Do otpornosti kroz zajedništvo

10. jul 2019. godine –

Novo izdanje Balkan Civic Practice koje je objavila Balkanska mreža za razvoj civilnog društva (BCSDN) posvećeno je razmatranju izazova u okruženju za razvoj civilnog društva u Zapadnom Balkanu i Turskoj, fokusirajući se na lokalne odgovore u borbi protiv zatvaranja građanskog prostora. Cilj ovog izdanja je da sakupi mišljenja stručnjaka, akademika i aktivista iz mreže BCSDN-a i šire, kako bi raspravljali o tome šta se može učiniti da se promoviše građanski prostor u zemljama zapadnog Balkana.

Deleći priče o otpornosti u vremenima sužavanja građanskog prostora na Balkanu i široj Evropi, ovo izdanje se osvrće na glavne rasprave, ideje i zaključke Međunarodne nedelje civilnog društva Moć zajedništva! Međunarodnu nedelju civilnog društva 2019 (ICSW) organizovale su Građanske inicijative sa međunarodnom mrežom CIVICUS, i u saradnji sa BCSDN-om, ovog aprila u Beogradu.

Najvažnije rezultate ovog događaja u tekstu pod nazivom Snažno civilno društvo za snažnu demokratiju, predstavlja naša Milica Antić, koordinatorka na programu za jačanje kapaciteta civilnog društva.

Njen članak na engleskom možete pročitati u nastavku.

 

STRONGER CIVIL SOCIETY FOR STRONGER DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD

The Power of Togetherness

Author:
Milica Antic (Civic Initiatives, Serbia)June 2019

ABSTRACT

The world’s governments have tended to leave less space for civil society in democratic countries, which can be confirmed on many examples not only in the Western Balkans but in the whole world. In the latest report of the CIVICUS Monitor we can evidence human rights defenders being detained, journalist being beaten up, freedoms decreasing constantly and the lawmakers creating an environment for undemocratic behavior to become legal.
Bearing in mind that this problem is not unique only for less democratic countries, but also for developed democracies, ICSW 2019 created an agenda for gathering people from all around the world to share ideas, tools and good practice to overcome the trend of shrinking civic space. More than 800 people participated in at least one of the 70 events organized from 8th to 12th April in Serbia capital – Belgrade. The conference has been divided in three pillars: Bridges, Stairs and Streets all discussing the solutions for cornered civil society.
Participating and organizing an event like this left a mark on civil society in Serbia, but more importantly, it empowered others to do more and aim for more – more freedoms, more rights, more cooperation, more support, much more.

The governments of the world are leaving less and less space for civil society in democratic countries, which can be confirmed through many examples not only in the Western Balkans, but in the whole world. The latest CIVICUS Monitor report evidences human rights defenders being detained, journalists being beaten up, freedoms decreasing constantly and the lawmakers creating an environment for undemocratic behavior to become legal.

Bearing in mind that this problem does not only arise in younger democracies, International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a global event organized by CIVICUS, which gathers civil society representatives every 18 months, created an agenda to bring together people from all around the world to share ideas, tools and good practices to overcome the trend of shrinking civic space. More than 700 attendees participated in70 events organized from 8 to 12 April in Serbian capital – Belgrade. The conference, organized by CIVICUS and the regional team which included Civic initiatives from Belgrade, and Balkan Civil Society Development Network, has been divided in three program tracks: Bridges, Stairs and Streets – all dedicated to discussing the solutions for cornered civil society.

The goal of the event was to provide answers to the world’s shrinking space trends. The ICSW organizers focused on this trend and decided to gather people from the civil sector from all over the world. The theme of ICSW 2019 was “Power of Togetherness” which set to explore how organizations and individuals around the world can work together to protect civic space and help ensure the resilience and sustainability of civil society locally and globally.

Participating and organizing an event like this left a mark on civil society in Serbia, but more importantly, it empowered others to do more and aim for more. More freedoms, more rights, more cooperation, more support for civil society organizations and their activists.

What is Shrinking Space?

Shrinking civic space is considered as any action that government takes against civil society in legal framework, used to limit and restrict the action of non-governmental organizations. Also, the government may use economic, political, social and media pressures to limit the work of CSOs.

