Serbia: Civil society gathers for the future
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.The Conference Series “From Bullets to Ballots” is organized by the Swedish Social Democratic Party together with the Olof Palme International Center. It is a meeting ground for social democratic and progressive political parties, all of whom were once centralist liberation movements, now being in different stages of transition towards functioning democratic structures. It is an opportunity to discuss and share experiences, achievements and obstacles with each other. Starting in 2003 with the ANC of South Africa and the Fatah of Palestine, the conference has grown, in its sixth round, to include also the Frelimo of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola, Akbayan of the Philippines and this year’s host: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi Kurdistan.
On May 18th 100 women gathered at the Active Women Community Changers-conference in Ramallah. The conference was organized by HDIP as a part of the project activities. The national conference was an opportunity for women from Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem to discuss what has been achieved since the project started 2012 and what they can do better.
During the conference the participants talked about their new experience in ways to be organized especially networking and knowledge transmission as well as their roles as local leaders and trainers. The participants said that they are aware that they contribute to changes and hope that they inspire the other women to be local communities’ changers.
One of new local community changers who attended the conference was Faiza Abu Shamsieh. She lives in the Old City of Hebron. She and her family – six children and a physically disabled husband- live under constant threat from 600 radical Israeli settlers and/or Israeli soldiers. According to B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories – settlers in the city have routinely abused the city’s Palestinian residents, sometimes using extreme violence like beatings or breaking in to houses. Faiza´s family is one of the last Palestinian families in the building they live in. An Israeli soldier who has taken over one of the Palestinian flats in the house threatens to throw out Faiza´s family every day.
She says that lack of knowledge and a low self-confidence has made her feel helpless and weak most of her life. She was afraid to leave the house or to face her unpleasant neighbor. She felt that she could not stand up for her children or teach them how to stand up for themselves.
After the training sessions had been completed Faiza Abu Shamsieh expressed a new-found confidence in dealing with daily life and speaking in front of other people and arguing for her rights. Now she is a local leader and advocates for women organizing and empowering in the Old City in Hebron.
Text and Photo: Zarifeh Malki and Svjetlana Duric, Program Coordinators, the Olof Palme International Center