Serbia: Civil society gathers for the future
“I would really like to see some changes in the NGO-sector in Serbia” says Dragomir Pop Mitic from Uzice Center for Human Rights and Democracy who participated in an event for civil society organizations in Belgrade in December.
About 50 representatives from different civil society organizations gathered to reflect upon where the Serbian civil society is heading as well as their own role in relation to this.
-I think we need some fresh ideas and some new faces in order to take some steps forward in the right direction and to create a really powerful civil society sector in Serbia, says Dragomir.
The event was hosted by one of Olof Palme International Centers partners, Group Lets, as an attempt to address the issue of legitimacy within the civil society. Civil society in Serbia is relatively young. Almost all of the organisations were formed within the last two decades. During the nineties, civil society played a crucial role and gathered a large number of people in the fight against the authoritarian regime. After the democratization their challenge has been to find a new role.
In Serbia there is no tradition of vast membership based organizations, and the general public tend to see civil society as one group closely related to international donors, sometimes even as connected to the state, rather than as a platform for their own organization and activism based on their own rights and interests. In this context the civil society organizations needs to face the challenges of becoming more visible and accountable towards the public.
– We´ve tried to organize something different, to make it a little bit more creative. Something constructive, to motivate people how to think about themselves, about self responsibility and about the next steps that they are able to take, says Suzanna Krstic from Group Lets.
Through the event Group Lets wants to challenge civil society organizations in Serbia by raising questions about their role, function and legitimacy. During the two days event innovative methods were used in order to challenge, provoke and encourage critical self-reflection among the participants.
– We started to do some things different and now I hope that we will change something in people, within themselves, says Suzana.
Dragomir Pop Mitic is reflecting upon whether there was something in the event that made a particularly strong impression.
– I enjoyed it all, but I think the funeral presentation was really surprising and some kind of chock for many of us, he says and refer to a symbolic funeral of the Serbian civil society that was staged at one point in the event. He looks positively towards the future.
– I think there is lot of potential, not only here in this room but also in the civil society because people started a lot in the past and I think that all of us and people in general in Serbia really look forward to the future. Because there are many things that we need to change for the future, we need to adopt a lot of things from the European Union of western democracy. In a way there are good prospects but also a lot of challenges in that process.
Text and Photo: STINA OSKARSSON,
Programme Manager Western Balkans