Civil Society Under Pressure Again

BlueLink's project Rememebering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again was funded by the EU's Europe for Citizents programme, with the purpose of bringing up European remembrance of ostracism and pressure against civil society to help contemporary European civil society organisations (CSOs) who are under various forms of pressure at present. The following events and activities were carried out within this project:

Activity 1: Focused practical research

Participation:

Over 63 participants were involved in the research activities, under the title Civil Society Rejected – Structural Pathways and Historical Evidence from Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. Polish social scholar Dr Wiktor Marzec led the project's research work, receiving guidance and input by BlueLink's civil society analytical unit, including Dr Pavel Antonov and Ksenia Valhrusheva. Other key participants included Prof. Balazs Trencsenyi, Head of History Department at the Central European University (CEU), and Dr Daniella Naubacher of the Andrassy University, Budapest. Some 25 analysts and researchers presented their findings at the transnational workshop Remembering Europe - Civil Society Under Pressure Again held on 7-9 December 2017 in Budapest (described below as activity 2). Their inputs included case studies from 8 countries: Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Germany, and Belgium. Ostracism of civil society voices and the role of the EU in preventing it were in the focus of practical and academic research, deployed at the workshop.

A follow-up research transformation event was held by BlueLink Sofia, with participation of 35 actvists and scholars from Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and the UK. The event was included in the programme of the Europe Civic Days Forum, held on May 29-31, 2018, as part of the official programme of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU Council. Its overal purpose was to enable for the sharing of knowledge and experiences for the revival of citizens’ participaton in decision-making across Europe, and feed them in a structured way to the ongoing decision making processes that shape attitudes to civil society across the EU. As part of the project BlueLink contributed analysis of civic participation in the contest of pressure against civil society organisations (CSOs) and added a EU-remembrance perspective. The event was organised by the European Civic Forum. BlueLink hosted two thematic sessions on: citizens participation for better governance in the field of environmental rights; and truth-based journalism. The Forum’s conclusions were submitted to the Bulgarian EU Presidency and other EU institutions. One of the outputs of the Forum was a position paper on improving the state of civil society in the EU. 

Distribution of participants by country: Austria (3 persons), Belgium (2 persons), Bulgaria (29 persons), Croatia (1 person), Estonia (2 persons), France (2 persons), Germany (3 persons), Hungary (10 persons), Poland (7 persons), Romania (1 person), Slovakia (1 person) and the UK (2 persons).

Location/Dates:

Project research was carried out from September 2017 to October 2018 in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland, as well as other EU countries.

Description:

Project-sponsored research engaged leading analysts of history, politics, media and social movements in some of the EU's Eastern member states. Their purpose was two fold:

  1. to reconstruct practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship under totalitarian regimes of the past; and 
  2. compare them to the methods and rhetoric use by present day politicians and mass media against human-rights, environmentalist and pro-democracy organizations and groups.

As a result historic evidence of ostracism and loss of citizenship under totalitarian regimes in Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland were reviewed and analysed. Leading analysts of history, politics, media and social movements reconstructed the practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship under totalitarian regimes of the past. Then compared them to the methods and rhetoric use by present day politicians and mass media against human-rights, environmentalist and pro-democracy organizations and groups. Project research compared the state of civil society in Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria under totalitarian regimes, during the pre-accession period, and after EU accession and contributed to both academic and practitioner knowledge and strategy building. Apart from project publications, the article “Civil Society under Pressure. Historical Legacies and Current Responses in Central Eastern Europe” is pending publication in a thematic issue. This issue of the Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe is scheduled for April 2019. Full text of the research paper can be downloaded here.

Activity 2: Transnational workshop Remembering Europe - Civil Society Under Pressure Again

Participation:

The event involved 50 citizens from Bulgaria (7 persons), Poland (7 persons), Hungary (22 persons), Austria (1 person), Belgium (1 person), Romania (2 persons), Germany (2 persons), Slovakia (1 person), the UK (1 person), Italy (1 person), Czech republic (2 persons), Sweden (1 person), Norway (1 person), and Armenia (1 person).

