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The Olof Palme International Center (OPC) has a long-term commitment to support sustainable change and a democratic development in the Western Balkans based on the Swedish labour movement’s principle of international solidarity. The programme is supported by the Swedish government’s regional strategy. OPC has more than twenty years of experience of working in the region and we build our strategy on the accumulated experiences from these years and the continuous input and recommendations from our partners and other relevant stakeholders from civil society in the respective countries.

The consolidation of democracy in the region is challenged by corruption, lack of trust in state institutions, poverty, unemployment, gender inequality and the weak mechanisms for popular participation. Strong and legitimate civil society organisations with a capacity to mobilize citizens as well as to monitor duty bearers, play a crucial role in a functioning democratic society.

The focus of our programme is on increasing the capacity and legitimacy of civil society organisations to hold public officials accountable within these selected thematic areas: transparency/anti-corruption, citizen’s participation and socio-economic/labour rights.

The thematic approach simplifies the coordination within and between the OPC programmes, facilitates cooperation and joint activities between partners, thus further emphasizing the importance of contributing to the creation of progressive alliances.

Previous experience

The last two decades of international support to building a vibrant civil society in the Western Balkans, has generated a wide range of organisations covering most aspects of society. There are now organisations with institutional capacity that are well connected to regional and European networks. CSO’s have contributed to the overall political debate through the education of citizens with research and analysis on different topics as well as facilitating the dialogue with authorities and public institutions.

But the legitimacy of CSO’s is still weak as most lack a popular base and have not been able to mobilize around the core issues of citizens’concerns. Driven by donor agendas and procedures, the flora of CSO’s have been atomized and lack coordination around common topics. The efforts to empower CSO’s through strengthened legitimacy therefore need to continue and there is also a need for more joint actions and consolidation of thematic networks.

OPC partners have been part of developing mechanisms for citizens participation at both the local and national level that now need to be institutionalized. Partners have taken the lead on improving and strengthening the cooperation between NGO’s and the trade union movement on socio-economic topics. In coming years OPC will continue to support these efforts both through individual projects and through alliances and networks as CSO’s have the capacity and tools to lead this process.

The following vision and mission guide our work as presented in our Results Assessment Framework (RAF).

Vision

Political and social processes in the Western Balkans are transparent and participatory, reflecting the rights and interests of empowered and organized citizens that hold decision makers accountable.

Mission

To strengthen the capacity and legitimacy of civil society organisations and support activities that ensure the participatory nature of political processes and the accountability of duty bearers. Civil society organisations will mobilize citizens and increase popular participation in decision-making, improve transparency and accountability and ensure respect for socio-economic/labour rights.

Thematic focus areas

Popular/citizen participation

Social and political organising through an active citizenship is key to enable democratic participation and thus contribute to social development and a sustainable democracy. OPC is committed to the process of supporting creative forms of organising to strengthen citizens and civil society’s capacity to monitor and influence decisions-makers. We strive to develop a close relationship with our partners based on a common agenda, transparency and mutual trust.

Civil society in the Western Balkans has made great progress and strengthened its position and CSO’s are consulted more often than before in local and national decision making. The development and use of tools such as social contracts, participatory budgeting and local forums for dialogue with institutions are examples of innovative contributions made by CSO’s that OPC will continue to support.

Still, the lack of legitimacy of CSO’s remains a concern, generally characterized by low levels of popular participation and a weak popular base. The efforts to empower CSO’s through strengthened legitimacy and an expanded popular base therefore need to continue.

Transparency/anti-corruption

Corruption and lack of transparency constitutes one of the major challenges to the development of democratic and accountable political structures in the Western Balkans. The widespread corruption curbs fair political participation, is a threat to poverty reduction and limits access to socio-economic rights. Citizens’ lack of trust in public institutions is a direct threat to democratic consolidation.

The structural deficiencies underpinning corruption relate to an unreformed and malfunctioning judicial system, blurred separation of powers, biased and controlled media, limited possibilities for citizen’s influence and participation in decision making procedures. Impunity is wide spread as corruption cases very seldom make it to the courts and if they do, rarely leads to a conviction.

Even so, positive developments can be seen at the local level in relation to public participation in decision making and increased access to information on budgetary procedures and policy making such as through local anti-corruption forums. Many of these positive examples have been promoted by OPC partners and we will continue to support the capacities of civil society to hold public officials and politicians accountable and demand transparency in public and private institutions.

Socio-economic/labour rights

As part of the Swedish labour movement, OPC has close links to the trade union movement and considers the universal labour rights, defined in the ILO Conventions, as a vital pillar in the protection and promoting of human rights. Trade unions are part of civil society and in comparison to other CSO’s globally, they represent the civil society organizations with most members and therefore have a great potential to mobilize and influence political agendas.

The stronger focus on socio-economic/labour rights is based on current challenges in the region connected to the EU-process that will put additional pressure on social protection systems and the labour market and increase the need for legitimate and representative organisations working on labour and socio-economic rights.

The trade union movement in the region is weak, divided by political and personal conflicts, lacks legitimacy and representativity. This is in great parts a consequence of the historical legacy and the lack of renewal. But it is also important to put the weakness of labour movement in the context of the overall economic situation: high unemployment, wide-spread informal sector and a shrinking public sector with, in comparison, stable working conditions. It is a labour market where the employers set the rules with little opposition and where the employees have only fragmented representation in the work place. There is also little cooperation between CSO’s and trade unions based on a mutual lack of trust and information.

OPC will support cooperation to bridge the gap between trade unions and other CSO’s through projects with a common agenda, as well as projects to directly strengthen the legitimacy of trade unions.

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