Shrinking spaces in the Western Balkans

Sarajevo, 2016.
CIP - Katalogizacija u publikaciji
Nacionalna i univerzitetska biblioteka Bosne i Hercegovine, Sarajevo
SHRINKING spaces in the Western Balkans / [prepared by Jelena
Vukobrat]. - Sarajevo : Fondacija Heinrich Böll, Ured za Bosnu i Hercegovinu,
2016. - 85 str. : ilustr. ; 17 cm
Bibliografija: str. 82-85 ; bibliografske i druge bilješke uz tekst.
ISBN 978-9958-577-18-5
COBISS.BH-ID 23368710
About the publication
Heinrich Böll Foundation,
Office for Bosnia and Herzegovina
On behalf of the publisher:
Marion Kraske
Prepared by:
Jelena Vukobrat
We gratefully acknowledge the substantial contribution
to the concept and realization of this publication
by Mirela Grünther-Đečević.
Language editing and proof reading:
Adelina Stuparu
Design and Layout:
Triptih d.o.o. Sarajevo
Cover design:
Maja Ilić, Art4Smart
AMOS GRAF d.o.o., Sarajevo, 2016.
300 copies
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily
constitute the views and opinions of the publisher.
All articles in this publication are subject to
Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Table of contents
Introduction – An Appeal to (re)Open Space | Marion Kraske . . . . . . . . . . 3
Shrinking Space for Civil Society Actors Needs Serious Attention | Mirela Grünther-Đečević 7
In the Aftermath of the Croatian "U-turn" – Damage Control for Civil Society |
Vedran Horvat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System | Nano Ružin . . . 14
Macedonia: A Captured Society | Xhabir Deralla . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space | Ivana Dragšić . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Serbia: Regaining Space | Dobrica Veselinović . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
For the Locals Unwanted, for the International Community a "Necessary Evil" | Saša Gavrić 37
Public Space Belongs to Us | Dražana Lepir . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism |
Alida Karakushi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Republika Srpska: A Chronology of Restrictions for Civil Society Organisations |
Dragana Dardić . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Bosnian Blues: Culture, Pressure, Suffocation | Nenad Veličković . . . . . . . . 57
Academics under Threat – A Personal Experience | Slavo Kukić . . . . . . . . . 60
Media and Public Space in Democracy | Lejla Turčilo . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Investigative Reporting in the Era of Shrinking Spaces | Leila Bičakčić . . . . . . 70
Media in Serbia – The Fight Continues | Jelena Vasić . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
Ways to Open Space | Dragana Dardić . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

Marion Kraske,
Office Director of the
Heinrich Böll Foundation,
Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Macedonia and Albania,
The masked thugs came at night, demolished
and destroyed, in order to create
space for stylish apartment buildings and
expensive restaurants. This night-time
attack in Belgrade brought back memories
of dark times. Precisely there, where
at the end of April 2016 the instruments
of power of times past were once again
brought back to life, should Belgrade’s socalled
project of the future emerge: The
Waterfront Project, a costly gigantic architectural
endeavor on the Sava, planned
and developed from the very top, entirely
without civic participation.
Critics complaining about the lack of
transparency of this investment have been
a thorn in the side to the investors and
beneficiaries of this gargantuan project:
those who openly demanded that the incident
be investigated were threatened. The
calls for help the police station received
during the night of the attack went unanswered.
As the Serbian Ombudsman later
determined, the police had a deal with the
Welcome to Serbia, year 2016, a land
which, according to the statements of its
Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, is striving
to make its way into the European
Union as soon as possible. The attack
surrounding the controversial Waterfront
Project is admittedly merely one of many
in the region of South-East Europe, which
demonstrate clearly how drastically state
officials misuse their positions to quash
or curtail civic participation. They often
concern ostensibly meaningful largescale
projects, whose backgrounds and
finances are quite murky and their positive
effects on the common good highly
Such scenarios were also present in
other Western Balkan countries; in Macedonia,
critics of the Skopje 2014 project
were discredited. This is another lavish
construction project aiming at the complete
transformation of the city center,
devised and implemented by the VMRO
government, which has been in power for
years. Thousands of citizens, who in the
early summer of 2016, spent weeks in the
streets under the motto Protestiram (I protest)
to demonstrate against corruption
and criminal machinations of the politicians
in power, were branded enemies of
the state.
In the youngest EU member state, Croatia,
the November 2015 elections led to
a shift to the right. Since then, old enemy
images have been used to silence the
opponents. Journalists who did not support
the party line of the newly strengthened
national-conservative HDZ, were
pushed out of their positions in order to
destroy, to quote the Croatian Journalist
Association, "any trace of support by
the government for a multicultural and
cosmopolitan stance in the media sector".
The new revisionist tones have had
a detrimental effect on public discourse
in the country: those who opposed the
crude reinterpretations have been targeted
by governmental agencies, marginalized,
and intimidated. At the recent
elections in September 2016, the new HDZ
leader Andrej Plenković won the elections
promoting "a new culture of dialogue". It
remains to be seen whether this will also
reflect on the relationship with civil society.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ruling
powers in the Republika Srpska (RS) have
been trying to nip in the bud the evergrowing
criticism of nepotism and mismanagement.
Citizens who practice their
right to freedom of expression, are penalized
draconically. Those who think differently
than the political power cliques, are
delivered the proverbial bill.
All these scenarios follow a worldwide
trend: be it Thailand, Turkey or Egypt –
democracy has been on the decrease.
A study published by the Bertelsmann
Foundation, examining developments in
129 developing countries and countries
in transition, has come to this conclusion.
The study yielded a sobering result:
in one fifth of the examined countries –
out of which 74 are ruled democratically,
and 55 by an authoritarian regime – there
has been a significant drop in the quality
of democracy and an increase in repression.
Political participation, an important
indicator of the state of any democracy,
is either decreasing progressively, or is
intentionally targeted. In 2015, CIVICUS,
an organization which supports the rights
of civil society worldwide, found restrictions
of fundamental rights, such as the
right to freedom of opinion and assembly,
in 109 countries worldwide.
Europe and its periphery are also
affected by these tendencies to a concerning
degree. Whereas in the wake of the disintegration
of the Soviet Union at the end
of the 80s/beginning of the 90s, libertarian
and democratic trends emerged and the
principles of freedom and self-determination
saw a historical triumph, a quarter
of a century later, a return to anti-liberal
and autocratic tendencies is taking place.
The Heinrich Boell Foundation, which
operates in around 60 countries in the
thematic fields of human rights and
democracy, is alarmed in view of these
developments and the resulting shrinking
spaces for civil society actors. The degree
of the repression, according to the Board
of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, has
never been so high in the past 25 years.
The mentioned tendencies often
manifest themselves particularly on the
periphery of Europe, in the fragile structures
of the Western Balkans, where the
instruments of state repression are utterly
complex: journalists are threatened, and
scholars who do not follow the party line
are discredited and marginalized. For
instance, activists struggling against the
destruction of the few park areas in the
Albanian capital Tirana were bullied and
beaten by the police. In other places, as
the example of Macedonia demonstrates,
engaged citizens are labeled as criminals
by a power-hungry political clique, allegedly
representing a national interest. This
narrative keeps emerging in the propaganda
those in power resort to: people
demanding more democracy and participation,
protesting against corruption
and nepotism, are labeled enemies of
the state, precisely by those who systematically
trample upon the common good.
Such measures are regularly followed by
special NGO laws which aim at hindering
the cash flow for NGOs. When it comes to
repression, the governments have proved
to be utterly resourceful. Social media
plays a particularly important role here:
civil society actors are often discredited
online, their personal data and addresses
are published – in the digital age these
measures are used by state agencies and
their backers as a tested tool to outlaw
their critics. Others, as in the RS in Bosnia
and Herzegovina, end up on a black
list. Citizens are hindered from protesting
publically, while public space is intentionally
occupied. These are also the ways in
which harmless civic activism is nipped in
the bud.
The phenomenon of the captured
state lies behind these tendencies: corrupt
networks use their power in all areas
of the state, not to do politics in the proper
meaning of the word, or to devise solutions
for social and economic problems,
but to be able to utilize the state as an
eco-system for enriching themselves. The
issue at hand is about power, about access
to state resources – Big Business at the
expense of the common good.
In order to keep Big Business up and
running, civic actors’ field of operation is
rigorously limited or – in the worst cases –
entirely closed. Democratic achievements
are thus perforated and transformation
processes frozen.
The countries of the Western Balkans
right now have the opportunity to join the
rest of Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina,
which after ten years of political agony
submitted an application for candidacy
status in February 2016, Macedonia,
which has been a candidate since 2014,
Serbia, whose EU path the Prime Minister
recently confirmed through the elections,
and finally Albania, which for decades had
been sealed off by a paranoid dictator, is
now opening gradually. Narcissistic power
cliques have been thwarting historical
chances for successful sustainable transformations,
or have thoughtlessly jeopardized
– as has been the case in Croatia
– democratic achievements.
As diverse as the approaches may be
in individual countries, there is a common
pattern: actors, who attempt to
exercise their civic rights, are perceived
by the political elites as obstacles to be
overcome. This clearly contradicts internationally
binding declarations of various
organizations. At the beginning of
July 2016, the UN Human Rights Council
adopted a resolution addressing the value
of a strong civil society and appealing for
fundamental rights, such as the right to
free speech and assembly, be respected.
In this context, another pertinent issue
emerges: when the EU, despite statements
to the contrary, is not perceived as a strategic
partner by civil society in the Balkans,
when representatives of the international
community fail to answer requests for
meetings by well-intentioned citizens,
when the EU and other stakeholders do
nothing to support these citizens in their
struggle against power-hungry politicians,
this leads to serious limitations of
civil society’s field of operation and to the
entrenchment, precisely of the political
caste, which has consistently been hindering
successful democratization in the
With this publication, the HBF Office in
Sarajevo would like to contribute to shedding
light on the complex mechanisms of
shrinking spaces, provide analyses, and
develop adequate countermeasures.
The goal of the Foundation is to
expand the field of operation for civil
society actors since, without civic engagement
and participation, democratization
cannot succeed.
Space for Civil
Society Actors
Needs Serious
Mirela G Grünther-Đečević,
International Development
Expert, Sarajevo
An empowered civil society is a crucial
component of any democratic system and
democratic process, as it fosters pluralism,
and can contribute to more effective policies,
equality, sustainable development,
and inclusive growth. While states carry
the primary responsibility for development
and democratic governance, synergies
between states and civil society
organizations can help overcome challenges
in many aspects of a democratic
Civil society’s participation in policy
processes is key to ensuring inclusive and
effective policies because it contributes to
building more accountable and legitimate
states, leading to enhanced social cohesion,
more open, and deeper democracies.
By articulating citizens’ concerns and
being engaged in democratic initiatives,
civil society organizations are active actors
in the public space. They represent a growing
demand for transparent and accountable
The last decade has witnessed contrasting
developments globally, but
also in the Western Balkan region. Civil
society organizations have increased in
number and responded to new socialpolitical
challenges, however the relationship
between the state and civil society
organizations is often difficult. A limited
tradition of dialogue still prevails in many
countries of the Western Balkan region
and far too often the space for civil society
remains narrow, or is even shrinking, with
severe restrictions applied.
