Remembering Europe - Civil Society Under Pressure Again
Round table event 'Civil Society Ostracism before and after EU accession - and how to deal with it?'
The round table took place on December 7, 2017 at the Central European University in Budapest. It was the opening event for the academic and practitioner workshop, part of the Remembering Europe – Civil Society Under Pressure Again project of BlueLink.net. It is hosted by: CEU History Department; Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies at the Central European University, the Andrássy Universität Budapest, and the BlueLink Foundation.
Historians, political/social researchers, civil society practitioners, journalists, policy makers from Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and other CEE countries engaged in scholarly and practical reflections on the collective memory of attacks upon civil society in the pre-EU era, and today’s growing pressure against critical civil society.
Round table speakers included:
- Balazs Trencsenyi, Head of the CEU Department of History;
- Ellen Bos, Vice-Rector for Research and Young Researchers, Head of the Doctoral School, Head of the Chair of Comparative Politics with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe in the EU, Andrássy Universität Budapest;
- Donatella della Porta, Professor of political science and political sociology in the European University Institute; and
- Sara Heltai, Deputy Programme Director of Greenpeace CEE.
- Pavel Antonov, Executive Editor and Co-founder of the BlueLink Foundation moderated the discussion.
Academic/practitioner workshop at the History Department, Central European University, Budapest, on December 7 - 9, 2017
The 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 present 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. The workshop's programme can be viewed here.
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 workshop was held as part of a Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again project, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation in Bulgaria with support from the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. It contributed to enhancing citizens' understanding of the Union, its history and diversity and to foster European citizenship and to improve conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level.The specific objectives accomplished included: raising awareness of remembrance, common history and values, and the Union's aim, while offering practical response to the challenges faced by CEE civil society.
From the Baltics to the Black Sea and back the legitimacy of critical civic institutions, organisations and movements of civil society is under pressure. They constitute an important check on political and economic power that many in government, politics and business are willing to eliminate. Political and opinion leaders in EU member states such as Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria contest civil society participation and oversight of democratic institutions with increasing intensity.
Disrespect, intolerance and outright aggression against progressive, humanist, democratic and environmentalist values of the EU and the civil society voices that uphold them gradually become mainstream. The voices of environmental, human and gender rights and democracy advocates and their organizations are increasingly ostracized in mass media and on social networks. Pejorative hate-speech labels like “foreign agents", "sorosoids", "green racketeers", “liberasts”, “EuroGays” are spreading within, and increasingly also beyond social media networks and communities. A popular discourse of denial and marginalization of entire sectors of civil society is shaped and imposed, reducing public sensitivity towards legislative and other forms of pressure against them.
But ostracizing civil society is not new in European history. Critical voices of civil society have been under pressure by non-democratic regimes throughout Central and Eastern Europe’s pre-EU past. The crucial importance of independent civic institutions, citizens’ organizations and independent journalism, for the state of European democracy has been established through important historical lessons learned during the pre- and interwar periods, the Cold War, and during EU accession.
* SCOPE OF POSITION PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS
The workshop participants will be expected to contribute research findings, analysis and experience, and compare them analytically to the methods and rhetorics that undermine critical civil society voices and EU values today. Special attention will be paid on the opportunities offered by European citizenship and democratic citizen participation on Union level. All participants will be expected to demonstrate how their findings and research can be useful in designing effective action and policy responses against civil society ostracism today. Contributions may address Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, as well as other CEE members states of the EU.
Possible areas of analysis and debate include, but are not limited to:
- parallels to historical turning points in developments of civil society and its structural embeddedness in changing state structures; for instance 1918 and the end of the WWI – the rise of nation states; or 1968 protests and civil rights movements with their divergent outcomes;
- lessons learned from anti-state activism, dissident traditions, and other past forms of civil society opposition to ostracism and loss of citizenship under non-democratic regimes;
- the changing role of the EU in respect to civil society, state institutions and governments;
- present time strategies, methods, and actions by civil society actors in resistance and defence of their stands and of European values – whether successful or not; and
- findings and developments from related fields, such as watchdog journalism; independent judiciary; democratic institutions; academic freedom etc., which affect civil society’s strength and viability.
