Central European Foundation (CEF) was founded in 1994 in Bratislava as an independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that has strived to support and develop the Central European region, its identity and values from its very inception.
The uniqueness of this geographical area, where a meeting of cultures, people and nationalities is natural, and where their coexistence is characterized by mutual respect and enrichment, led the founders to the idea of creating an institution that would support these values. These values also have their place in our current world and when they are respected, it results in democratic coexistence and a culturally rich and well-educated as well as economically and civically mature society.
During its 15 years of operation, the foundation has contributed to the creative development of Central Euorpean identity and actively supported specific Central European values – and not only in Slovakia. From the beginning, CEF has emphasized civic society, protection of human rights, support for spiritual and cultural values, regional economic development and a deepening of economic cooperation in Central Europe as a whole. Society, as well as the needs of grantees quite naturally change with time. This fact encourages us to find ways of tailoring the foundation’s programs to changing needs in order to keep the foundation on track and continue to strive for the goals set out at its founding. For this reason, especially over the last few years, we’ve added education and development of young, talented people to the areas of support mentioned.
From over 600 projects supported over 15 years with a total sum of 5,3 million EUR in grants, we’ve chosen at least a few of the extraordinary ones.
The conference entitled Central European Identity (2002), whose importance was confirmed by the participation of outstanding personalities from politics and public life in Central Europe, provided an opportunity for contemplation of the meaning of Central European identity in politics, economics, media and culture, as well as the future role of the region within Europe. Participants included: Prince Karl Schwarzenberg, former Hungarian President Árpád Göncz, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe Brigita Schmögnerová and Austrian columnist Paul Lendvai, among others. The results of the conference as well as the presentations made by participating personalities and experts in economics, media, culture and politics from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Austria and Croatia were subsequently published in a book of the same name.
The position of women and their active participation in public life was addressed by the foundation in connection with the parliamentary elections of 2002 and the referendum on Slovakia’s accession to the European Union. Through nonpartisan education, training, provision of information, work with local women leaders and volunteers and participation in discussion forums and clubs, two inter-related projects Women in Parliamentary Elections in 2002 (2002) and Women in the Referendum on the Accession to the EU (2003) focused on raising the motivation of women to actively engage in public life and, thus, strengthen their influence on society, as well as their own personal lives.
The publication Investment Survey of Regions and Towns in Southern Slovakia (2003), which contains investment opportunities in 22 towns of the region of southern Slovakia strived to contribute to the region’s economic development. Use of the publication in practice was the theme of an international conference and working meeting of participants from Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.
As with many other nonprofit organizations, the foundation’s grant funds were significantly increased with the introduction of the 2% tax assignation mechanism in 2004 (until then the funds consisted almost exclusively of initial reserves from the founders and gifts). Thanks to this, CEF launched the first of its long-term programs entitled Regions for Us. By providing financial contributions, the program helped almost 70 schools and pre-schools throughout Slovakia to reconstruct school buildings, which were often in an alarming state of disrepair or to improve upgrade school facilities and/or make them more accessible to students with disabilities.
In the following period, the foundation launched three more long-term programs, which continue today and which strive to support the development of society as well as the individual. These programs complement each other and we believe that, thanks to them, Slovakia will become a more cultured, more educated and more developed country.
The title of the program Celebrating Arts & Culture speaks for itself. In every society, arts and culture have their indisputable place and lead to development. Art can serve to entertain and broaden one’s horizons, but also has the power to educate and cultivate the viewer. It has a deeply humanizing effect on society and its impact is very difficult to measure. Since 2006, when the foundation opened the first grant round, almost 200 artistic projects were supported with a sum of approximately 2.2 million EUR. Despite the projects’ diversity, they all have one thing in common – the strength and potential to inspire change. Thanks to increasing quality and an inarguable benefit to society, some of these projects and cultural institutions have been supported repeatedly by the foundation:
- ART GALLERIES: Bratislava City Gallery,
- MUSEUMS: Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Medzilaborce
- THEATERS: LUDUS Theater, Radošina Naïve Theatre, Košice State Theater, Jókai Theater in Komárno, KONTRA Theater
- FESTIVALS: Viva Musica!, International Theatre Festival Divadelná Nitra, Jazznica, Barbakan, Meteorit International Arts Festival, Gemersko-turniansky festival
- PRIZES: Oskar Čepan Prize
- EVENTS: Month of Photography
Along with culture, quality education is another essential prerequisite for the development of society. In 2007, the alarming state of Slovak elementary schools led the foundation to support a program whose goal is to overturn the prevailing authoritarian approach to teaching (which does not develop the student’s personality) and introduce teaching methods based on a participatory and partnership-oriented approach by teachers and the school as a whole. The program Schools that Think (Škola, ktorej to myslí) gives teachers tools in the form of new teaching methods and skills, which help students solve problems, be more independent in the learning process, develop skills to evaluate the importance of information available and form their own opinion, thus making them more prepared for life. In three years, the program has trained almost 1 600 teachers at more than 50 elementary and secondary schools all over Slovakia and, as a result, has improved the education of approximately 21 500 children and young people.
Under the pre-revolution system, there prevailed a false equality in Slovakia and an effort to reduce differences to a socially acceptable level. Differences and outstanding cases were persecuted. The country and its society are slow to shake off this heritage and the new generations who didn’t experience this pernicious phenomenon are best able to embrace change. The program Talents of a New Europe strives to achieve the opposite effect. Since 2007 it has been supporting young, extraordinarily gifted scientists, artists and athletes who have a vision of where they want their talent to go and how to develop it further. So far, the program has support 85 outstanding talents between the ages of 8 and 20 (13 for the second time) with a total sum of almost 200 000 EUR.
Providing excellent education to all and extraordinary support to the extraordinary – these are the goals of CEF’s long-term programs for children and youth.
Over the years, the foundation has cooperated with many local and foreign partners. Without their financial and non-financial assistance the foundation would have been able to fulfill its mission only in a very limited way. We warmly thank all the companies and individuals who have played a role in our work.
Alike we thank all our employees – present and past – who with their everyday work have contributed to the achieved results.