In many contexts civil society organizations
face limitations in their opportunities
to work. On the other hand, civil
society organizations often face challenges
of internal governance and capacity,
dependency on international donors,
as well as competition over resources.
Space starts to shrink when governments
see civil society and their activities
as a threat. As a result, they use tactics
to discredit and weaken them, thereby
shrinking the space in which they can
work and act. Limiting space for civil society
to act is at the same time questioning
their legitimacy. Governments are erecting
legal and administrative barriers, making
it more difficult for civil society organizations
to operate, in particular those who
receive foreign funding. In many countries,
many civil society organizations are
restricted when they attempt to hold public
gatherings, express their views, or set up
new organizations.
As mentioned, this is becoming a significant
and worrying trend, both in and
outside of the European Union. There is a
great need to address this issue very seriously.
The borders of freedom are changing,
also within so-called democratic
societies. It is not limited to authoritarian
or dictatorial regimes. The governments
that limit the space for independent civil
society are learning from and copying each
As civil society actors have found new
spaces to organize and express themselves,
in particular in the 21st century, by using
new technologies, authorities have also
found new ways to restrict public political
space. There is a trend, also in the Western
Balkan countries, that civil society actors
funded by international organizations
who criticise governmental actions, are
labelled as "foreign agents", which harms
the organizations’ credibility.
Closing space often correlates with
weak links between civil society and the
citizens, and their heavy reliance on foreign
funding. Having a limited number
of donors and lacking a broad support
base among local citizens, they risk losing
touch with the very people their actions
are meant to represent.
The Western Balkan countries face a
range of challenges, especially in fields
such as the rule of law, human rights,
corruption, organized crime, the economy
and social inclusion. Civil society
is making a substantial contribution to
addressing many of these through their
lobbying, advocacy and oversight activities
at national, regional and local levels.
When it comes to democratic governance,
the rule of law, and human
rights, including the freedom of expression
and association, minority rights and
human rights of LGBTI persons, they create
demand for enhanced transparency,
accountability and effectiveness from
public institutions and a greater focus on
the needs of citizens in policy-making.
Civil society organizations in the region
have also demonstrated their ability to initiate
effective anti-corruption initiatives,
contribute to regional integration and reconciliation
processes, support independent
media, campaign for gender equality,
fight against discrimination, and promote
social inclusion and environmentally sustainable
policies and practices.
What Role can the European
Union Integration Process
In its 2012 Council conclusions1, the European
Union (EU) recognized the tendency
of shrinking spaces for civil society organizations
and committed itself to fostering
a dynamic, independent environment
in which civil society could grow. It also
advocated engagement with civil society
in a more meaningful and structured way.
The Council is committed to ‘promote
stronger partnerships between authorities
and local civil society organizations and
‘address threats to NGOs’ space’ in a 2015-
1 European Commission, The roots of Democracy
and Sustainable Development: Europe’s Engagement
with Civil Society in External Relations,
(2012), rep/1/2012/EN/1-2012-492-EN-F1-1.Pdf>
8 Shrinking Space for Civil Society Actors Needs Serious Attention
2019 Action Plan on Human Rights and
In light of this context, the Commission
proposes an enhanced and more strategic
approach in its engagement with local civil
society organizations covering all regions,
including developing, neighbourhood
and enlargement countries. Therefore,
the emphasis of the EU policy will be on
civil society organizations’ engagement to
build stronger democratic processes and
accountability systems, and to achieve
better development outcomes.
There are three priorities for EU support3:
• promoting a conducive environment
for civil society organisations in partner
countries so that they can fully
play their role in the delivery of social
services, transparency and good governance
advocacy and contribute to
policy making;
• promoting a meaningful and structured
participation of civil society
organisations in domestic policies of
partner countries, in the EU programming
cycle and in international processes;
• increasing the capacity of local civil
society organisations to perform their
roles as independent development actors
more effectively.
A Chance that has to be
Taken – by all Sides!
The contribution of local civil society
organizations as partners in dialogue is
foreseen in the EU enlargement process.
2 EEAS, EU Action Plan on Human Rights and
Democracy 2015-2019, (2015), eu/factsheets/docs/150720_eu_action_plan_on_human_
3 European Commission, Civil society organisations -
international cooperation and development, (2013),
Support to civil society organizations is
framed within collaborative multi-actor
partnerships coordinated with national
authorities, with the long-term objective
of promoting more accountable, effective
and sustainable systems at the service of
In addition, initiatives of civil society
organizations can be supported when
addressing issues that do not receive adequate
consideration within national policies,
but are the key to social progress and
reflect human rights concerns, as well as
sustainable development issues.
Having that in mind, civil society in
the Western Balkans aspiring to join the
EU can and should use this policy frame
provided by the EU. Because a country
that wishes to join the EU needs to have
an appropriate legal, judicial and administrative
environment for exercising the
freedoms of expression, assembly and
association.4 This also includes rights for
civil society organizations such as formalized,
transparent and non-discriminatory
registration procedures, free and
independent operation and cooperation
between citizens and the absence of
unwarranted state interference.
The involvement of civil society in
the pre-accession process can contribute
to deepening citizens’ understanding of
the needed reforms a country must complete
in order to qualify for EU membership.
However, this involvement can also
contribute to initiating and implementing
true and sustainable reforms, in order to
avoid the scenarios of some neighbouring
countries which have shown that, once a
country is in the EU, the reform process
can be reversed.
4 European Union, Guidelines for EU support to
civil society in enlargement countries 2014-2020,
(2014), civil_society/doc_guidelines_cs_support.pdf>
Shrinking Space for Civil Society Actors Needs Serious Attention 9
In the Aftermath
of the Croatian
"U-turn" –
Damage Control
for Civil Society
Vedran Horvat,
Institute for Political Ecology,
Vedran Horvat is the managing director
of the Zagreb-based Institute for
Political Ecology and managing board
member of the National Foundation for
Civil Society Development. From 2005 to
2015, he was the country director of the
Heinrich Böll Stiftung office in Zagreb.
Let us imagine a country that worked hard
to fulfil a variety of political criteria to
ensure standards of a highly democratic
and plural society, in order to join the
European family. As soon as the country
became a member, tensions among the
family members increased, and the newcomer
country started to forget its own
promises to behave well. Those who aim
to safeguard the achievements at home
are slowly becoming portrayed as trouble
makers, if not public enemies, while
the country is sliding down into a spiral of
political violence and cultural wars with
inclination to authoritarian rule, and even
engaging with relativizing the antifascist
foundations of the state.
Destructive "U-turn"
This nightmare has been the reality for
Croatia since the beginning of 2016. State
officials made a "U-turn"; turning their
backs on the European future, the antifascist
past, liberal democracy and all
achievements made during the last decade
of the EU accession. Right-wing radicalisation
of conservative politics escalated
to an extent that this government has produced
a systemic attack on civil society
organisations, which none of the previous
right-wing governments dared to do.
The "U-turn" is even more symbolic, as
it resonates with "fascisation" (ustashisation),
namely with politics of revisionism
of the Second World War and the role of the
Ustasha regime promoted by some protagonists,
such as Zlatko Hasanbegović,
who was appointed Minister of Culture5.
He himself has proven to be instrumental
for the six-months attack on the institutional
architecture of civil society - therefore,
this "U – turn" indicated not only a
denial of previous governments’ achievements
(including HDZ-led governments)
and the achievements of EU accession
in relation to political criteria, but also a
declared clero-fascist position paired with
high level corporatism.
Let us remind ourselves that not so long
ago, Croatia was often – rightly or wrongly
- portrayed as a good pupil among the
Western Balkan countries who aimed for
EU accession. However, concerns (voiced
by civil society organisations) remained
that reforms are the result of EU conditionality
and that the country will experience
a severe backlash, once it becomes
a full member. After the completion of a
long decade of the negotiation process and
gaining full membership in the EU three
years ago, these doubts have proven justified.
In early 2016, a right-wing government
was formed and almost declared an
institutional war on organised civil society
organisations using political, financial and
legal means to eliminate sources of critical
thinking in the country: in the media,
culture, civil society and education. All
these spheres were targeted with severe
cuts of financial support, while decisions
remained purely ideological and indicated
a complete lack of understanding of the
role of civil society. Most of these attacks
did indeed have a point of departure in
the Ministry of Culture, but happened to
5 Zlatko Hasanbegovic, a 42-year-old historian who
became culture minister in late January 2016
after the country’s latest election produced a new
right-wing ruling coalition. Hasanbegovic had been
a prominent figure in a small ultra-rightist party
that openly extols the fascist World War II-era
Ustashe movement. As a historian, his work focuses
on downplaying the crimes of the Ustashe and cautiously
rehabilitating their ideas. See more at http://
be approved or tolerated at higher levels of
governmental coordination.
Additionally, cuts induced by governmental
decision to withdraw funding for
many organisations in the cultural and
civil society sphere, indicated that the
right-wing state aims to deny the specific
roles of some progressive institutions and
re-gain political control over resources,
directing them in accordance with their
ideological preferences and assumedly
clientelistic networks. Financial austerity
measures accompanied by a distinctive
and pejorative discourse (if not hate
speech) on the liberal doctrine of civil
society have been coordinated and wellorchestrated.
Financial measures were
used as a political means of eliminating
the space for freedom of expression and
(critical) thought, aiming to introduce
panic and chaos into the system. Along
the line of culture, media and civil society,
they were paired with and accompanied by
instances of attacks on well-known journalists,
by pressures on the independent
media sphere, resulting in the resignation
of progressive editors and severe interventions
in human resources policy at the
public television.
It is important to remember that, since
the early 2000s, the institutional architecture
has been designed and built to support
independent and pluralist funding
of the civil society in Croatia. Originating
from governmental support to civil
society funding, which remained institutionalised
in the Governmental Office for
NGOs, the National Foundation for Civil
Society Funding was established in 2003,
with the aim to develop a successful model
of independent funding for civil society in
the country. In the last decade, the Foundation
has become the major and most
important source of funding for civil society
organisations in the country, offering
institutional and programmatic support,
as well as support for networking, occa-
In the Aftermath of the Croatian "U-turn" – Damage Control for Civil Society 11
sionally being innovative and open for
more participative forms of grant-making.
Except for the National Foundation for
Civil Society Development, the Council for
Civil Society Development was formed as a
volunteer-based advisory body composed
of members of civil society, government,
trade unions and employees that regularly
meet for exchange and consultations. This
triangle of institutionalised support to
civil society has proven to be a vital component
for the maintenance of civil society
funding, including development of its
legal and institutional equivalents. Even
more importantly, it remained merely
independent and resilient in relation to
political changes, until the very moment
the events in early 2016 occurred. Furthermore,
this sort of coordination and cooperation
developed at the institutional level
has proven to be one of the rare success
stories and role models, not only in the
South East Europe region, but also across
Civil Society Eco-system
Under Stress
With the right-wing coalition government
under HDZ composed in early 2016, this
developed and institutionalised ecosystem
came under direct attack from the
government, which apparently aimed to
eliminate sources of political opposition
and critical thinking. Although not in the
sphere of parliamentary politics, many
civil society organisations and movements
in Croatia became relevant social
forces that produced influence and were
able to make an impact. It was not only the
civil society that was under this pressure
aiming to reduce room for public debate
and decrease capacities for organisation.