Location/Dates:

The workshop took place in Budapest, Hungary on the 7-9th of December, 2017. The Central European University, History Department, and the Andrassy University, Budapest, contributed to its success.

Description:

The second component of the project gathered NGOs under pressure, journalists and political/social scientists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and other CEE countries who gathered at a high-profile researcher/practitioner forum at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. The workshop was designed to connect the remembrance of common history and the EU's humanist, democratic and environmental values to lived real life experiences of civil society represenatives. Using the project's research outcomes (Activity 1) as a solid basis, workshop participants traced analytically the rout from historical memories of ostracism to today's state of civil society participation. Historic EU dates were used as benchmarks for analytical discussions, including: the end of WWI and the rise of totalitarian ideologies that it led to; the 'Prague Spring' of 1967-1968; and the 'Peaceful revolutions' of 1989-1990 which put CEE on course to EU accession. The workshop then outlined strategic recommendations for effective response to present government and media pressure against CSOs, including recommendations for civic action on EU level. The outcomes from the workshop were integrated into the research work and consqutivelty contribited to various civil society events in Sofia, Brussels, Leipzig and other European venues. They served as a base for CSO declarations/appeals/recommendations to Encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at Union level. A European Solidarity Corps volunteer helped the workshop's organisation in Budapest. Full description of the workshop, including the programme and main conclusions, can be found here.

Activity 3: Journalistic articles on country cases of pressure against civil society

Participation:

The action involved 25 contributors, inlcuding 13 authors from Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia and Ireland. Another 12 participants were journalists and editors of European Green Publications, who were informed about the project and engaged with its goals and findings at network meeting held in Brussels in November 11, 2017. They came from Belgium, Croatia, Poland, Spain, and the Netherlands. BlueLink's Deputy Editor Velina Barova presented the project and gathered  their inputs for country cases and stories. Distribution of participants by country: Belgium (3 persons), Bulgaria (7), Croatia (2 person), Hungary (3 persons), Ireland (1 person), the Netherlands (1 person), Poland (2 persons), Romania (1 persons), Serbia (1 person), Spain (1 person), Sweden (1 person), and the UK (2 persons).

Location/Dates:

Journalistic work and editing were carried out from September 2017 till October 2018 in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia.

Description:

The aim of this third project activity was to enable journalists from the EU member states and applicant countries in their reporting of success and failure stories of civil society. It is a primary instrment to raise European cirizens awareness of the Union’s commitments to peace, solidarity, sustainability and well-being, and harness their support. As a result 21 journalistic articles were published in English by BlueLink Stories - a regional non-profit e-magazine for journalism in public interest. BlueLink's pioneering virtual newsroom was employed to assign, edit and publish the stories. Articles covered success and failure stories of historical remembrance, civil society participation, EU values, resistance to pressure of EU citizenship publicized from 10 EU and accession countries: Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, among others. Through social networks they reached over 8500 readers across Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and other EU members in CEE, and attracted readers from 111 countries altogether. Disseminated through social media platforms and reproduced by other media and platforms, such as Global Voices, the articles reached over 8500 readerds. Through the devoted work of our reporters the Remembering Europe project directly raised awareness of remembrance, common history and values and the EU's commitment to promoting peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples by stimulating debate, reflection and development of networks.

 

Brief project description

Leading researchers and journalists from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) helped restoring the memory of EU’s history of diversity and fostering European citizenship.  Analysts of history, politics, media and social movements in CEE compared 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 raised awareness of remembrance, common history and values of the CEE region, and the European Union’s purpose, while offering practical response to the contemporary challenges faced by civil society in the region. It responded 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", 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. In Bulgaria and Hungary legislation has been passed to limit critical civil society voices and civic participation. Governmen spokespersons and opinion leaders repeatedly attacked civil society and undermined core European values such as human and minority rights. This project focused on these and similar contemporary attempts to suppress critical civil society voices, and compared them to memories of totalitarian oppression in the past.

An academic/practitioner workshop held at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest was used as a central project event. 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 supported 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. Journalists told 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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