* WORKSHOP DETAILS AND SUBMISSIONS
The workshop will be held at The Central European University, Budapest, on December 8-9, 2017. Invited participants are expected to arrive in Budapest by the evening of Thursday, December 7, and depart on the afternoon of Saturday, December 9, 2017.
300 words-long abstracts for position papers or presentations need to be submitted by email to: remembering_eu [at] bluelink [dot] net (remembering_eu (at) bluelink.net).
Proposals will be accepted until Sunday, November 5, 2017 and will be reviewed on ongoing basis. Notification of acceptance will be issued latest by Monday, November 6, 2017.
Participants are expected to prepare ready-made short position papers (3-5 pages) or multimedia presentations, which shall be distributed among participants in advance. The workshop is an all-read-all event. Speakers are invited to give a brief oral/multimedia presentations of up to 15 minutes, building upon their position papers. Presentations will be followed by discussion with all the participants.
Completed papers and presentations by accepted participants will need to be submitted by Tuesday, November 30, 2017.
No participation fees will be charged for accepted participants.
A collection of selected and expanded inputs will be published as a widely distributed analytical report.
The organizers will cover meals for all participants (details to follow). Justified applications for reimbursement of travel and accommodation costs will be considered.
* ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Prof. Balazs Trencsenyi, Head, History Department, Central European University
Kristof Szombati, Political Advisor, Greenpeace Hungary
Pavel P. Antonov, PhD, Executive Editor, BlueLink Foundation / Affiliated member, Open Space Research Centre, UK
Veronika Mora, Executive Director, Ökotárs, Hungary
Wiktor Marzec, PhD, Research Associate, BlueLink Foundation
For more information:
- Dr. Wiktor Marzec, email remembering_eu [at] bluelink [dot] net (remembering_eu (at) bluelink.net).
- Monika Nagy, Research Project Coordinator, email NagyMo [at] ceu [dot] edu (NagyMo (at) ceu.edu).
The Remembering Europe - Civil Society Under Pressure Again project is aimed to restore the awareness of the Union's history and diversity and foster the sense of EU citizenship, this project will bring up the memories of totalitarian oppression once experienced by CEE societies.
Governmental, political and opinion leaders in Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria frequently undermine European values and principles - such as civil society participation and citizens' oversight of government. Focused practical research will reconstruct and analyse the past practices of ostracism and loss of citizenship under totalitarian regimes in Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland, and will compare them analytically to the methods and rhetorics of today's politicians who attack and undermine critical civil society voices. The research outcomes will be used to raise awareness of remembrance, common history and the humanist, democratic and environmental values of the European Union at a Transnational workshop. In the third stage of the project journalists from around CEE will use BlueLink's innovative virtual newsroom to investigate and produce multimedia features. The stories will tell about success and failure of civil society's efforts to stand for the EU's commitments to peace, solidarity, sustainability and well-being.
To foster a common culture of remembrance and mutual understanding between citizens from different EU member states, two historical turning points in Europe's 20th century will be commemorated in journalists' stories, and in the analytical reports, produced within the project:
- the end of the WWI in 1918, with the failure of the ensuing nation states to create cooperation and peaceful coexistence in Europe and of the ensuing nation states; and
- the events in Eastern Europe during 1967 - 1968, including the invasion to Czechoslovakia, the anti-Semitic campaign in Poland, and the writing of The Totalitarian State by Zhelyu Zhelev in Bulgaria.
The authors will explore their impact on CEE's aspiration for democracy and EU membership, and trace their consequences in today's Europe. To help restoring the Union's history and diversity and fostering EU citizenship, this project will bring up memories of totalitarian oppression and compare them to the contemporary attempts to suppress critical civil society voices and democratic participation in Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, and elsewhere in CEE. The specific objective is to raise awareness of remembrance, common history and values, and the Union's aim, while offering practical response to the challenges faced by CEE civil society.
Duration of the project is August 1, 2017 - December 31, 2018. The project is implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with support from the Europe for Citizens programme of the European Union. Full project description can be found here.
This text 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.