First measures were directed against
independent media, at the same time followed
by a lack of public condemnation
against physical attacks on journalists. At
the major public broadcasting television
(HRT), dozens of main editors and journalists
lost their jobs or positions once the
new director was installed, shutting down
pluralism and turning public television
into PR for the ruling government and fabric
of ethnoreligious glorification of Croatian
nationalism. In the sphere of culture,
severe cuts and re-distribution of funds
were made in order to undermine support
for independent cultural scenes, while at
the same time supporting other cultural
projects that focus on the re-nationalisation
of culture, and even propelling the
revision of historic interpretations.
One of the most noticeable attacks that
followed, was on the funds for the National
Society for Civil Society Development,
which lost more than half of its annual
budget, as the State decided to reduce the
amount of the lottery funds allocated to
the Foundation. This resulted in the creation
of the highest instability of civil society
and with many jobs lost in this sphere.
In less than six months of power, these
attacks have produced severe damage.
Pluralism does not Include
Discrimination and Exclusion
These events have mainly demonstrated
that civil society in Croatia was put under
a new form of stress through this merely
ideological battle in which the state used
and usurped power to eliminate political
opponents and reduce the pluralism
of actors. Even more importantly, let us
notice that the political battle on this level
was developed a few years earlier, with
the so-called neo-conservative revolution
that proceeded with the appointments of
Hasanbegović and Prime Minister Tihomir
Orešković, and with the establishment of
their radical neo-conservative movement,
"U ime obitelji" (In the name family),
12 In the Aftermath of the Croatian "U-turn" – Damage Control for Civil Society
which was the initiator of the referendum
vote against gay and lesbian marriages.
Unfortunately, the success of this referendum
has given more power to these
groups to replicate successful operational
and campaigning models of progressive
civil society organisations. Accordingly,
attacks on sources of funding need to be
read through this perspective, particularly
noticing their constant claims for pluralisation
of civil society funding. What oddly
remains unclear to "U ime obitelji" is for
sure that values which include discrimination,
hate speech, any sort of exclusion,
violation of human rights of any generation
together with sympathies for fascism,
cannot be ever recognised within any version
of societal pluralism and therefore
have to stay without any support of public
With new elections in the HDZ party
(Croatian Democratic Union) and in the
country, there is hope that damage done to
the civil society ecosystem will be repaired.
Lessons learnt however are multiple – civil
society in Croatia has learned that it is not
enough to have developed institutional
models, but that both a more massive scale
of popular recognition and political support
for this ecosystem is needed to prevent
similar scenarios in the future. This
alarming episode will surely make us more
innovative and alert...
In the Aftermath of the Croatian "U-turn" – Damage Control for Civil Society 13
Populism and
Crime as a
Model of the
Political System
Nano Ružin,
FON University, Skopje
"The people are always right", "The people
are clever – only the people make decisions",
"Our farmer is the wisest and the
most hardworking", "You are either with us
or against us – there is no third option"...
How many times have we heard such
sweet messages from our Balkan leaders
and ‘voivode’, addressing the masses during
election campaigns?In our regional
microcosm, whether we call it the Western
Balkans or South-Eastern Europe, the Balkan
homo politicus from Slovenia, Croatia
and Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bosnia
and Herzegovina, to Macedonia, Kosovo,
Albania, Greece and Montenegro, shows
similar traits of political populism. The
politicians are in politics because they
long for power. Power is like drugs. Once a
leader or demagogue tastes it, he becomes
addicted. Should he be treated? Belgian
psychologist Pascal de Sautter even set
a diagnosis: excessive craving for power
creates political lunatics and megalomaniacs
(Pascal de Sutter, 2007). Power may
directly create a paranoid leader. There
are many leaders in the Balkans today
who see themselves as the personification
of reformers, as individuals invited
by history, shepherds, and the incarnation
of ancient and medieval heroes chosen
by fate to lead their people into a happy
future. They are ready to build Pharaohscale
projects, such as the Skopje 2014
project, the world’s highest - 35-meter
high - statue of Alexander the Great, or
the mammoth-size hydro-urban project
Belgrade on Water (Belgrade Waterfront) in
order to, allegedly, raise the ruined dignity
of its people. Actually, what they are trying
to do is make themselves eternal, through
megalomaniac projects, just like many
authoritarian despots did – Stalin, Hitler,
Ceausescu, Kim il-sung, or builders such
as Lui XIV, Haussmann, Napoleon, Pompidou,
Mitterrand, Berdimuhamedov, etc.
Intoxication with power causes political
blindness, authoritarianism, populism,
of a system of checks and balances? His
conservative-right party – largely inspired
by the greatest European populist Viktor
Orban (honoured by President Ivanov with
the greatest Macedonian award) – started
its politics of light authoritarianism immediately
after winning the elections in 2006.
Spectacular arrests took place, directly
broadcasted on TV, thus announcing a
policy of the fight against corruption. The
principle of presumption of innocence of
the arrested was not respected at all.
In order to increase the effect before
the international community, he even
appointed a well-known Romanian anticorruption
prosecutor, Macovei, as special
government adviser. However, the
arrests and blackmail addressed to the
business community, journalists, intellectuals
and politicians was exclusively
anti-oppositional, following the principle
of the Bolshevik anti-Bolshevism. The state
gradually introduced a full control of the
media, censorship and self-censorship,
with abundant financing of pro-government
media and the party-influenced
public broadcasting service. After Greece
vetoed the accession of Macedonia into
the Alliance, at the 2008 NATO Summit in
Bucharest, Gruevski spun this failure by
stressing at a large meeting in April 2008
in Skopje, that he had practically saved the
name and identity of Macedonia in Bucharest.
Later he organised early parliamentary
The central theme of his electoral campaign
focused on preserving the constitutional
name and identity, since he reduced
every suffix to the name to a loss of identity.
He condemned the opposition for trying
to sell the name for a membership in NATO
although, according to the careless confession
of his Minister for Defense, Lazar
Elenovski, he himself was ready to accept
the compromise name Republic of Macedonia
(Skopje). To court the international
community regarding a possible change of
intolerance to those who have different
opinions, omnipotent tyranny and megalomania.
Such anomalies are accompanied
by crime, which is not perceived as a
criminal offence, but rather as a method of
rational governing and functioning of the
system. Throughout history, every Caesar
used the state budget as his private treasure.
Through the developed corrupted
mechanism in which Gruevski’s closest
people are participating with direct or
discreet support of numerous businessmen,
and through the complete control of
actions varying from the employment at
the lowest level – e.g. street cleaning staff
– to big business agreements, Gruevski
has redirected enormous amounts of conditioned
‘baksheesh’ 6 towards his secret
bank accounts, accounts of his relatives,
and party businessmen. Macedonian
politicians and businessmen started
transferring money to small cross-ocean
exotic countries – the tax havens of the
Virgin Islands, Belize, etc. Part of the stolen
money was then invested into Macedonia
by different offshore companies
for the construction of many grand hotels,
purchase of land, construction of industry
complexes, private buildings, new TV
studios and privately owned yachts kept
in Greek harbours. This way, the state of
Belize – one of the most indebted countries
in the world that gained its independence
in 1981 – became the biggest foreign
investor in Macedonia in 2013. Known as a
tax haven state, Belize is a member of the
Commonwealth and Caricom – the Caribbean
What is there to say about a leader such
as Gruevski, who governed the country for
more than ten years and whose mandate
included all types of breaches of democratic
values and principles, falsified elections,
organised crime and complete lack
6 payment (as a tip or bribe) to expedite service
(source: Merriam-Webster)
Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System 15
name, he stated that the people will decide
itself on a referendum, and if he were asked,
he would vote against the change. To me the
name is more important than a membership
in Euro-Atlantic integrations, stated
the young national populist. His followers
blindly accepted the message of the new
Macedonian messiah. According to public
opinion polls, around 70% of Macedonians
believe that the name issue is more
important than membership in the EU or
NATO. Despite all the friendly advice of
the American ambassador in NATO at the
time, Victoria Nuland, Gruevski provoked
the ire of the Greek political elite with his
stubborn antiquisation7 policy. Namely,
in 2006 when the social-democrat Vlado
Buckovski was the head of government,
during the bilateral meeting in Brussels
with the Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis,
the Athenian warned the Macedonian
Prime Minister laconically. You are not
hoping to be accepted into NATO under the
name Macedonia, are you?
No one can rationally interpret Gruevski’s
move when, a year after winning the
elections in June 2006, he started the policy
of renaming all the big buildings and
corridors using antique names. Thanks to
an intensive populist campaign stressing
the antique origins of present-day Macedonians
and the idolatry of Alexander
the Macedonian as the greatest ancestor,
the public reacted emotionally. The average
Macedonian, by nature reticent and
calm, accepted that numerous toponyms
were renamed using Homeric terms. So
Petrovec Airport was renamed to Alexander
the Great Airport, Vardar City Stadium
to Filip II Arena, corridor 10 of the highway
into Aleksandar Makedonski (Alexander
the Macedonian) Highway. This irritated
Athens which used its veto in the Alliance
7 Vangeli, Anastas (2011): Nation-building ancient
Macedonian style: the origins and the effects of the
so-called antiquization in Macedonia. In Nationalities
Papers 39 (1), p. 13.
when the USA and Canada recognised the
constitutional name of Macedonia.
Winning the elections with absolute
majority strengthened Gruevski’s position,
and spurred on his internal and foreign
politics. At the same time, his candidate,
George Ivanov, won the presidential elections
and his VMRO-DPMNE party, the
local elections. This is the era when the
showdown with everyone whose opinion
opposed his conservative-populist and
nationalist doctrine began. The activities
included blackmail and mobbing, destruction
of small and medium companies
owned by "disobedient" businessmen,
organising paid "spontaneous" protests
of the so-called transition victims in front
of the seat of the opposition, intimidation,
media censorship and self-censorship,
arrests of political opponents, internal
enemies and free-minded journalists, the
arrest of the founder of the greatest opposition
television A1 and its demise, the suspicious
death of the founder of the greatest
opposition weekly magazine Nikola Mladenov,
the spectacular arrest of the opposition
leader Ljube Boškovski, sentenced to
five years in prison for the 100,000 Euros
that were discovered for the election campaign
that - as some witnesses say - were
planted with the protected pro-government
witness. Gruevski’s clan was particularly
cruel toward former party members
and coalition partners. Due to the decision
of his former coalition partner, Fiat
Canoski, to join the opposition, the wiretaps
reveal that Gruevski himself led the
illegal withdrawal of the construction
license and the tearing down of the complex
"Kosmos". The judiciary epilogue of
this 55 million Euro investment will certainly
not be in favor of Gruevski’s Government
which will have to use the budget to
make up for the damage incurred by the
inexplicable vengeful whim of the Macedonian
16 Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System
The next big affair which remains
unseen in the short post-communist history
of the entire Eastern and Central
Europe, registered in EU Reports, was the
violent expulsion of opposition MPs from
the Sobranje (Parliament) by special antiterrorist
forces. Namely, on December 24
2012, opposition MPs had blocked the
speaker podium while the budget was
being discussed. The president of the parliament,
instead of stopping the session,
after consulting Gruevski, decided to use
force, humiliate and harass representatives
chosen by the people. Gruevski had
grasped the mentality of the western diplomats
very acutely. Stability and security
are deemed most important for the
Balkans, rather than some hypothetical
Balkan democracy. Those were the years
when the power of Gruevski and his clique
had reached utter elation. This is precisely
the period when the megalomaniacal
kitsch project Skopje 2014 was promoted,
which foresaw the construction of hundreds
of monuments from antique times
to present times, along with baroque and
no-classical facades. This architectural
Disneyland was crowned with a gigantic,
35 meter high, monument to Alexander
the Macedonian8 on Skopje’s main square.
