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  Issue 73  Cover story

Balkan countries participate in the global questionnaire on the civic society condition

In the Balkans, civil society has small participation and moderate influence

On 23rd May at the seventh assembly of the World Alliance for Citizen Participation – CIVICUS in Glasgow, Scotland, the first volume of the “Global Survey of the State of Civil Society” was promoted. This edition aims to raise the awareness of the role, strengths and weaknesses of the civil society all around the world on global level. This edition includes summaries of the reports from the Civil Society Index about 44 countries. The Civil Society Index is a research project which was implemented in the participating countries by unique methodology by the national partners of CIVICUS. This research assesses the state of the civil society from an aspect of its structure, environment it acts in, values it practices and promotes and the impact it realizes on social level.

In ten pages this publication includes the summary of the report on Macedonia prepared by the Macedonian Center for International Cooperation. The inclusion of the report on Macedonia in this edition enables comparison of the conditions and the level of development of the civil society in Macedonia with the ones from the countries all around the world – developed, developing and underdeveloped, countries with developing democracies and countries with a long tradition and history of democratic and civil society. However, for the beginning it is most appropriate the comparisons to be made with the most immediate surroundings. Apart from Macedonia, the following Balkan countries have been included in the research: Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. The comparison of the findings about these countries shows a lot of similarities and some characteristic specifics.

History of the civil society in the Balkans

From a historic perspective, civil society in the Balkans notices very similar development, especially in those coming from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Modern civil society in the Balkans started developing towards the end of the nineteenth century with the occurrence of the first charity organizations, literary and cultural circles. The Catholic Church played an important role in Slovenia and Croatia and it had impelled humanitarian activities even earlier. After the World War II, with the establishment of socialist countries, their authorities considered civil society to be a threat, they restricted volunteering activities and they placed civil society organizations under control of the communist parties. In that period basic forms of associating in these countries were sports and cultural associations. In Greece, on the other hand, this period was characterized by the civil war (1946-1949) and later the war dictatorship (1967-1974), during which the civil society organizations were closely followed by the state and their activities were restricted, including arrests and execution of activists, intellectuals and students.

After the fall of the socialist governments and the break-up of Yugoslavia, more intensive development of the civil society organizations started in the newly-formed countries towards the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Leaders were ecological movements, for example, in Bulgaria they played a significant role in the fall of the socialist regime. Some other forms of civil society organizations occurred later. Many of them within the space of former Yugoslavia were reply to the wars, refugee crisis and social disturbances.

The period of transition in most post-communist countries on the Balkans was followed by intensive political events and changes of governments, which inevitably reflected upon civil society organizations, especially their relations with the government. Somewhere it implied dramatic challenges for democracy and civil society (e.g. Serbia after the assassination of the Prime Minister Djindjikj).

With the EU accession in 1981, owing to the political frames imposed by the EU, Greece created opportunities for strengthening the civil society and its influence, especially in the fields of anticorruption, environment and social responsibility. However, in spite of the more intensive development for the last thirteen years, the Greek civil society is less developed than other western European countries. With the EU accession Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania have created an improved frame for the civil society that has not been completely used yet.

The Civil Society Diamond

Summarized findings about the four researched dimensions (characteristics) of the civil society: structure, environment, values and impact for each country have been quantified and can be visualized on a diagram.

Structure of the Balkan civil society

Reports on the Balkan countries in terms of the structure of civil society show that the low level of citizens’ participation in the civil society organizations’ activities is their common characteristic and few organizations have wider membership (except trade unions, some humanitarian, ecological and women associations). Small minority of citizens, moving from 8% in Greece to 35% in Croatia, are members of civil society organizations, except for Slovenia with 66% and Serbia with 47%. Some of the organizations are created and run by donors’ priorities, instead of relying on citizens’ mobilization, which results in lack of wider public support. The consequence is the fact that civil society organizations’ activities end up with informing and providing support for the citizens, without really strengthening them and impelling them to be active.

Other important common characteristic is the unbalanced geographical distribution and insufficient representation of the marginalized groups. Majority of organizations are based in the developed urban regions and some marginalized groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities and the poor remain insufficiently represented, especially in the organizations’ management. The organizations in all countries mainly provide financial resources by donors and the support by the state and the business sector is minimal, except for Greece, where one third of the finances are provided by the state.

Environment in which Balkan civil society organizations work

The low level of trust is a characteristic of the environment of the Balkan civil society organizations. Social capital is also small and only minority of citizens thinks that other people can be trusted. This is particularly characteristic of the post-communist countries, where the socialist regime contributed trust to be primarily directed towards family and close friends. The socio-economic context is favorable for most of the countries, except Macedonia, where negative consequences of the armed conflict in 2001 can still be felt and where in comparison with the other countries, there is still a relatively high level of poverty. The civil society is under influence of lack or restriction of the process of decentralization from the central to the local authorities, as in Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Macedonia.

Values of the Balkan civil society

Key values promoted and practiced by the Balkan civil society organizations are non-violence, tolerance and environmental care. Transparency is the least practiced and promoted value. To great extent it results from the widely spread public opinion in these countries that corruption is present in all sectors, including the civil society. The lack of transparency calls into question the role of the civil society organizations as actors expected to be leaders in the fight against this phenomenon and promoters of civic values and responsibility.

Impact realized by the Balkan civil society organizations

The civil society organizations’ impact on the processes of making and implementing policies is in most of the Balkan countries focused on a series of social issues, such as providing social services, children’s protection (e.g. Romania), women protection (e.g. Macedonia). However, when it is about the issue of monitoring the government’s work and asking for responsibility for other wider issues, it comes out that civil society organizations in all countries have a quite low capacity. Such an example is the national budget process, where quite few organizations express their attitudes. At the same time most organizations lack resources for this objective, above all research capacities for monitoring the budget process and representation capacities.

The evaluation of most countries also shows a restricted social impact that organizations realize by strengthening the citizens and satisfying their social needs, above all those of the marginalized groups.
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