Balkan Civic Practices: Promoting civil space

Civil society has an extremely important role in achieving sustainable social and democratic change, but CSOs and civil movements in the Balkans, and even around Europe, still lack enough space in order to achieve this change. The debated Law on Freedom of Association in NGOs in Kosovo and the regressive legislation changes in Montenegro, GONGOs rising in Serbia and Poland, smear campaigns by media and politicians against civil society leaders and activists in Slovakia and Romania and elsewhere… All these phenomena contribute to what we call a ‘shrinking civic space’. Instead of securing the democratic checks and balances and letting citizens express their views through CSOs and spontaneous groups, many governments take the other direction – limiting the freedoms in public spheres. While regressive forces are trying to consolidate their partnerships and are identifying common “enemies”, CSOs and activists lack spaces for their work. However, by limiting the freedoms and spaces, governments face a growing resistance in Europe. Again, civil society activists and organizations are at the forefront to resist these dangerous restrictions of liberties and growing tensions within societies. Citizens keep mobilizing and fighting for the freedom of expression, the right to peacefully gather and to join forces through associations, movements and so on.

It is with these challenges in mind that this Balkan Civic Practices edition brings together professionals, academics and activists from the BCSDN and its partners in the region, to debate what can be done to promote civic space in the Western Balkan countries and further. The second Balkan Civic Practices edition shares stories of CSOs actions in times of shrinking civic space in the Balkans and the wider Europe. From joint action by building national and transnational, thematic and cross-sector alliances, to creating synergies between traditional civil society organizations and non-formal social movements, the contributions of this edition give valuable practical examples of successful actions towards promoting civic space and preventing its further shrinking, while also discussing innovative organizational development approaches centered around resilience, accountability and powerful narratives to empower civil society in this struggle. The aim is to inspire and learn from each other, to reaffirm the collective voice in the joint struggles and to encourage coalition-building across regions.

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