The total amount spent on this project is
believed to have reached about a billion
Euros, while Gruevski’s infantile fantasies
have offered the citizens stationary medieval
ships in the shallow waters of the
river Vardar, a Ferris wheel, Spanish steps,
monuments to Prometheus in his underwear,
Alexander’s mother Olympias and
father Phillip, the Aminta III street, named
after Alexander’s grandfather... just as he
had ordered from Ukrainian masters huge
murals in the style of socialist realism featuring
his cousins, wife, mother etc. for his
new party headquarters. The style of Kim
il-sung, Ceausescu and Enver Hoxha had
8 Alexander the Great
moved into the new baroque party building
which was built through "voluntary
contributions" and is estimated to have
cost about 40 million Euros.
Gruevski simply adores family, having
also passed a law to stimulate procreation,
offering financial compensation for
families with three children, but also by
banning abortion. As a model Christian-
Democrat, he tried introducing religion
as an obligatory school course, although
Macedonia, according to its Constitution,
is a secular country. Parallel to his affinity
for the Christian Orthodox faith, he had
hired a special fortune-teller into his cabinet
to predict the future. However, despite
his self-proclaimed position as the greatest
believer and savior of Macedonia, who
has built numerous Orthodox temples, he
did not shy away from resorting to election
fraud by printing over 100 000 false
IDs, wiretapping over 26 000 "internal
enemies", as well as his ministers and MPs,
including automatically his own conversations
with these ministers. Also, during a
2014 party celebrating VMRO-DPMNE’s
victory, Gruevski’s bodyguard, a man with
a suspicious criminal past, beat up a young
party sympathizer, Martin Neškovski, who
died afterwards. His ministers and associates
tried to cover up the murder, however,
the wiretaps had revealed all the machinations
and attempts to hide the truth about
Neškovski’s unfortunate fate. This event
had motivated Skopje youth to come out
and protest in solidarity with the family of
the murdered young man.
The Public Prosecution remained
silent even when, according to assertions
from our neighboring countries, the Macedonian
Ministry of the Interior had tried
to fabricate a crisis scenario in May 2015 in
Kumanovo, regarding an alleged inter-ethnic
conflict in which 15 people had died, in
order to spin the opposition’s revelations
on the wiretaps and divert the public’s
attention to the crisis. It only focused on
Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System 17
the arrested mercenaries who kept claiming
that they were lured into this bloody
drama by Macedonian order-givers.
Immediately following these events, under
the pressure of the international community,
the Minister of the Interior and the
Chief of State Security resigned.
Besides the abovementioned misuse
of power and strong party-influenced
rule, the crown of all events was the declaration
of the pardoning of 57 politicians,
including the Prime Minister Gruevski, his
Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister
of Transport and his cousin, the chief of
the secret police, who were supposed to
appear before the court. When the opposition
started broadcasting the seized
wiretaps and the party-influenced judiciary
remained indifferent – especially after
the Kumanovo incident – the international
community finally reacted. In June
2015 the Pržino agreement was signed by
the four major (ruling and oppositional)
parties, under the pressure of the international
community. The Pržino Agreement
was concluded, announcing early elections
and appointing a technical government
that would organise the elections. It
also foresaw the resignation of the Prime
Minister three months prior to the elections
and forced resignations of the Minister
of Foreign Affairs, the Chief of State
Security and the most powerful person in
the country, Mijalkov, and the Minister of
Transport who had participated in much
of Gruevski’s dirty business.
At the same time, the Agreement provided
for the establishment of a Special
Public Prosecution – due to the partyinfluenced
judiciary – that would take over
the role of state prosecution; the cleansing
of the voters register; the separation of
party and state power; media reforms and
the establishment of a co-chairing division
of power between the government and the
opposition; a reform of the State Electoral
Committee, etc.
In turn, the opposition that had left
the Parliament in the meantime, met the
Agreement conditions: it decided to return
to the Sobranje and to stop public broadcasting
of the seized tap material. However,
when it comes to meeting the obligations
on part of the government leaders, only
Gruevski stepped down 90 days prior to
the early elections date, and they accepted
the establishment of the Special Public
Prosecution. When it comes to reforms
under the responsibility of the executive
power, not a single step was made. In such
an atmosphere, the opposition refused
to appear at the early elections that were
first postponed in April and then, again, in
June 2016. Thanks to the unconstitutional
pardons by President Ivanov, the people
came out into the streets to protest, which
resulted in the Colourful Revolution.
Unfortunately, Ivanov – the winner of the
2016 Isa-bey Ishaković award in Sarajevo
for his contributions in the development
of democracy in divided societies – has
completely played out the expectations
of the international community. In Macedonia,
Ivanov is perceived as the greatest
vassal of Gruevski and his authoritarian
populism, and the biggest opponent of
democracy, a man-plant according to the
proponents of the Colourful Revolution.
After he denied the Ohrid Agreement, even
the Albanians, including the biggest Albanian
party DUI, ceased to acknowledge
him. At the same time, his pro-ancient
fantasy and anti-democratic work are not
appreciated by the Macedonians either.
After pardoning the political criminals,
he incurred the anger of the Macedonian
democratic public that was everything
but gentle when they called him a rubber
ficus plant, Jorge the Mute... His popularity
rating is at a 3% and he constitutes a sad
tool in Gruevski’s hands. Finally, under the
pressures of the international community,
he withdrew the pardons which, according
to him, had played out their role and
18 Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System
saved Macedonia from destabilization. He
admits to have even thought of asking the
Army’s help with the Colorful Revolution,
but that he had given up on this idea, since
it was more useful at the southern border,
to protect Macedonia from immigrants.
The citizens were utterly consternated.
The President had even thought of a military
This was a fragment of an X-ray of the
political events in the Republic of Macedonia
related to the populist leadership
model of Nikola Gruevski, who remains
strong, regardless of the fact that he is
no longer the Prime Minister. He is the
president of the financially most powerful
leading party VMRO-DPMNE, which
has maintained control and clientelism
in its relations to the administration and
numerous freshly employed civil servants
and police officers – those with a party
card, of course.
How can the power of Gruevski’s populism
be explained? George Orwell wrote
that the people that elect corrupt politicians,
imposters, thieves and traitors are
not victims, but accomplices in crime.
However, we are wondering whether the
people had been tricked, manipulated or
When it comes to the Balkan peoples,
it is a well-known fact that nation-states
in this region are a true rarity. Balkan
societies are divided and this dichotomy
helps populists manage their ethnic communities
more easily. Several significant
authors such as Le Bon, Tard, Freud and
Moskovici have provided an answer to the
psychological profile of a leader, and the
crowd that blindly and humbly follows its
own leaders. The populists have realised
that the people and the crowds are bad at
putting up with reality, poverty and misery,
frustration and uncertainty. Once the
crowd gathers spontaneously, or as a result
of organisation, it loses its critical mass. It
longs for authority and a leader. Once a
megalomaniac, a sick mind, a demagogue
proclaiming himself a shepherd, imposes
himself to the crowd, it is enough for it to
start following him. Shakespeare was right
when he said: It’s the tragedy of our times
that lunatics must lead the blind. Today,
demagogy and populism have taken sway
in the western Balkan countries, in the
time of economic and social crisis, as well
as identity crisis. One of the artists close to
Gruevski considers him the greatest and
most significant Macedonian since Alexander
the Great and Tzar Samuel.
A capable populist submits a herd of
obedient and uncritical supporters using
two methods: admiration and repression.
He courts the people, spreads a charismatic
image of himself and enjoys the
people’s admiration. He issues passports
to the neighbouring diaspora (Orban has
issued 500,000 passports) and gives them
the right to vote, employs party members
only, changes the atmosphere in the environment
using megalomaniac projects
and emphasises the continuity with the
past – as evidenced in the Skopje, Belgrade
and Budapest projects. However, he also
uses repression against the disobedient
or those who use their brains to think,
he submits the entire judiciary, including
the Constitutional Court, to his executive
power (Poland, Hungary, Macedonia,
Montenegro, Kosovo), he fills the administration
with party members, sets-up court
cases, arrests journalists or penalizes them
financially, spreads fear among the intelligentsia
and imposes strict punishments
over former associates.
Identifying a back-up enemy is very
important for each populist. At the beginning,
Gruevski’s back-up enemies were the
magnates of the previous regime that he
managed to submit easily, and then they
were replaced by the opposition. However,
today this position is taken by the "colourful
hooligans "who are protesting on the
Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System 19
streets of Skopje in cooperation with the
foreign power centres.
Besides the abovementioned elements,
populists have at least three other common
characteristics. First, a populist tends
to entirely homogenise the people through
false promises, demagogy, propaganda,
discipline, and iconography because this
is what the crowd expects from them. Kant
was right when he said that the crowd
longs for a master and his false promises.
Second, unity and social cohesion are the
absolute imperative of each authoritarian
populist. Such attitude presents intolerance
toward others, in accordance with the
principle: you are either with us, or against
us. Using such logic, a former ambassador
and director – a member of the VMRODPMNE
– said: being a part of our party
means genetically being a Macedonian.
The third element of populism is the lack
of will for negotiating and compromise, in
accordance with the statement: one does
not negotiate with the enemy – the people
do not give us the right to do this.
Undoubtedly, the above described
authoritarian national-populism is incompatible
with democracy, because democracy
implies pluralism in opinion and
behaviour. Several types of populism are
strongly present in Europe today, while
the theoretic approaches, such as the one
of Ernesto Laclau (popular in Greece and
Spain), state that the populism phenomenon
is a new quality of societal democratisation.
In this context, it is necessary
to differentiate between the authoritarian
national-populism and political populism,
i.e. populism as a type of protest against
the governing elite.