The thing that no one considered possible is that this trend would arise in democratic countries. Instead of gaining more rights, things are moving backwards. Governments are imposing limitations on civil society and media through control of the funds, smear campaigns in media and through the legislative process. The governments misuse their power to create a legal environment unsuitable for democratic practices and activities of the organizations dealing with human rights, peace building, and investigative journalism. For the first time after the fall of the Iron Curtain, we face a situation of democracies regressing into authoritarian models, driven by the rise of populism and xenophobia.

The Government of Serbia is trying to keep up with the trend of doing more and more to restrict the space for defending the fundamental freedoms. Civil society is fighting a strong enemy by creating platforms, networks, and using early warning methods. In some cases togetherness creates results. In Serbia, because of the public pressure, a corrupt municipality president had to resign, investigative journalists published impressive articles about connections between criminal groups and police, activists are going on the streets to protest for their ecological ideas, and that disables government to do what they want. It does not always give an expected result, but it sparks a hope that something can be changed with power of togetherness.

Shrinking Civic Space in Serbia

The term “shrinking civic space” popularized after the 9-11, in the past 2 years became a hot topic in Serbia, also. Civic initiatives have been working on the Monitoring Matrix together with BCSDN, observing the basic freedoms in Serbia since 2013. The results are more and more devastating. The government is creating fake public debates, where CSOs are used as a screen, to justify their undemocratic practice. The trend of adoption of laws under the urgent procedure[1] is warring, which the latest Progress Report[2] shows. The free media is under pressure and tabloids publish so many fake news that, during last year, they had more fake news than issued numbers.[3]

Also, the government has not adopted the Strategy for an Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development, which was recommendation in European Commission Progress Report for the Republic of Serbia. The example of good practice, such as the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, loses power through budget and staff cuts.

The Freedom in the World report[4] issued February 2019, described the situation in Serbia as a political arena without dialogue, ruined political and civic freedoms, where the media and civil society are under pressure by the ruling party. The assessment of freedom in Serbia fell from “free”[5] to “partially free”[6]. A Serbian MP tweeted that he is satisfied that a foreign, CIA-backed organization, Freedom House, is commenting on the state of freedom in Serbia. It shows just how little the government in Serbia is interested in the findings of this globally-recognized organization[7].

The seriousness of the situation is also stated in the previous report of the European Commission, where Serbia was described as a captured state. The European Commission in its latest report on the progress of Serbia for 2019 in the part about civil society says: “No progress was made towards establishing an enabling environment for the development and financing of civil society. Further efforts are needed to ensure systematic cooperation between the government and civil society.”[8]

Recently, there is also a noticeable trend in the creation of GONGO and PONGO associations, which have three tasks. The first one is appearance in the public space in the role of experts, which serves to create a false picture of the existence of debate in the political arena; The second is the destruction of the legitimacy of CSOs, with which they often have similar names, through false news, false research or fact manipulation; And the third problem that arises in relation to these associations is that they receive grants at open calls without transparent competitive procedures.

In this way the government creates a parallel reality in which human rights defenders are called traitors, investigative journalists – foreign agents, and opposition leaders -thieves and tycoons.

What Can We Do to Prevent It?

The world trend of shrinking civic space tells us that quick and strong reactions of civil society are needed. It is particularly important to work on prevention, because the early signs of collapse of democracy are also evident in developed democracies. It is therefore clear that the joint action of civil society is necessary.

That is way the ICSW2019 set the agenda for discussions on the outcomes and future common work of the global civil society. A few events were highlighted for their importance, but also for the creativity.

