In the middle of March in Brussels about 40 representatives of civil society from European Union candidate countries (South-East Europe, Turkey and Iceland) attended the European Commission study tour “Direct democracy and e-democracy as a means for fostering transparency, civic engagement and participation” as part of People 2 People program.
It was an opportunity for me to speak with some of them about how the relationship between citizens and their governments has been shaping up in the Western Balkans. In this blog I give a brief summary of our conversation followed by a link to YouTube where you can see the full video.
Tijana Cvjeticanin speaks about the welfare state and the need for more citizen participation, but also about the fact that the so-called “social contract” was never negotiated with citizens after the fall of former Yugoslavia – “The system fell apart and nothing meaningful replaced it”. She is a research coordinator for the Citizens Association “Why not”, an organization that deals with the construction of a safe, healthy, active, efficient and responsible Bosnian society as a whole, from government authorities to civil society and citizens.
Dragan Sekulovski presents his thoughts about the need for active citizenship in the Balkans and deplores the apathy of young people in the Balkans. He is executive director of the “Association of Journalists of Macedonia”.
They all speak my thoughts about the dilemmas for Balkan countries posed by EU integration. These are the challenges for Serbia too. Social and economic insecurity and high employment are the main problems in the whole region, while the expectations of ordinary citizens are still very much geared to the old socialist-style systems which provided free education, healthcare and other free citizen services as well.
Željko Djukic compares former Yugoslavia with present times and fears that private services will not be accepted as an alternative to public services by people in this region. He is director of the “Multimedia” marketing agency in Montenegro.
Robert Murataj also addresses the difference between private and public services. He presents the experience made in another neighboring country in transition – Albania. He is manager of the “Aarhus Information Center of Vlora”, the main mission of which is to implement the Aarhus Convention and make local actors and citizens aware of issues related to environmental protection, and involve local communities in local decision-making related to the environment.
The fact is that democracy supplanted the “socio-economic paradise”, a time that is never going to return. The economic crisis, lack of political stability, and heavy bureaucracy all augur ill for any improvement in the investment climate while the power of entrepreneurship is still underestimated. This mindset has to be changed and the debate must be open for all points of view and highly transparent if our countries are to achieve the type of consolidated democracy we all aspire for.