20 Populism and Crime as a Model of the Macedonian Political System
A Captured
Xhabir Deralla,
CIVIL, Skopje
The country9 has been in a deep political
crisis for over eight years now, since the
pre-term parliamentary elections in 2008
turned violent. The crisis escalated in February
2015, after the opposition revealed
wiretaps that indicate serious crimes,
abuses, corruption and electoral fraud
committed by the country’s government
and political establishment. The political
agreement brokered by the international
community introduced a complicated
and turbulent political process, filled with
numerous drastic changes in the political
situation, multiple postponements of the
elections, obstructions of the political process,
serious security challenges, and other
political and societal distractions.
Abuse of power, structural violence
and political corruption have continued
unabated, despite all the efforts, time, and
resources this country and the international
community have invested in order
to reach a solution to the political crisis.
Those suspected of serious abuses,
stealing public money and electoral fraud,
sit at the negotiations’ table, and only
deepen the crisis, pushing Macedonia
into more misery and isolation, divisions,
tensions and violence. On top of all of this,
the leader of the ruling party continues to
spread heavy manipulation, hate speech,
and serious threats in his public appearances.
It is not only that political power is
imposed over the core state institutions;
it is also imposed on the country as a
whole, which is maliciously controlled in
every imaginable way. Health, education,
culture, security, social services – all have
9 The largest ethnic Macedonian right-wing party
VMRO-DPMNE, led by Nikola Gruevski, has been
in power for ten years now. Gruevski resigned from
his position of Prime Minister in January 2016, but
only formally, since he still holds all the strings of
power in the government. The ruling party has been
in an eight-year-long coalition with the Democratic
Union for Integration, a political party of the ethnic
Albanians, led by Ali Ahmeti, former leader of the
UCK in Macedonia.
been placed under the strong control of
party apparatchiks, who twist or abuse
laws and regulations in favor of the party
The level of control is enormous. Social
welfare assistance, which can range from
as little as 20 euros to a maximum of 100
euros a month, has to be "earned and kept"
by obedience. Even unemployment status,
which brings some minimal free health
care and possibilities for employment,
can be lost if the ruling party’s hounds at
the local level decide so. The party leader
and his loyal consiglieres, closely watch
everything. It became known that as Prime
Minister, the party leader was deciding on
ridiculous details, whilst any employment,
even the likes of part-time engagement of
nurses in kindergartens, depended on the
signature of the finance minister Zoran
Stavreski, the party’s bookie.
The ruling party has invested hundreds
of millions to capture the society and public
space in the process. Whether it is virtual
or physical, public space is controlled
by the ruling party, just as the ruling party
controls the state.
The methods of the ruling party and
Gruevski carry a striking resemblance to
those of the fascists in Italy and Nazis in
Germany in the 1920’s and 30’s. The difference
is in the enormity of confusion,
tastelessness and kitsch that has been
produced in the past 10 years. The Nazification
of the society became particularly
obvious since the beginning of the Skopje
2014 project. Parallel to this project, this
process became visible in the areas of
education and culture. This aspect may
and should be subject to serious research
and analysis.
Monuments, Crosses, Cults,
Baroque... And, Nationalism.
History is fabricated, and a new context is
given to the whole society, in order to serve
as a propaganda tool for the ruling clique.
Ethnic Macedonians are now defined as
ancient Macedonians, descendants of
Alexander the Great. Often, ethnic Macedonians
are depicted as the purest nation,
even race, on Earth, the real Arians, against
whom the whole world is conspiring. This
new perspective, imposed by the ruling
party and the intellectual class around it, is
reflected in textbooks for children, culture,
and media, as well as in the public space.
The ruling party has elevated its political
being to a cult level, placing Gruevski
on top of this mythical construct. Though
the leader of the ruling party has been
clever enough not to order monuments
and statues depicting him personally, the
context of the occupation of public space
in the country is leaning towards feeding
his own cult. It has become a well-known
fact that the ridiculous baroque facades,
the arcs, galleons in the river of Vardar
and hundreds of kitschy and worthless,
yet extremely expensive, statues, monuments
and fountains in Skopje and across
the country – are his personal choice and
command. Crosses have been elevated
on almost every hill in the country, and
churches have been built in countless
Only the municipality of Aerodrom in
Skopje has over a dozen of churches, over
thirty miniature churches, a fifty-meter
tall cross, and many smaller crosses, built
in the last eight years. They are built in
public spaces, mostly from public money,
or by bogus initiatives. The cross on the
top of Vodno, a hill that dominates Skopje,
is 75-meters tall, whilst in the ethnically
mixed municipality of Butel in the capital
city, the rulers have set another 50-meters
tall cross.
22 Macedonia: A Captured Society
In return, Albanians build mosques,
elevated poles with Albanian flags and set
monuments of Albanian historical figures
and two-headed eagles. All in the public
space, again.
Marking "Territories"
Each and every public venue or building,
square, street, road and highway, even
every hill and park is occupied, marked
and branded with symbols that interpret
the ruling party’s concept of omnipresence,
domination, and control.
The ruling party has imposed its concept
onto private investments in the construction
business as well. New hotels and
other private businesses have to be built in
a baroque style, forced by various means
of persuasion and shady administrative
measures to mirror the senseless ideas of
the leader, against whom the Special Public
Prosecutor has raised numerous criminal
charges, and who has been escaping
justice due to the entirely captured judiciary
in the country.
Divisions along ethnic and religious
lines are strikingly visible in the public
space. The coalition partner in the government,
DUI, has copied the manners of the
ruling party in the areas where ethnic Albanians
live and has been promoting nationalism
and ethno-centrism opposed to the
dominant ethnic-Macedonian nationalist
supremacy. It has captured public space in
the same manner.
Still, whenever Gruevski wants to show
off and cater to ethnic Macedonian nationalists,
public space, marked by ethnic and
party domination, often gets overrun by
the ruling party in various ways. Just to
show who is the master. DUI’s strongmen
publicly protest against this, as if though
they were some local NGO or opposition,
while carrying on with business as usual in
government matters.
Public space thus remains captured
by political, ethnic and religious contents
imposed by ruling parties of ethnic Macedonians
and Albanians, shrinking the
space or making it inaccessible to other
communities in the country, which are
numerous (Turks, Roma, Serbs, Bosniaks,
Vlachs, Egyptians, etc.).
All other categories of citizens and
communities are left on the margins of
society and the system and, moreover,
oppressed in many ways and manners. In
addition, individual rights and freedoms
are practically invisible in comparison to
the collective rights, i.e. whilst some collective
rights are respected, at least formally,
individual rights are not.
For years, the whole country has been
marked by ruling party symbols. Even
the numerous ethnic or state symbols are
imposed in such manners that they obtain
a party character and context. The ruling
party has raised hundreds of poles with
flags across the country (each pole has
cost the tax payers at least seven thousand
euros). The whole country has been VMROized,
as for the rest, it has been marked as
an Albanian (read: DUI) "territory".
Capturing the Virtual Space
and Creation of a Hostile
Until recently, before the Colorful Revolution
started (April 12, 2016), there were a
handful of beacons of truth about Macedonia
– some online media, a few print
outlets, a very small number of artists and
public figures, several CSOs conducting
public events... That was about it.
The ruling party started the substitution
of the civil society since the very
beginning of its rule. This process became
particularly forceful since 2009, when
the new legal regulations for civil society
Macedonia: A Captured Society 23
came into place. The ruling party gave
way to the formation of pro-government
and para-political structures registered as
CSOs, movements and initiatives that are
defending and promoting the ruling party
only. Some of them have also been laundering
money for the ruling party.
Whenever the party leader does not
dare to formulate something in the most
direct way, it is them, the surrogate CSOs,
who do that. Moreover, their day-to-day
task is to aggressively multiply the voice of
the leader and build the myth of Gruevski
as a messiah of the country and of the
ancient Macedonians.
All in all, there is a hostile legal framework
and even more hostile legal practice
and non-implementation of existing legislative
provisions that are still friendly on
CSOs. Moreover, revenue services, inspections
and financial police are turned into
a tool for putting pressure on the whole
society, including CSOs.
Party youth organizations have substituted
youth organizations. They serve
solely as the muscle of the ruling party,
without a single activity that may reflect
the interests and rights of the country’s
youth. Political party committees at local
level became employment bureaus and
checkpoints that collect "ideas, opinions,
and requests" from citizens instead of citizen
participation in decision making processes.
As one may guess, citizens’ ideas
and opinions are in service of praising the
messiah, and the requests are "compatible"
with the party programs.
Capturing Media and
Substitution of Civil Society
The media are under complete control of
the ruling party, and yet another tool for
the creation of a hostile environment for
civil society actors. Furthermore, they are
blind to most of what civil society is doing.
The ruling party occupies most of the airtime,
whilst opposition and civil society
are practically invisible or, if present, they
are continuously targeted as treacherous
and evil elements in the society. Spinning
the facts, half-truths, dirty campaigning,
and ad-hominem attacks are the favorite
dishes of the editors of Macedonian
media, serving obediently to the ruling
party’s propaganda masters.
The rest of civil society is targeted
very hard. The government/ruling party’s
attitude towards CSOs is in line with the
continuous demonization, public pressure
and isolation of civil society organizations,
through party-controlled media
and party activities in the field. Dozens of
violent attacks on CSOs and human rights
activists took place in the past few years,
without any legal or public disclosure.
There were several violent acts of
vandalism in the Old Town of Skopje, in
which masked attackers demolished a
coffee bar where LGBTI activists were
gathered. Employees in public administration
attacked a human rights activist,
who held a banner at the Skopje Marathon
in May, 2016. An activist of the ruling
party attacked a female activist at a
protest against president Ivanov’s pardon
of politicians under investigation of the
Special Public Prosecutor in April, 2016.
These incidents were documented and
publicized, but authorities did not take
any action against them.
To be a human rights activist in Macedonia
these years is to be a person that
is constantly attacked, discredited, and
demonized. Traitors, foreign spies, dark
forces, sorosoids, poofs, creeps, freaks – are
only a small fraction of the terms used for
human rights activists in public speeches
and social media, as well as in the traditional
media. Hate speech and threats are
often used by the leader of the ruling party,
and multiplied by the media and party soldiers.
24 Macedonia: A Captured Society
At each public speech he makes, he
has someone to target, calling the opposition
and civil society "dark forces", saying
that "the people will kick their ass". His
vocabulary is only a nuance milder than
the notorious haters in the media, but the
style is the same. Moreover, he is a personal
friend of those haters, and very often
appears on their TV shows.
The physical limitations of civil society
actors and limiting public spaces for civic
engagement are a daily reality in Macedonia.
Absurd bureaucratic attitudes of the
administration at local and central level,
prevent citizens from using what they
actually possess, according to the Constitution
– public space. Banning events of
CSOs is a regular practice. CIVIL – Center
for Freedom was forbidden to hold events
in public space four times in Bitola only.
Sometimes, authorities act as if they are
worried for the wellbeing of activists, so
they send a dozen of police officers to
"protect" a small info-stand. The aim of
this is to scare people off, since, if the aim
of the authorities was to protect human
rights activists and independent journalists
and intellectuals, they would have
taken measures to investigate and raise
charges against attackers in numerous
incidents in the past few years. At least.
