„There are no shortcuts to democracy“
Current and former representatives of state institutions, political parties, and civil society organizations debated with 130 participants at the National Forum of Civica Mobilitas on the topic ” From Civic Activism to Societal Changes – Expectations vis a’ vis Reality”, which was held on November 15, 2023, in Skopje.
About their experiences as civil society activists and representatives of the institutions that participate in policy-making and decision-making, including the cooperation between authorities and civil society organizations, spoke Fatmir Bitiqi, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, as well as Ljatife Shikovska, MP in the Assembly, Petrit Saracini, president of the Institute for Media and Analytics, Zhaneta Trajkoska, director of the Institute for Communication Studies and Sasho Klekovski, member of the Executive Committee of VMRO-DPMNE.
“A strong civil society is a key element for a well-functioning democracy,” said Lucien Aegerter, Deputy Ambassador of Switzerland in North Macedonia, in his welcome address. According to him, such a civil society connects people with decision-makers, advocates for citizen-oriented changes, gives a voice to the marginalized, and monitors the performance of state institutions. “As a Swiss, I know that consultation and inclusion take time. I often hear that there is not enough time, resources, or knowledge to ensure adequate consultation. My answer to this is simple: democracy is about inclusion, consultation, transparency, and consensus building. “There is no shortcut,” Egerter said.
Speaking about the achievements of the grantees of Civica Mobilitas, Aleksandar Krzhalovski, the team leader of the porgramme referred to the contribution to the strengthening of civil society organizations, increasing their voice in society, and establishing a close relationship with the beneficiaries and with the institutions. “Our common goal by supporting 324 civil society organizations is to make changes in the areas in which they work,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be what I am today if I hadn’t spent the years in the civil society sector,” said Vice Prime Minister Bitikji in his address. He agreed with Eggerter that the essence is involvement, and it takes time. “I wouldn’t change anything in the order of my professional development. The life cycle must take us through the civil sector to learn to do something for others, through the business sector to learn to do something for ourselves, and finally, in the public sector to do something for society through an institutional and structured approach, he pointed out.
MP Ljatife Shikovska spoke about civil activism related to the improvement of the situation of the Roma population. “I tried to shake up the issues about the Roma as a community. And then and today, the objective is systematic changes,” she said. Although it was not easy, they managed to make changes and be critical towards the institutions. Their goal is greater involvement of Roma in schools. “The key to escape from poverty is investing in education,” she believes. “I had no ambitions to enter politics, but when SDSM offered me in 2015, I considered it a great opportunity to contribute to greater changes.”
Petrit Saracjini, among other things, referred to the experience of his engagement in the Government. “Even before the Colorful Revolution, there were politicians who came from the civil society sector,” he said. However, according to him, a public campaign was launched for those who made a shift in 2017 and it was demanded that their results be measured even though they had not starteded to work yet. Sarachini believes that such negative discourse was discouraging for those people. Returning to the civil sector or the media is a completely normal course for him.
“As civil society organizations, we must always ask for more,” said Zhaneta Trajkoska. She emphasized that the expectations from those who came to power after the Colorful Revolution were high and therefore the disappointments were high. According to her, although some individuals join the political parties with honest intentions, after a few years it is difficult for them to maintain their independence. “I think there is nothing wrong with the entry of civil society activists in the government, but we need to educate political parties to respect different opinions within,” she added.
Regarding political parties, Sasho Klekovski said that in principle they want the space for themselves. “There is no space for civil organizations, trade unions, business or religious communities there. There is room for them only during elections.” However, according to him, there is an interaction between civil society organizations and politicians, and thanks to it, changes have occurred such as the participation of women in politics, the institutionalization of the fight for the environment, etc. He believes that a space should be provided for young people in the political parties. Preserving the integrity of those who enter politics is crucial because it depends on whether change is made.
In the discussion that followed, both the panelists and the participants referred to current issues of the work of civil society organizations and of the interest of the whole society, such as the growing polarization on various grounds. The participants believe that it will deepen because there is no communication. Civic organizations react, but there is no response. Answers to questions from CSOs that can be obtained through public information are lacking in certain institutions. The participants also talked about inter-ethnic relations, changes in Criminal law, changes in the media law and state advertising, etc. “We are far from an inclusive society,” said Heidi Sterjova Simonovic, director of HOPS, referring to the work with their beneficiaries from marginalized groups. She emphasized that together the partners have been talking for a long time about the need to improve the state funding model. “For continued provision of services there must be continued support and funding also,” she said. For Marija Savovska, the director of the Action Association, the main question is whether this government is discussing the development and support of CSOs. She believes that the strategies are not implemented and that a plan is needed for this topic.
In his closing remarks, Vice Prime Minister Bitikji said that the lack of vision for where the country is going was the inspiration for developing the National Strategy, which is in its final phase. He agreed that what we have now is not what we wanted. “The civil society sector is very important and I tell my colleagues to continue their good work and be proactive,” Shikovska said. For Sarachini, it is important for civil society organizations to be active in order to move forward. “With public pressure, we can make public changes,” Trajkoska said. She is aware that changes will not happen rapidly, but they should be done step by step. Klekovski referred to the capacity to accept different opinions and attitudes. “We need to be able to organize the common goals,” he said. Regardless the different opinions, civil society must be organized for common goals. “We need to organize ourselves to see what we have in common, what we can achieve and act together,” he added.
The representatives of civil society were also self-critical, so they appealed to their colleagues for greater vocality, more intense pressure on the authorities, and more dynamic civil activism.
The National Forum is an activity of Civica Mobilitas, a program of the Government of Switzerland. It provides a space for discussion between representatives of civil society organizations, institutions, and other stakeholders important for solving the issues being treated