Small communities in transition and civic and/or non-governmental organizations
With the phenomenon of new civic subjects in our social and cultural reality, new research horizons have been opened for the people who professionally deal with following and researching social processes. In the countries where civil society is a traditional value and has been functioning for many years, researchers have constituted a special research discipline, that, some of them, both seriously and ironically, call “NGO-logy” or a non-governmental organizations research discipline.
Within the research project “Small communities in transition” at the Ethnology Bureau at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Maths at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, in 2004 we started a research mainly focused on establishing conditions of the small communities (urban, semi-urban), that is, smaller towns in Macedonia and their existence in the period of “transition”. The research is being realized on two locations, Kriva Palanka and Samokov and its aim is to realize the basic processes and changes that have happened on social, economic, cultural and political level, level of individuals, and level of communities. Although before we started the research we did not have any indications for the conditions with civil organizing, it is interesting that we have chosen two completely different environments, that we consider to be an interesting indicator for the conditions of small communities and civil organizing.
The municipality of Samokov, that still covers several village settlements and the settlement of Samokov, does not have a single civil society association or a non-governmental organization (except the Beekeepers’ Association), and has so far had no more relevant implications of economic or social living in Porece. Taking into consideration the fact that in this region we have a long-time research experience, we can certainly confirm that the capacities of the local community for civic initiatives are so low, that there is a need for intensive working with the local population in the forthcoming period, in order to impel civic initiatives and organizing. The reasons for the low capacities are certainly not related to the mental characteristics of the population, on the contrary, to the social infrastructure (complete depopulation of the area, complete economic and production animosity), that has so far provided neither potentials, nor preconditions for civic initiatives. There have been some a bit fresher initiatives in the social life of Porecani since the establishment of the Municipality of Samokov, that unfortunately, according to all indications, with the newly proposed legal regulation for administrative division in the Republic of Macedonia, will be abolished. With the so far researches, the positive effects of the local self-government upon the development of the local communities have clearly been established. Actually, in the domain of civil associating, local self-governments have an important role as a solid base and inducement for civic associating.
The municipality of Kriva Palanka, although having more population than the municipality of Samokov and according to the 2002 census it has a population of 21 000 citizens, in terms of number of population it belongs to the category of “small communities”. In spite of the fact it is a small community, unlike the municipality of Samokov, civil organizing and operating in associations find an excellent base for development, and as a result of the “civic interest” for such acting, there is hyper-expansion of such associations and since the mid ‘90s of the XX century, 50 non-governmental civil society associations have been registered in the municipality of Kriva Palanka. Of course, today not all of them function, but there are many, so even with the first recognizing of the terrain, we can conclude that civic associating is an important social factor in this small community. In spite of the fact that citizens’ public opinion is that the economic situation is alarming, the data about the flow of assets, ideas, people, show that the situation in the municipality of Kriva Palanka is completely different from the one in the municipality of Samokov, that is, civic initiatives and activities of the civil society associations have an important place in the process of transitions of this small community.
Considering the fact that in this occasion we cannot in details elaborate all aspects of the place, role, meanings and implications of the civic organizations in the small communities comprehensively, we think that it is necessary to point out only a few important aspects for which citizens, but especially researchers of the social conditions, should be aware of. Firstly, civil society associations can give a solid base for citizens to be actively involved in creating their social reality. Secondly, what is very important, is that although Macedonia, as a part of the wider region “in transition” receives a big amount of assets for promotion and development of civic values, in most of the achieved results of the project, activities are not in accordance in quality with the indicators of the invested assets of the western donors, or simpler, a great amount of assets is spent, and the results are mainly not satisfactory. On the other hand, there are many inconsistencies in the practical work of many civil society associations, that depict our society to a great extent, and contrary to this, they should be a “corrective” in societies and the official politics that is favored. The most indicative “diseases” of the civil society associations are: insufficient competency of the citizens involved in various associations that operate in different spheres of social living or insufficient involvement of experts in the implementation of the programs of such associations; occurrence of nepotism and conflict of interests within activists in the associations; insufficient transparency when realizing expenses during the projects’ realization.
This phenomenon is neither new, nor unique for Macedonia. Here I point out, only with purpose, the involved parties, but mostly the citizens, to deal with the problems or “diseases” that decrease the functions and effects of the civic projects in the civil society.
(the author is a Docent at the Ethnology Department at the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Maths)