Civil Society Under Pressure Again

Leading researchers and journalists from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) help restoring the memory of EU’s history of diversity and fostering European citizenship.  Analysts of history, politics, media and social movements in CEE compare the former practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship under pre-EU totalitarian regimes to contemporary efforts and rhetorics against civil society. The activities are part of a project entitled “Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again”, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with co-funding from the EU's Europe for Citizens Programme, and in partnership with the History Departmernt at the Central European University in Budapest.

The project aims to raise awareness of remembrance, common history and values of the CEE region, and the European Union’s aim, while offering practical response to the contemporary challenges faced by civil society in the region. It is designed to respond to intimidation and repressive legislation used by present day politicians, opinion leaders and media communicators against human-rights, environmentalist and pro-democracy organizations and groups across CEE. 

"Soros' spies", "green racketeers", "foreign agents" - these are just some of the labels, attributed to active citizens and their organisations by political and opinion leaders across mass media and the social networks in the CEE region, said Pavel Antonov, Executive Editor at BlueLink. This project puts a focus on these - and similar - contemporary attempts to suppress critical civil society voices, and compare them to memories of totalitarian oppression in the past, Antonov explained. Antonov is an affiliated member of the Open Space research centre, UK, and holds a doctoral degree in social sciences and geography from the Open University in Milton Keynes.

Academic/practitioner workshop was held at The Central European University, Budapest, on December 7-9, 2017. It gathered civil society representatives, journalists and political/social scientists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and other CEE countries to bring up the memory, knowledge and analyses of these historical legacies, and generate ideas for effective practical and policy responses to today’s growing pressure against critical and independent civil society and media voices that uphold Europe’s human rights, environmental and democratic values.

The organisers presented focused research which maps pre-EU practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship, and civil society responses to them in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and other CEE members of the EU. Position papers and multimedia/oral presentations from scholars in multiple academic fields, civil society representatives, journalists and policy makers from EU member states in CEE were chosen based on the open call for papers/presentations below. 

Civil society representatives, journalists and political/social scientists from EU member states in CEE engaged in a public debate that reflects upon the memories of the lack of civil society participation under totalitarian regimes and the progress accomplished during democratic transition and EU accession. The workshop served for planning policy and action responses against pressure from governments, mass media and other hostile factors. Special attention is paid on the opportunities offered by European citizenship and democratic citizen participation on Union level.

The findings of the workshop were presented at the number of conferences and gatherings of the civil society representatives in Bulgaria and Germany, as well as at the 4th Prague Populism Conference (Current Populism in Europe: Culture, History, Identity) held by Goethe Institute in the Czech Republic. Ideas appeared during the workshop were included in the different memorandums and resolutions, including the position paper of the Bulgarian and European CSOs “How to improve the state of civil society in the EU”, which has been discussed and agreed based during the European Civic Days Forum held in Sofia on 29-31 May 2018.

The project supports fact-based, responsible journalism across Central and Eastern Europe to promote EU's commitments to peace, solidarity, sustainability and well-being. Journalists from 10 EU member states investigate and tell multimedia stories of civil society's achievements in protecting public interest, prosperity, human rights and sustainable development, as part of EU’s values. All stories produced within the BlueLink virtual newsroom cover its high ethical and professional standards of journalism and are published by the foundations e-magazines for journalism in public interest: Evromegdan.bg (in Bulgarian) and BlueLink Stories. Journalistic pieces tell stories about pressure on CSOs working with migrants in Central and Eastern Europe, legal pressure on Croatian "Green Action", civil efforts to protect Budapest city park, fatal pressure against a journalist in Slovakia, and many others. All articles published within the project are available here

As a civil-society e-network  BlueLink has been analyzing the trends and developments of civil society within Bulgaria and across CEE since 1998. Its research team has regularly contributed to the annual Global Internet Society Watch policy and activism review by the Association for Progressive Communications, on issues including civil society, corruption, nature protection, and LGBT. BlueLink has been training journalists in factual, professional and ethical reporting since 2000 - both in Bulgaria and regionally. Since 2013 BlueLink has launched and fostered Evromegdan - the Bulgarian virtual magazine for journalism in public interest, involving over 30 young and active journalists. Since 2016 a transnational virtual newsroom project, implemented in partnership with the Heinrich Boell Foundation - Branenburg and the Climate News Network, UK, brings together 25 journalists from over 12 EU member and candidate countries, covering issues of sustainable development, minority rights and European policies.

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This article was published as a part of the project “Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again”, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with co-funding from the EU's Europe for Citizens Programme. No responsibility for the content of this articice could in any way be attributed to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Comission. All responsibility for the content lies with the BlueLink Foundation.

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