Sustainability of CSOs in a hostile environment
created by the ruling party, politicized
institutions and media, is practically
impossible. No business entity would
dare to sponsor some public event of the
demonized civil society organizations.
Inspections and financial police will knock
at their doors right away.
Ruling party-directed bogus civil society
organizations have misused EU and
other international donors’ funds, as well.
There have been several scandals over
EU funds in the past several years, when
the public learned about the misuse and
manipulations with EU funds for civil
society. This only adds to the decade-long
practice of enormously well elaborated
and practiced abuse of public funds to
satisfy the immense appetites of the ruling
clique. The preposterous Skopje 2014 project
is only the most visible and the most
unsophisticated form of violations, corruption,
and theft, as well as occupation of
public space.
The Struggle Continues
The way out of this situation is certainly
not going to be easy and short-term. The
fear that has been implanted in the society
is widespread and political corruption and
clientelism have become an integral part
of the lives of Macedonian citizens. That
cannot be rooted out by online clicktivism,
no matter how eager some are. Online
activism is often traded for clicktivism and
occasional critical statements and declarations
by non-party actors.
A few civil society organizations have
developed a dynamic and multifaceted
online production that provides comprehensive
content to serve as an independent
informative resource, but also as a civic
education and mobilization tool.
The ruling party has small armies
of party soldiers who guard the online
space, attacking every online outlet that
is not in line with the ruling party. Hacker
attacks, endless strings of comments full of
extremely vulgar and threatening vocabulary,
and dozens of articles are coordinated
and produced in the ruling party-headquarters
on an hourly basis. CIVIL’s website
had 7.9 million hacker attacks in February
2016 only, according to the report of the
server admins based in Germany.
Still, citizen journalism, independent
online news production, and regular
online activism provides civil society with
resources to mobilize and act in the public
space, as has been the case in the last
couple of years in the Republic of Macedo-
Macedonia: A Captured Society 25
nia. Police arrests and persecution of civil
society leaders did not stop the demands
for freedom, democracy and justice in the
country. This is not enough, though.
Public space is also occupied by shady
businesses conducted by investors close
to the ruling party, as we could hear from
the wiretaps, revealed by the opposition
in February 2015. The private security
agency of the former chief of secret police,
Sašo Mijalkov, a cousin of the ruling party
leader, has been watching and guarding
every square inch of public space, including
public buildings and institutions.
Police is in service of the private needs of
Gruevski and his clique, as well.
A special police force, heavily shielded
and armed is guarding the 500 meters
perimeter of the ruling party headquarters,
banning anyone from approaching it,
not to speak of throwing color on it, which
became the trademark of the Colorful Revolution
in Macedonia.
This attitude of the ruling party is recognizable.
For years, the ruling party has
been using symbols of power and when
those symbols are threatened, they are
rigorously defended. Protesters may have
succeeded to demolish the representative
office of the President or the Ministry of
Justice, color the buildings of the government,
Parliament, State Election Commission,
and other, but not a single drop was
allowed on the party’s stronghold in the
very center of the Macedonian capital.
Gruevski’s security guards, employed
by the Ministry of the Interior, paid by citizens,
broke into the private TV 21 station,
running after a journalist who took pictures
of Gruevski on a street in the center
of the city, demanding to delete them. No
law in the country allows such behavior.
Yet, that happens on a daily basis.
Frequent public events, protests,
guerilla actions and online activism are
the main combat tools for civil society
to tackle the crude occupation of public
space in the country. Parallel to that, civil
society needs to improve its constituency
building and gain credibility. Elitism, conformism,
and arrogance do not help.
When we speak of public events, we
have to think of providing a safe space
for socially responsible artists and intellectuals
to express and share opinions
and expertise. Education through creativity
is an excellent tool for younger generations,
as well. These actions need to
be conducted in a manner of solidarity
and understanding between civil society
Civil society needs to get more active
and organizations and civic initiatives
need to overcome their mutual rivalries
and unprincipled competitiveness.
We have a long and heavy struggle
ahead, in order to re-claim public space,
freedom, and democracy. Defiance is the
first step only.
26 Macedonia: A Captured Society
Occupation of
Public Space
Ivana Dragšić,
Freedom Square, Skopje
This has been Macedonia’s 10th year under
the rule of VMRO-DPMNE. After getting
elected in 2006, they have organized three
early parliamentary elections in a row, two
local elections, and two presidential elections
(winning absolute majority in all of
them). Under their rule, the first Macedonian
private television broadcaster was
shut down, two other major TV broadcasters
occupied, one of which was the public
broadcasting service MRTV, and the most
resilient journalists banished from mainstream
media into marginal web-portals,
other smaller media outlets, or even out
of the country, applying for other kinds of
Nearly 60% of the legislation brought to
or ratified in the Macedonian Parliament
in the period of 2011-2014 was through
urgent or abridged procedures, that is to
say without any discussion by the "people’s
representatives". One day in February
2014, the Assembly passed 112 laws
in abridged procedures. Compared to the
mandate period of 2011-2014, 2015 alone
ended with 60% of the legislature passed
or ratified through abridged or urgent procedures.
In addition, in recent years until
the culmination of the political crisis, the
Macedonian Government was the biggest
advertiser in electronic media, reaching ¾
of the broadcast time in pre-election periods.
The channels for scrutinizing, criticizing
or even appealing to the state institutions
and the government were all shut
down. In addition to the occupation of the
Macedonian legislation, the institutional
order was disrupted with the massive
employment of large numbers of people in
public administration. As we heard in the
published wiretapped materials, dubbed
"the bombs",10, public institutions such as
the courts were highly corrupt and useless
for the regular citizen. One would expect
a flourishing civil society in such conditions,
but the space for civil society actors
in Macedonia has been shrinking both literally
and politically.
Urban and Spatial Planning
Legislative Experiences
The deregulation in the 90s, during the
transitional period of the country, took its
toll on urban planning vividly, mostly in
the residential areas. The public space did
not lose much in terms of surface area, but
certainly lost a lot in quality and maintenance.
Compared to the experience with
the most transparent process of urban
and spatial planning in the decade after
the earthquake of 1963, it seemed like the
citizens had lost their standards and values
about the space they live in, and most of
the debate about public space, planning
and urban environment was led in the
realm of nostalgia.
The national and local legislation for
urban planning and construction has been
changed 20 times a year, by the majority
of VMRO DPMNE in the Parliament or in
the Municipal Councils, most of which are
still under the same political party rule.
The changes were always made just to fit
the needs of the construction of Skopje
10 The "bombs" are wiretapped materials of over
20.000 Macedonian citizens, leaked from Macedonian
intelligence services through the opposition party
SDSM. The wiretapped materials reveal accusations
of vote fixing, police cover-up of a murder, corruption
on municipal and even judicial levels, physical threats
over journalists as well as orders of physical violence
and counterprotests. Some English translations
can be found here
201411, but also the needs and interests
of private contractors, tightly connected
to people on higher political positions
in Macedonia, thus, leaving the whole
situation as legally sound and completely
regulating the issues from one center of
power (one political party holds power in
all three pillars of democracy). This is only
the macro level of the shrinking spaces
for civil society actors in Macedonia. The
citizens of Macedonia practically do not
have political representatives in any of the
public/state institutions and processes.
Politics have been occupied by one political
party only, while the society has been
completely depoliticized, leaving the ones
that act politically - stigmatized.
Furthermore, the actual spaces in the
public realm were brought into question
- all spaces in which civil society actors
operate: physical public space, media,
knowledge, education and politics. The
physical public space has been occupied
and renationalized with the vast surface
area of the Skopje 2014 buildings, whereas
the space that has been left empty is still
heavily occupied by chauvinist symbols,
private contractors as security providers
and additionally regulated with legislature
the redefines the public as such.
Most of the mainstream electronic media
are owned by businessmen connected to
the political power center, thus maintaining
financial and media power and creating
such a strong propaganda machine
that even the Macedonian public service
(MRTV) participates in. Only several local
media outlets have succeeded to exist and
11 Skopje 2014 is the single greatest construction
investment project in Macedonian history (so far
640mil EUR), represented through the construction
of over 100 sculptures, 34 monuments, 27 buildings,
6 garages, 5 squares, 1 triumphal gate, numerous
other urban interventions such as fountains, small
squares, candelabra and re-facading of the modernist
buildings in the central area of Skopje. For more
28 Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space
cover stories, politics and injustice professionally.
VMRO-DPMNE held a political
rule by press conferences and TV ads, but
also through emulating civil society, institutions,
protests - while everything that
might have come out of our civil society -
was repressed, neutralized or substituted.
Three Levels of Occupation:
To demonstrate how the main party is exercising
control over Macedonian affairs, let
us look at the way the party has occupied
public space.
1. The narrative of anti-state
Politics itself was occupied and stigmatized
by those in power! Soon after any
publicly articulated political attitude,
individuals and groups were stigmatized
as: relatives of opposition party members,
foreign mercenaries, antichrists and people
who "generally hate and don’t wish
well upon Macedonia". At one moment
back in 2013, the now ex vice-President
of the Macedonian Government called an
activist choir an "anti-state element" and
"a part of the Slovenian scenario to overthrow
the Government of this country"
(referring to a Slovenian PR company hired
by SDSM) simply because it performed
in public space. Literally anybody who
publicly articulated a political attitude
that diverged from the politics of VMRODPMNE,
were put in a position to defend
themselves: from individuals, to whole
movements, such as the one against political
brutality, which, for many days during
the six months of protesting, was headed
with a banner stating "We are not a political
2. The resources:
Resources are a major parameter in losing
this battle, because the opponent
to the civil society at the moment is the
party-occupied state, having the state
budget and institutional resources at its
disposal. Such is the example of our limited
outreach when communicating the
wrongdoings of some local institutions, or
even more serious acts. Moreover, even in
better conditions, the civil society would
not have access to mainstream education,
culture and TV production, currently being
flooded by skewed12 historical and other
scientific information, hetero-centric and
ethno-centric "knowledge", as well as a
representation of Skopje 2014 as cultural
heritage. All of the civil society’s brochures,
studies, informal educational courses and
multi-media projects, cannot compete
with the almost industrial-like production
of knowledge through all media possible,
at the disposal of publicly subsidized,
profit-oriented private contractors who
suit the needs of the public bids, not public
3. Micro-occupations:
Even the private space of the activists,
civil society members and simply active
citizens has been shrinking in the past
decade. Ad hominem attacks in the media
have stopped, or at least tamed, many outspoken
individuals. It has prevented many
others from even speaking out. Even citizens
that would draw attention to certain
topics in the public space were slandered,
their faces circled in red color and some
12 For example: several historical figures notorious for
brutal murders of their political opponents are being
rehabilitated through monuments and a new narrative
in the "Museum of the Macedonian Struggle and
the Victims of the Communist Regime". The museum
itself, features a completely distorted version of
Macedonian history during Yugoslavia.
Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space 29
part of their privacy exposed. Some lost
their jobs, some did not get the promotion
they were legally eligible for - mostly people
that worked in public (state or local)
institutions or international organizations
in communication with the Macedonian
public institutions. Others’ cars were
damaged or robbed, they were offended
or yelled at in the street, even followed, or
their houses were raided.