The Belgrade Call to Action

The first, held as a pre-event of the ICSW, brought together 200 CSO representatives of from around the world – the Belgrade Call to Action organized by the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation through the Declaration invited civil society representatives to join the action “The Belgrade Call to Action A Civil Society Call to Stand Together to Defend Peoples’ Voices for a Just and Sustainable World”. The idea was to unite the CSOs around the same goal – stopping the trend of shrinking civic space, by creating a large international network of organizations. The reason for this action is the fact that civil society needs to fight back and stand together for its activists who live in environment where they can be arrested, beaten or even killed for doing their job.During ICSW, leaders of world civil society organizations agreed that standing together is essential for the development of democratic values and freedom and signed a joint declaration in which they agreed on common goals and activities. The most important result is agreement on need for the involvement of UN members: “We urge all Member States of the United Nations to take concrete urgent action to reverse these trends.” [9] The call announces that without strong CSOs it will not be possible to achieve the SDGs, promised by Agenda 2030. A high level meeting, where the political leaders will be held accountable for the state of civic space in their countries will be held in September 2019.

Three Freedoms Platform

“The Three Freedoms Platform to Protect the Civic Space in the Republic of Serbia” [10]is a declaration of Serbian civil society organizations that has been signed by 20 well-established CSOs during ICSW2019. ICSW was a great opportunity to initiate a single front that would, as a watch dog mechanism, timely alert the shrinking civic space tendencies. Such a mechanism has proved necessary after the numerous obstructions that civil society has suffered in recent years through media and political pressures. The signatories will be working as common front against shrinking civic space. For this reason, it was extremely important to create a platform that would allow civil society organizations to join together and work together to promote democratic values in Serbia. “The main goal of the Platform is to contribute to the democratization of society, building the rule of law and active participation of citizens in the creation and implementation of reforms through the protection and full implementation of three freedoms – association, assembly and information.” [11]

Freedom Runner

Freedom Runner[12]is a global campaign launched for the first time during ICSW and its goal is to make a global network of runners that would spread the notion of freedom. Every kilometer ran is dedicated to those who do not have a voice, to those who are oppressed and restrained. Marija Lukic, a woman from the city of Brus in Serbia, who was employed in local municipality government office, was sexually harassed by her superior, the president of the municipality of Brus and a member of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, Milutin Jelacic Jutka. When she filed the case and sued him, there was no reaction from the authorities because Jutka was the most powerful person in Brus, and very well connected to the top of the government. The court even rejected the similar charges of other women who sued him. Marija did not want to remain silent despite the pressures she had experienced, such as the closing of her husband’s private business, threats that she will lose her job and media mud through which she was dragged. Marija alerted the public by writing to all relevant CSOs, media and institutions, and also spoke loudly about what happened to her in the hope that it will not happen to anyone anymore, or at least not go unpunished.

The Freedom Runner Call to Action event of the ICSW gathered racers of the Fun Run, Half Marathon and Marathon of the Belgrade Marathon, which were running for one goal – for Marija Lukic and her courage. The idea is for this action to spread across the globe and every one should be dedicated to one brave person who has done something courageous for his/her community. This event was met with great media support, but also with the support of the runners themselves who wanted to contribute to a noble goal.

Conclusion

ICSW has provided an opportunity for CSOs from all over the world to meet many like-minded people, find support and understanding. The three program tracks of ICSW served to exchange tools, ideas and concrete actions against the downward trend of shrinking civic space. The participants went back home with extra strength and knowing they have support and friends.

In an environment where it’s becoming more and more dangerous to be a human rights activist, the only thing left to do is to stick together. More voices can reach further than a single one. During the International Civil Society Week, voices of leaders from all over the world, the bravest people who risk being arrested, beaten, exposed to smear campaigns every time they declare themselves against a law, idea or proposal of a ruling structure, were in Belgrade, because they know that only by common action and solidarity can we encourage each other to raise our voices together and move against the collapse of democratic values.

 


O autorki:

Milica je saradnju sa Gi počela kao praktikantkinja od kraja 2016.godine, a sada je na poziciji asistentkinje na projektima za jačanje kapaciteta OCD.
Završila je osnovne studije na Fakultetu političkih nauka, gde je i masterirala na temu: „Izgradnja nacije putem tumačenja nacionalne istorije: slučaj postjugoslovenskih država: Srbija, Hrvatska, Bosna i Hercegovina“. Od srednje škole se bavi društvenim aktivizmom, dok se na fakultetu angažovala u rad više organizacija civilnog društva, u kojima je stekla neformalno obrazovanje u oblasti ljudskih prava.