In many countries, both media and civil society organisations (CSOs) face the same challenges such as restricted access to information, smear campaigns, legal and practical limitations for accessing funding, as well as limited space for the exchanges of best practices – all a result of the shrinking civil space. Collaboration between journalistic organisations and CSOs can counter those trends, advance their work, have a powerful societal impact, and strengthen democracy.
Grantees in the spotlight
Without the engagement of people from different social groups and demographics in public matters, one cannot build a democracy, nor counter polarisation. Still, civic engagement has been reserved predominantly for European capital regions where the effects of certain policies on people’s lives are immediately perceived.
Therefore, several of Civitates’ grantee partners have made it a priority to expand civic engagement beyond the capital cities.
The European Partnership for Democracy, a Civitates grantee partner and an organisation with a global remit to support democracy recently published an article explaining the importance of the Digital Services Act for Democracy in Europe and potentially beyond.
A governmental attempt to restrict women’s rights in 2020, a proposed tax reform in 2021 that can shrink the space for independent media, and governmental efforts to curtail the judiciary’s independence marked an eventful period for civil society organisations in Poland. Amidst all developments, Polish civil society has learnt that united actions have more impact than individual attempts to counter the worrying trends.
The government campaign against civil organisations in the last few years has caused major damage to the sector in Hungary. The local initiatives in cities and towns across the country have withdrawn and are focusing on rather apolitical activities. Stigmatised CSO’s, especially in pro-governmental cities are isolated from public or civic co-operations.
NOSZA coordinates a coalition of five NGOs in Hungary, working on diverse topics to strengthen civic space. The coalition does so by demonstrating the professionality of civil sector actors that work on improving the lives of people who are most in need. This is achieved, even in lack of funding and in over-politicised atmospheres, via cooperation. With support from Civitates, the coalition members provide multi-sector services, raise public and stakeholder awareness across the country and learn from each other.
The environment for non-governmental organisations and journalists in Slovenia has become increasingly hostile and restrictive since the new government led by Janez Janša took office in March 2020. We constantly see the lack of understanding of the watchdog role of civil society and journalists across the political spectrum.
The European Partnership for Democracy (EPD) facilitates collective action aimed to strengthen EU action and reinforce democracy within EU countries through regulating the digital public sphere in ways that are conducive to democratic principles and practices.
A draft law in Bulgaria proposes an amendment to the Non-profit Legal Entities Act in two parts – the part regarding the functioning of the Civil Society Development Council, as well as proposing the creation of a new legal framework on declaring and controlling the funding of NGOs received from a foreign country or from a foreign natural or legal person. In view of these developments, Civitates met the grantees from Citizen Participation Forum and the Bulgarian Center for Non-for-profit Law, Iva Taralezhkova and Nadia Shabani, to shed a light on the situation in Bulgaria and the work of the coalition.