Focal area: Social development and civil society
Programme: Support civil society, the restructuring of RTS and the establishment of a regulatory body for electronic media
After the change of government in Yugoslavia in October 2000 a climate of openness and democratic freedom prevailed. Despite commitment of the new democratic government to carry out structural changes and improve economic performance, concrete results are yet to be actually felt by the population at large. In fact, citizens’ discontent with their poor living standard is rapidly growing.
Since 1990 when free association and organisation of citizens were legalised in FRY the number of NGOs has increased significantly. By the end of 2000 there were 1,800 NGOs registered with the Serbian Ministry of Justice in addition to the 20,000 organisations remaining from the pre Milosovic times. The fields of their activity have expanded to include human rights, environmental protection, electoral transparency and fostering of democratic ideas and institutions throughout the country. Their activities have also changed due to the break up of the former Yugoslavia, which resulted in a massive influx of refugees, IDPs, growing poverty and unemployment and a general reduction in state-provided social services. Despite the fact that NGOs were perceived as a threat by the Milosovic government (they were often severely persecuted), the civic movement turned into a politically powerful force, which influenced the transition to democracy.
Based on field experience and the latest surveys the development of civil society is especially problematic in socially and economically deprived regions in Serbia (e. g., eastern, western Serbia and Sandjak) These are also the regions with many different minorities, such as the Bulgarians, Vlachs, Muslims, Roma etc.
Due to their under developed political culture and lack of democratic traditions most of the targeted municipalities are cradles of conservative and intolerant thinking and behaviour where NGOs are still perceived as an alien structure due to the harsh propaganda of the previous regime. As a consequence there is a high level of distrust between local administrations and citizens. The proposed programme is designed to assist in bridging this gap.
With such help civil society will gradually impose itself as a partner in channelling citizens’ concerns in local administrative decision-making processes and create incentives for local administrations to become more sensitive to its community’s needs. Such civil society-local administration partnerships are already well rooted in some Serbian cities (Nis, Novi Sad, Kikinda, Vrsac, Knjazevac, Pirot, Novi Sad) and have resulted in more constructive decision-making, faster and better service for the citizens. Moreover, local administrations will be better prepared for future challenges such as the about to be implemented law on local governance and fiscal decentralisation.
The media scene in Serbia is still in a transition phase. While many independent operators are still fighting for survival, the basic regulatory framework that would enable a sound development of the sector is still being discussed in the Parliament. However, new legislation should be adopted in early 2002, thus allowing for a drastic transformation of the state controlled TV into a public service broadcaster. The creation of an independent regulatory body, foreseen in the new law, will allow for an unbiased control of licensed media operators.
3.1.1 Strengthen NGOs (approx. €3 million)
NGO professionals from Western, Eastern Serbia and Sandjak will be trained on issues related to (i) NGO management, (ii) civil society development and (iii) lobbying and advocacy techniques.
Through the grant funds NGO will be able to assist in financing projects (e.g., handicap ramps, improving conditions of social welfare centres, etc) and activities aimed at addressing the needs of local population, especially vulnerable groups, and increasing citizens participation in public life. Such grants would also create incentives for the local administrations to work in partnership with their community. Co-funding from grantees (up to 20% in kind or cash) will be required.
Through workshops participants exchange information, learn more about one another’s concerns and begin to define common issues, which could be tacked more efficiently by joint action. Also good practices and success stories in one community (in terms of efficient cooperation of NGOs and local administration) will be shared with participants.
3.2.1 Support reforms of Radio Serbia and the newly established sector regulatory body (approx. €1 million)
Funds would be provided for equipment and training for RTS’ successful restructuring and for the newly created regulatory body.