Civic initiatives in the Western Balkans have potential for social and political change

BELGRADE – Civic initiatives and protests have shown that many citizens in the region are deeply dissatisfied with the lack of accountability of ruling regimes and ready to actively engage in their societies, the conference said. Unlocking the potential for change through civic movements and initiatives”. – What do the latest developments in Serbia tell us”, organized by the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB).

The event was an opportunity to present the new report of the Balkan Policy Advisory Group in Europe (BiEPAG) on civic movements and initiatives in the region. According to this article, local civil initiatives and new forms of civic engagement prove worthy of attention to explore the potentials of democratization in the region.

“By focusing on tangible and concrete issues that affect citizens’ daily lives, they have a high mobilization potential and an ability to overcome ethnic divides and strengthen citizens’ sense of agency. Even with a limited impact achieved by rapid dissipation, they nevertheless create a new momentum in public discourse and collective memory, from which emerge the new structures of opportunity for possible future changes,” said in a BiEPAG brief.

The brief said the grassroots initiatives, in particular, demonstrate the potential for mobilization and real broader political and social change in the region.

The authors recommended that external actors, such as EU Member States supporting donors, can provide assistance for national and regional cooperation. Offering support and capacity building to social movements on whether to opt for critical oversight or run for office will be important in translating movement concerns into lasting change.

Vedran Dzihic, BiEPAG member of the Austrian Institute of International Affairs (Oiip) and one of the authors of the publication, believes that the institutions of the countries of the region have been captured and that the way of making decisions for the citizens is often locked. According to Džihić, the interests of small groups and elites are present between citizens and the state.

He added that the key energy of citizens, which is reflected in their growing participation in social movements, should translate into political change.

“The fundamental question is how to translate ‘stop’, ‘prevent’ and ‘save’ into politics. The next step is to translate the energy into political change. The authoritarian balance has disappointed expectations of democracy and the EU. 31% of citizens believe that only organized citizen action can bring change,” said Vedran Džihić.

He explains that the rise of the transnational far right is a threat to the Western Balkan region as well as to the EU.

“Our BiEPAG brief highlights that civic initiatives and movements are the main forces for democratization. After decades of failures for democratic change led by different actors, be it the EU or governments, citizen mobilization is seen as a key,” said Džihić, adding that the region has not yet reached the point where the EU decides with one voice.

Bojana Selakovicdirector of the Civic Initiatives program, says that protests against the authorities in Serbia today are much more complicated than they were in the 1990s, because the Serbian government is now officially supported by the international community.

Selaković believes that the last environmental protests in Serbia were protests for the rule of law.

“Environmental protests in Serbia are essentially protests against the rule of law. There is no trust in institutions, and trust is an important element for any change,” Selaković said.

She mentioned that the Serbian government attacked freedom of assembly.

“Freedom of assembly is one of the fundamental human rights and people should not be fined for protesting. During the environmental protest, all police stations did the same, trying to punish citizens with traffic fines, which was against the law on public gatherings. Građanske offered legal support and we will continue to protect civil rights,” says Bojana Selaković.

Marina Pavlic An activist from the Kreni-Promeni Initiative said that the latest protests in Serbia have shown that people have power and citizens must remember that everything is up to them.

According to Pavlić, the government is afraid of too much democracy, but when the government does not act as a service to the people, it faces the problem of mass protests and pressure to meet the protester’s demands.

“The energy is there, we just need to channel it. We’re done with the narrative that whatever we do, everything will stay the same. The institutions aren’t doing their job, and it shouldn’t be like that. , they get paid, we (the citizens) pay them and we have to push them to do their job,” says Pavlić.

Activist Miran Pogacar stresses that close authentic communication and organized joint action must confront populist PR and Twitter activism, adding that people need new political parties and new politics.

“The protests were sparked by inappropriate use of force by the government and thugs. People who run political parties only do public relations instead of leading and organizing citizens. People need new political parties and new politics,” concludes Pogačar.

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