The general occupation of the state and
the legal system, the media and the physical
space, combined with the stated methods
of personal pressures, sent a strong
message that civil society actors and their
opinions were not welcome, not only in
the realm of the public, but in the country
of Macedonia (due to the fact that all
criticism is deemed "anti-Macedonian").
This is not a state of shrinking, but rather
a complete loss of space for civil society.
The Way Out
The shrinking of the space is the result of
a long-term strategy implemented by any
political party in power in Macedonia in
modern history, but more so in the past
ten years under the rule of VMRO-DPMNE.
Literally all communication channels with
the citizens have been destroyed or occupied
with false information and slander,
leaving the civil society stigmatized and
trapped, thus having to liberate or create
new spaces.
One of the first things that the biggest
opposition party SDSM has done in public
interest was to release the mentioned wiretapped
materials. Macedonian citizens
finally received evidence, confirmation to
everything they had suspected or discovered,
and tried to raise awareness for and
prevent. Although the method of publication
can be problematized, it was a situation
which simultaneously confirmed how
strongly the regime of VMRO-DPMNE had
installed itself into every pore of the society
and mobilized citizens to reclaim what
has been occupied and penetrate public
space in all its forms, which has for such
a long time been a place they have been
evicted from.
Many of the actors in the fragmented
civil society had to change their strategies
or even reduce them to tactical work,
since the general political environment
does not allow for any long-term planning
or institutional processes that might
expand longer than a project cycle. Nevertheless,
new partnerships and coalitions
have been created, based on the common
understanding that democracy needs to be
Colorful revolution as of June 17, 2016
How to Reprogram a
There are several lines of development
worth following, as they can potentially
play a very constructive role in the essential
political reprogramming of the country,
thus leaving space and a possibility for
the reprogramming, reclaiming or reconstruction
of the space for civil society
actors and citizens:
1. Various forms of commoning have
appeared during the last years of protesting
and demonstrating discontent
with the current political situation
in Macedonia - from a protest choir
30 Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space
whose existence was completely rooted
in management according to the
commons’ principles13, to university
campus occupations maintained by
participants and supporters, and the
use/maintenance of public space for
the need of the movement against police
brutality, also showing strong affiliation
to the commons’ principles.
Awareness about self-regulation (of
space, time, other resources, methodology,
decision making) has risen and
is finally exiting the realm of having to
be represented or mediated by an entity
(public institution, legal regulative
or private capital).
2. Culmination of the debate and restructuring
of the left, represented through
its civil society organizations, individuals,
recently formed political parties
(such as the one founded in November
2015, officially named Left14) and other
formal and informal representatives
of their personally interpreted leftism
(none of those most notable political
actors representing the left have been
on policy or decision-making positions
yet). The debate has contributed
not only to a reorganization instead of
fragmentation of the left, but also to its
repositioning in relation to all political
stakeholders in Macedonia, as well as
the obviously flawed political system.
The civil society organizations and
other individuals and formations that
were interested in doing so, are largely
present in the public realm where the
political crisis in Macedonia is commented,
discussed, assessed and even
13 Fair access, fair use and sustainability.
14 For further information, follow the party‘s official
website at:
Logo of the recently formed political party Left
3. Citizens have been encouraged and
empowered by the number of people
present on the streets for a while now,
but also due to the various forms of
empowerment civil society organizations
have offered through their
projects and programs. The citizens
of Skopje are much more sensitized
about urban planning and urban environment
issues, but also very familiar
with the institutional procedures and
policy decisions that created the situation,
thus much more prepared to organize,
volunteer, publicly act and confront
local governance. There has been
a chain-reaction of local neighbourhoods
in Skopje organizing themselves
and articulating strong messages and
activities showing discontent with local
urban policies, but also an understanding
of how those local policies are
related to the power center currently
holding Macedonia hostage.
Citizens at the most recent March for greener
4. Moving the debate about Skopje 2014
from the realm of assessment and
criticism, to anticipating possible so-
Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space 31
lutions to the caused urban chaos,
urban environment destruction and
costly low-quality structures on seismically
risky grounds was only possible
through the catharsis of the colorful
revolution. The imposed marble
whiteness, as the representation of the
strictness that came out as a meaning
from the promotion of the project itself,
was penetrated with paint, thus
representing the referendum about
Skopje 2014 the citizens were denied.
Experts and citizens are more outspoken,
creating conditions for a comprehensive
dialogue and understanding
the wrongdoing by further participation
in the project. In that manner, the
Macedonian Architects’ Association
has already successfully boycotted a
public call for further reconstruction
of the façade of a historical building in
the center. The major discontent with
the project is finally publicly articulated,
bringing into focus that if the
regime falls - its monumental representation
Skopje 2014 must fall.
5. This is a test for all active political
stakeholders which even consider a future
in politics. Such is the case of the
ongoing debate about the leader of the
opposition Zoran Zaev and his role in
the emancipation process. The dilemma
is, of course, between his personal
interest and ethical values as motives
to do what he has been doing since the
release of the first wire-tapped material
bomb. His name is at stake the most,
but the general positioning of SDSM in
the "process of negotiation" and what
they stand for - elections or real reform.
This, certainly, is a very interesting
aspect of all political actors claiming
a potential part in the next political
order of the Republic of Macedonia.
32 Macedonia: Occupation of Public Space
Regaining Space
Dobrica Veselinović,
Ministry for Space, Belgrade
When the editors of this issue asked me
(and I am thankful for this) to write a short
text dealing with the issue of narrowing
the space for civil engagement, I was very
busy – and I still am, maybe even busier –
with the "crisis" situation in Belgrade that
is tightly connected with the issue of this
Namely, for the past two months15,
civil protests have been taking place in
Belgrade, organized by the initiative Ne
Da(vi)mo Beograd16 regarding the arrogant
demolition of several buildings in
Hercegovačka Street on election night,
by three dozen masked individuals using
several unlabelled excavators and construction
machines. On this occasion, the
attackers tied up the night guards who
were in the buildings; they kept people
out and took their phones. A month after
the incident, one of the abovementioned
guards died. Even after many calls, the
police did not react. This was ordered by
the political leaders, as was subsequently
determined in the report of the Protector of
Citizens Saša Janković. For the sake of further
explanation, it is important to mention
that Hercegovačka Street is located in
the area planned for the construction of
the project "Belgrade on water17" which
has been stirring up controversy since its
beginning, being an obvious example of
placing unclear private interest before the
public one, but it still constitutes a flagship
project for the government both in
Belgrade and in Serbia, and is also a trump
card of the Serbian Progressive Party.
15 The text was written in June 2016
16 More about the initiative "Ne da(vi)mo Beograd" is
available at:,
17 The official presentation can be found here:
Foto: Marko Rupena, Kamerades
The city and state leaders made efforts
to make this case even more serious by
denying the mentioned events for days
and being absolutely reluctant to understand
the increasing number of citizens’
requests for taking responsibility. During
the first protest, the Initiative presented
requests for clear answers instead of covering
up and avoiding questions, taking
responsibility and the resignation of the
following individuals:
• Siniša Mali, Mayor of Belgrade;
• Nikola Nikodijević, the President of
the City Assembly of Belgrade;
• Nebojša Stefanović, Minister of Internal
Affairs of Serbia;
• Vladimir Rebić, Acting Serbian Police
• Nikola Ristić, Belgrade Municipal Police
as well as the prosecution of all Hercegovačka
Street events participants and all
parties issuing instructions in the night
between April 24 and 25, 2016.
Besides the protests of the initiative
Ne Da(vi)mo Beograd, a lot of attention
was given to the protests triggered by
the dismissals of staff in Radio Television
Vojvodina, organized by the dismissed
journalists and citizens gathered under the
initiative "Podrži RTV" ("Support RTV")18.
In this moment it is difficult to make
projections regarding the development of
18 More information about the Initiative "Podrži RTV"
is available on:
the protests and the initiatives, as well as
of the manner of mobilization and dedication
of the people, but optimism and hope
that something might be achieved through
civil actions are most certainly "the hits of
the year" and maybe – even though this
might be even more difficult to say – they
are an excellent start of a wide civil mobilization
and politicization of the civil society
in Serbia into a new realistic political
On the other hand, the events around
this case show us what is most important
for this issue. They show a much more serious
trend - a trend of reducing the space
for democratic actions and organizing in
the public sphere.
On this occasion I will try to sum up
several regularities seen as an answer of
the state apparatus and the governing parties,
but I will also offer several directions,
primarily tactical and strategic ones, as
visions of possible further actions.
The One who Controls the
Media, Also Controls Public
At the moment, a control of narrative is
taking place in Serbia. It is placed in the
public space primarily through contents
set in the media sphere. In the previous
period, Serbian authorities used different
ways and means (pressure, privatisation,
investments by individuals close
to the leading party, etc.) to take control
over a number of private and influential
media on the one hand and, on the other,
it undermined the role of publicly owned
media companies. Namely, except for
satirical shows, a lack of any kind of critical
programme in the mainstream media
is obvious – there are no polemic contents.
Such conquered and cleansed communi-
34 Serbia: Regaining Space
cation channels are used for transmitting
messages originating in one centre.
This manifests itself unambiguously in
emergency press conferences organised
by government representatives where only
"friendly" media are allowed to ask questions
and which then send messages to the
public several times a day.
Another element supporting this setup
is a wide range of tabloids and weekly
magazines that frequently introduce
future announcements by publishing
information from well-informed sources
for days or by stoking the hysteria related
to events that upset the public. Some of the
most extreme cases are the 2014 floods in
Serbia, the crash of the military helicopter
carrying a sick baby and the death of seven
persons that occurred on this occasion.
Lately, especially during the election
campaign, another frontline for shaping
public opinion has appeared – a
well-organised and one-centre-managed
astroturfing campaign. Namely, the aim
was to produce a big number of "independent"
comments in social media and
media portals in order to support the news
that favours the government or, by using
negative comments and introducing suspicion,
to express detachment from the
news that is opposite or contrary to what
the governing structure wants to convey. A
huge number of people are often engaged
to try and reshape citizens’ opinion t using
sophisticated platforms, for which purpose
significant assets are invested.
This trend is getting increasingly common
on social networks as pages and profiles
similar to the ones being fought are
made. This way, confusion is used to discredit
the opposing party.
The One who Controls the
Public Space, Controls the
An additional element in the methods
of reducing space for civil activism and
actions are the repercussions that may
be seen in the public space, which is getting
increasingly private and in which the
citizens are actually losing certain rights.
Observing the character of those local
and, at the same time, globalised urban
changes, on the one hand there is a very
clear dominant development of a paradigm
that wants to define a new identity of
the city, including the processes of regional
and global integrations. Actions aimed
at establishing a new image that should
fit global and market conditions result in
redefining the urban physiognomy with
the aim of increasing the attractiveness
of the city and enabling the participation
in global competitions to attract financial
capital. In such circumstances, the
needs of the local population are usually
neglected. On the other hand, due to
the collapse and/or the inapplicability of
urban policies, which was first seen during
the economic and political crash in
the nineties, the citizens try to independently
solve their own existential needs,
to gain individual freedoms and to establish
a specific type of a collective in their
local community. Such specific manners
of city development are labelled the informal
development paradigm in urbanism.
