynicism from their fellow citizens.  Much has been written about this topic over the last 15 years, here is a recent article that seeks to explain the phenomena and builds on earlier research.

I have run into this issue often in my work..."people might want to participate in America but it's not the same here."   What I admire about the leadership at CCI is that while it is true that Bosnian have had a very different recent history and political legacy, they understand that people are people and if they are to successfully navigate the transition from a post communist, post conflict  country--citizens will have to play an important role.  I am looking forward to working with CCI over the next couple of years to figure what works in terms of citizen engagement in BiH.  And while other post communist countries have achieved some success in this area, it is still very much of a struggle.  My experience is that many groups I've met with bemoan the difficulties of engaging citizens but when I ask what they have tried and where they have failed, more often than not they let the idea of failure completely stiffle their efforts.

Some of the things I often share about American democracy with international groups I work with, in hopes of motivating them, is just how bereft democracy in the US would be without citizen actors.  Think about it; the abolitionist movement, women's rights, civil rights, child labor laws, freedom of information, open meetings, the right to organized labor... I could go on and on.  These victories all came about because of the active intervention of citizen groups and their allies in government.  Kind of breath taking if you think about it.

Special thanks for collaborating on the project to:  Ryan Alexander, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Nick Johnson-Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ed Mierzwinski-PIRG, Tim Karr-Free Press, Patrick Disney-National Iranian American Council, Layth Elhassani of Senator Michael Bennet's Office, Representative Capuano, Mathew Rojansky-Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tom Fitton-Judicial Watch and Sarah Dufendach, VP of Legislation and Common Cause who went the extra mile.