By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
Although we are at the peak of the campaign for presidential elections in our country, I have the impression that it is much quieter than all the previous ones and most importantly – without incidents (at least for now, and I hope for the end of the elections). It could be expected with the election of the three candidates that are now in the race, all university professors: Pendarovski, Siljanovska-Davkova and Reka. And it was also demonstrated by their first debates last week, which passed in a generally dignified atmosphere and a sufficient level of respect for other candidates.
These days there has been a second poll (after that of the MCIC and the Institute for Democracy, published more than two weeks ago – on 25.03), this time at the Institute for Political Research (IPIS), which mainly showed similar results: a small advantage of Pendarovski (2%) in the overall voting body, with the same advantage of Siljanovska-Davkova with the ethnic Macedonians. A high turnout of 67% is predicted in the first round.
In the other regional or European events with some influence on our country there was no resolution even this week. The British are still trying to find a way how to exit the European Union. In Turkey, despite the initial interpretation of Erdogan’s statement immediately after the results of the local elections were announced, which seemed to recognize the defeat in the big cities (especially Ankara and Istanbul), it is now far from being certain, after disputing the vote in a huge number of seats by his party. There will also be a campaign in the European Union member states for the election of the new Euro-parliamentarians (the elections are on May 23-26), and our eventual start of EU membership negotiations by the end of the year can be highly dependent on it. Given the projections of reducing the number of lawmakers of the current leading political groupings (the People’s Party – EPP, as well as the Social Democrats S & D, which would “fall” for almost 100 MPs, or a secure joint majority of over 400 MPs, will now have just over 300 out of 705 seats), and at the expense of that growth of the far right, we can hardly expect a positive outcome at the EU summit in June, that is a decision to continue with further enlargement.
Because of all of this, this week I decided to discuss something I have been working professionally for more than twenty years – civil society. Among other things, because of two events that have been held on European and world level these days. A European Civil Society Academy was held in Slubice (Poland) ten days ago, bringing together the largest European networks of civic organizations in one place, and this week Belgrade is hosting the International Civil Society Week – the largest global gathering of civil society organizations, with over 1,200 participants. Both gatherings are dominated by debates about growing populism in the world, autocratic tendencies, gaining significance and influence of the parties from the far right, narrowing the space for civic action and freedom of the press. But before I pass on some of the global trends in this field, a small introduction to the demystification of the very notion of civil society and the like, or at least to clarify some terms.
First, what is civil society? According to the most accepted definitions, it is every type of organization of citizens (except the family), outside the state system (institutions) and business (firms, enterprises). Therefore, because of the separation from the state and the business/market, a frequent term in use is the “third sector”. Also, it is often talked about “non-governmental sector”, precisely because of the separation of state (government) structures, and in order to emphasize the difference with the business sector, we also hear about a “non-profit sector”. All these terms are correct and each of its own aspects explains some of the essence of civil organization, but I think that it is precisely the “civil society” or the civil sector that is most comprehensive.
Second, what does civil organization/society involve or imply? According to our law (for associations and foundations, since 2010), five individuals are enough to form a civic organization. As the title of the law itself says, citizens’ associations or foundations can be formed (the main difference is that there should be a founding fund of at least 10,000 Euros for the latter. But civil society organizations are only a part (though the largest) of everything that the civil sector/society contains…this includes, for example, religious communities, trade unions, employers’ organizations and chambers of commerce. Additionally, which may be a surprise for some (or many) readers, in the world mainly, they are considered to be political parties. There is a discussion about this, given that they (the only ones) participate in elections to become power in the state, as well as by the fact that with the very choice – a large part of their members become part of the state apparatus.
Third, why the biggest stereotypes for CSOs are: advocates of foreign countries; or, a folding screen for party interests? For twenty years, in public opinion polls, these attitudes are dominant among the citizens. The first may be because the financing from foreign sources dominates, but in the world it is not so – about 30 percent of the funds come from: the state budget; economic activities of organizations; from philanthropy and donations from companies. Slowly it will come to us and it is time for the state to take the financing of the “non-government” more seriously. For the latter, unfortunately, the parties occasionally abused some civil society organizations, or even “created” their own (which disappeared shortly after the expiration of the usable value), but after all these years of transition, I think that there is a clear profile of organizations that professionally exercise their mission and/or dutifully represent the interests and needs of their members.
However, let’s go back to the global trends of the mentioned civil society gatherings. The call for action from the Belgrade Summit talks about taking measures (from countries, through the United Nations) to: protect and expand the space for action of civil society; promote inclusiveness in development practices (this is mainly due to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – to be achieved by 2030, primarily in terms of climate change, poverty eradication, gender equality, inclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups, reduction of major disparities (north-south, rich-poor, etc.), more active involvement of civil society organizations in policy-making, independent monitoring of the implementation of these (and other) policies, all financed by the governments themselves and the last – strict, quick and effective handling of all human rights violations! Well… this all sounds good (and right), or too good to be true. And it seems to me, considering everything previously said (populism, growth of the far right, autocratic tendencies), that it will all remain on calls, possibly some non-binding declarations, but not on concrete actions …or at least not very much. What do you think?
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