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Forgotten promises given before the elections!

The new government will co-operate with the non-governmental sector! The new government will build partnership with the non-governmental organisations! Only ten months ago, during the elections, this was pompously announced by the coalition “For Macedonia Together”, while the then government was trying to prove that the civic sector was “the fifth column”. Just to remind you, this electoral coalition was emphasising that the role of the NGOs was constructive and that the co-operation on relation: government – civic sector was not only necessary, but also an inevitable obligation of a democratically oriented power.

However, the elections ended, “For Macedonia Together” won and it was time to fulfil the promises. In the December issue of “Power is in people” (2002), the vice-president of the government, Radmila Shekerinska said: “We have invited all organised civic initiatives to take part and help in the spheres where we need a common action and a wide front of building consensus and taking actions. This is particularly important for three subjects: regaining inter-ethnic trust, fight against corruption and Euro-Atlantic integration. None of these objectives can be realised if you see it only as the Government’s work. They will either be our common priority and co-operation field, or they will fail...We invite the non-governmental organisations to communicate with the appropriate ministries and institutions and to think of concrete forms of co-operation. Of course that the Sector for European integration and the department for foreign help co-ordination in some frames, which I am running, is at disposal...”

So, there was some more heating the atmosphere of optimism, promises, even fears not to blunt the blade of the non-governmental sector, if by any chance the new government expresses too much “love” for the civic associations.

However, quite quickly (as many times so far), we have realised that the optimism stays as optimism, promises are promises, and the fears “keep the vineyard“. Or, more concretely, the new government has not offered anything essentially new in the treatment of the civic sector. It has not offered any short-term or long-term strategy for partnership, it has not made a space for any improving the status of the non-governmental organisations and has refused in the near future to think about changing the existing law regulative and introducing tax relief. Shekerinska has confirmed this clearly and loudly: “Taking into consideration the government’s choice - Euro-Atlantic integration, as well as the obligations which come as a result of SSA, the harmonisation of the legislation with the Union’s legislation is a priority which we will work on seriously. In this direction it is sure that the existing legal regulation for civic associations and foundations will suffer changes in accordance with the European standards, because the law which was passed in 1998, in some parts is not in accordance with the international principles. The problems for eventual introducing certain tax relief for supporting non-governmental sector are the wide opportunities for misusing these regulations which are especially dangerous in countries with a weak financial discipline. It is the key reason why these kinds of suggestions are considered with suspicion both by the authorised ministry and the international financial institutions. Therefore, to be honest, in my opinion, there should be a period of financial and tax stabilisation for opening these opportunities”.

As a result of this, the sporadic flashes of partnership between the government and the civic sector are just a fine package for disguising the fact that (so far) the co-operation with the non-governmental organisations is neither a priority, nor a real strategic choice of the government. The same opinion is also shared by the organisations which have already realised (successful!) common activities with certain state institutions. Even “Transparency Macedonia”, which is intensively involved in the government’s fight against corruption, says that “the co-operation between the non-governmental sector and the state institutions is mainly formal and reduced to the needs of the governmental institutions to show readiness for such co-operation when there are foreign institutions involved in the projects”. The Centre for Democracy and Security of the Institute “Euro-Balkan” has a similar attitude and they say that “the government is so occupied with itself that it is repeating an old mistake, closing itself and forgetting the social capital this country has, and there is no reform without it”.

There are a lot of examples and experiences, but the most visible proofs about the real behaviour of the government towards the non-governmental sector have been offered by the first man of the Parliament, who arrogantly and predominantly disqualifies citizens and their initiatives. It is enough to remember the recent scandal about his disgraceful banning the children from the Children’s Parliament to carry out the traditional manifestation of getting familiar with the work and the role of the parliament, with an explanation that they would allegedly demolish the hall where sessions take place. The ones who are more familiar, know well that this former member of the Socialists’ youth of Macedonia, was not happy at all with the idea the commission for fight against corruption to consist of civic sector representatives. Things to be worse, this young man has not been criticised neither by his parliamentary group, nor by the party he belongs to and which is in power. However, the civic sector not to be identified with those “two Muppet old men” who just sit and watch and criticise, in such situation of “virtual partnership with the government” it has to be additionally activated, to co-ordinate itself  and “force” the government to real productive co-operation. If the government does not have a strategy, then why don’t the non-governmental organisations use their potentials and offer it an appropriate proposal for building sustainable partnership? If the government does not trust the civic organisations, why don’t they prove the opposite through their transparent way of work that? If the government does not create a space of common work and dialogue, why don’t the non-governmental organisations initiate and do it?

In fact, the civic activism exists not to replace the state, but to force it to correct itself and not to forget its citizens’ interests and problems. The situation on the field is familiar, the illusions from the electoral promises are past, remains only the civic action. At least that is what is written in the “manuals” of the long-term successful non-governmental activists all around the world. 

(This is an extract from the text published in the supplement “Power is in people” in Utrinski Vesnik on 26 June 2003)

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