Even though such practices are often illegal,
most of them are aimed at normalizing
their own existence.
Responses for such a situation are
numerous. In my opinion, they are based
around the following three pillars:
Free public space – if we start from
the idea that a city should be available for
everyone and that its citizens should participate
and decide on the directions of its
Serbia: Regaining Space 35
development, then public space is one of
the most visible arenas for democratic battles.
Public space may indeed become the
space for debate and gatherings only if we
recapture its management and use. This
entails an unambiguous and strong resistance
to the commercialisation of the space
with different private-public partnerships
and violation of the natural environment,
care for nurturing and the culture of public
space. This request is strategic, it always
has to be the top priority and we have to
refer back to it again and again.
Conquering and claiming space for
independent expression – a tactical move
for bringing public space back to the public
is conquering and establishing niches
for testing new management and decisionmaking
models. Space conquering may be
in the form of advocating for independent
space for culture, squatting or community
gardens and cooperation for a different
The importance of such a space is the
incubation of ideas and conquering the
power because each social group that
wants power in a society must conquer its
own spaces.
Local communities - "For the purpose
of achieving general, common and everyday
needs of a certain local population, the
citizens may establish a local community
or other forms of local self-government
(borough, quarter) in conformity with the
law and the statute." This is stated in the
law that defines the status of the almost
forgotten framework for democratic participation
of citizens at the local level
in Serbia. If, in the future, we manage to
establish new methods and mechanisms
for the operation of the existing format,
maybe we will succeed in reversing the
apathy and inciting more active civic participation
in the processes that concern
them the most.
In the end, here is a conclusion or food
for thought concerning the way we can
Foto: Luka Knežević Strika - Inicijativa ne da(vi)mo
By creating a new ideological framework
and connecting different struggles for
the public good (education, public space,
municipal companies) in one framework
which allows establishing alliances within
the existing civil society organisations and
by uniting with the traditional actors in
this field, such as trade unions and through
cooperation with informal initiatives and
grassroots movements established for the
purpose of protecting certain good.
A possible tactic might be establishing
a matrix and a platform for the cooperation
between organisations in the field of
media and investigative journalists – classical
activists groups – and organisations
that deal with legal protection which
would result in a continued and comprehensive
analysis of cases and reveal all the
anomalies of our societies.
All this is possible only if we confront
"business as usual" in all aspects of our
life and if question the organisation models,
human relations and power relations
that surround us.
36 Serbia: Regaining Space
For the Locals
Unwanted, for
the International
Community a
"Necessary Evil"
On the Position
of Civil Society
in Bosnia and
Saša Gavrić, Sarajevo Open
Centre, Sarajevo
The European Union
Provides only Declarative
Compared to relations several years ago,
one must admit that the behaviour of
European Union (EU) representatives
has changed. While several years ago it
was unthinkable that an EU representative
would even meet with representatives
of civil society and listen to them, today
things look a little bit different. Even high
level protagonists like High Representative
Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for
Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement
Negotiations Johannes Hahn hold regular
meetings with civil society organisations
during their visits, having a dialogue even
with those who should critically present
the everyday life and thus the political
reality of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
A different relation toward civil society
was also seen during the structural
dialogue for the justice sector, a special
mechanism which was established to
appease the President of the BiH entity
Republika Srpska (RS), Mr. Milorad Dodik.
In 2014 civil society members were invited
to actively take part in one of the meetings
of this forum.
However, these moments of opening
and dialogue still remain an exception. The
negotiations and the process of adoption
of the so-called Reform Agenda have also
shown this. During this process there were
no representatives of civil society in the
wider sense at all. No trade unions, human
rights organizations and professional associations
were included, although it was
announced they would be. Not only civil
society was excluded from this process,
but also the state and entity parliaments
as the final decision makers. The exclusion
of civil society is also visible in the process
of development and adoption of some key
laws for the citizens of BiH.
This relation of EU stakeholders
towards civil society arises from the specific
relations which institutions and EU
officials maintain with BiH political leaders.
The EU and its member states play an
active role in BiH; this is why they have
often resorted to "Special Arrangements"
to solve problems in BiH. The Structural
Dialogue for the justice sector or the Butmir
process are only some of them. All
these special arrangements which we
would never see in case of some other
potential EU membership candidates, and
which are focused on incapable, corrupt
and manipulative political leaders in BiH,
have two main characteristics: besides the
fact that all these attempts to solve the
"Bosnian problem" resulted in a collapse
and total failure, they were all organized in
almost complete secrecy and without the
participation of civil society.
Civil society can impose itself as a
stakeholder and partner, only by extraordinary
and special effort and participation
in the political arena, and not because its
participation is of interest to Bosnian institutions
or EU protagonists.
Considering the fact that the process of
EU integration of BiH has been developing
in an atypical way, the position of civil
society itself within this process is unusual
and different in comparison to other
states. It will be interesting to see which
position the civil society will take once BiH
gains a candidate status and if the EU at
least then would consider it a partner and
not an "unconstructive" stakeholder, as
an employee of the Delegation of the EU
to BiH in Sarajevo once in a private conversation
called human rights organisations.
Political Parties and
Institutions do not Want a
Strong and Developed Civil
For civil society to be able to act, at least
two basic assumptions need to be fulfilled.
The first one regards the relation the
domestic government has towards civil
society organisations. Political parties,
institutions and individuals within governing
structures must start to look at civil
society as a social capital and potential,
as a partner and not as a foreign agent or
"necessary evil" imposed by the European
Union and other international protagonists,
as it is still the case.
The second assumption is of systematic
nature. Civil society organisations are
not able to act if they lack a supportive
environment for their activities. The state
and its entities must a) define a mid-term
and long-term vision of (e.g. by adopting
and implementing a national civil society
development strategy) what kind of civil
society they want to have, b) appoint personnel
(e.g. by establishing a Civil Society
Office on state and entity level) whose
responsibility would be to deal with these
issues, and c) provide real and not only
declarative support to civil society organisations’
work (e.g. by establishing national
foundations for the development of civil
(Political) Will for this kind of changes
in BiH still does not exist. This has been
confirmed by the fact that, in spring 2017,
it will be ten years since Nikola Špirić, at
the time Chairman of the Council of Ministers
of BiH and a representative of a civil
society organisations coalition, led by the
Centre for Civil Society Promotion from
Sarajevo, signed a Cooperation Agreement
between the Council of Ministers of BiH
and the NGO sector in BiH. Despite the
persistence of civil society organizations
38 For the Locals Unwanted, for the International Community a "Necessary Evil"
and their coalitions, this agreement hasn’t
been implemented to this day.
The authorities do not want an active,
critical and independent civil society. With
their passivity, administrative inactivity
and silence, they contribute to the status
quo. Furthermore, instead of developing
a framework that would foster civil
society to act, in the past few years, there
have been activities aiming at hindering
civil society’s work. Whilst in the entity of
the RS, organisations which were critical
towards the corruptive and non-transparent
government, were put on a "traitor
list", in the entity Federation of BiH in 2013
and 2014, there were attempts to change
the law which regulates the process of the
establishment and work of associations
and foundations, as two basic legal forms
of registering a civil society organisation.
Through these changes, executive powers
would have the right to abolish an association
or foundation without appeal.
The worst attempt of disciplining civil
society organisations was the Draft Law
developed by the RS government, which
was in parliamentary procedure in 2015,
with the aim to "enable the transparency
of not-for-profit oriented organisations".
Modelled on "foreign agent" laws from the
Russian Federation, this law anticipated a
rigid control and targeting of all those who
receive donor funds outside the RS, whilst
organisations which receive funds from RS
would be spared. This law was withdrawn
merely due to civil society organisations’
Examples from Everyday
Without wanting to shift responsibility for
the current situation over to civil society
organisations themselves arguing that
they have to be more persistent and capable
– an argument that we often hear as
an excuse from the authorities – we want
to emphasise some good examples from
everyday work that show that changes and
partnership with the authorities is possible:
Initiative for Monitoring
the European Integration of
Understanding the importance and potential
of the EU integration process for the
development of human rights in BiH, a
coalition of civil society organisations was
established in 2012 with the aim to include
civil society in the EU integration process
and influence policy development. From
that moment until today, a small coalition
developed into a network of 30 organisations
which actively monitor changes in
terms of the so-called political criteria for
integration. Since 2013, an alternative progress
report is being published which represents
the view and perception of the civil
society on the rule of law and human and
minority rights in BiH. We are convinced
that many questions wouldn’t have been
even mentioned in official progress reports
had they not been opened and argued in
the alternative progress report of this Initiative.
Initiative members have imposed
themselves as a critical stakeholder during
legislation development. The best example
is the development of the new Law
on Ombudsman for Human Rights in BiH
and changes and amendments to the Law
on Prohibition of Discrimination in BiH.
Through the development and promotion
of the amendments and the whole model
of the Law on Ombudsman for Human
Rights and regular communication with
the Ministry of Human Rights and Refu-
19 More information is available on the website
For the Locals Unwanted, for the International Community a "Necessary Evil" 39
gees, representatives of the Initiative are
involved in the development process and
further consultations. Coalition activities
accompanied by expertise can be the right
way to approach self-contained institutions.
Involvement of LGBT
Persons in Operational Plans
of Entity Governments
Although the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and intersex (LGBTI)
persons are institutionally ignored by
authorities on state and entity level, some
substantial changes occurred in 2015.
The Sarajevo Open Centre (SOC), as an
organisation with substantial coverage of
LGBTI themes in its work, has succeeded
to impose itself as partner to the Gender
Centres on entity level and to the Agency
of Gender Equality of BiH. Through a
holistic approach, data gathering, and
documenting cases of violation of human
rights of LGBTI persons, research, report
development and public policy, as well
as legal recommendation development,
the organisation has successfully made a
mark as partner and is, as such, accepted
by institutional mechanisms for gender
equality. As a result of this cooperation,
Annual Action Plans of the RS and Federation
of BiH governments for gender equality
improvement in 2016 contain measures
proposed by SOC. These measures will be
implemented in partnership between this
organisation and government institutions
for gender equality. We emphasise these
measures because this happens for the first
time in the history of BiH that the country
has LGBTI-inclusive public policies. This
is important particularly because LGBTI
rights were completely excluded from BiH
authorities’ activities, due to social distance
and institutional ignorance.
Civil Society Organisations in
Ministries’ Working Groups
With the appointment of Semiha Borovac
for Minister of Human Rights and Refugees
of BiH, we finally got a person who is
interested in making changes. Due to good
cooperation with civil society organisations
during 2015, this Ministry decided
to expand the cooperation. In addition
to periodical invitations to intersectoral
working group meetings and consultations,
this time, the Ministry decided to
involve civil society representatives into
working groups for the development of
the Human Rights Strategy and Anti-Discrimination
Strategy. SOC has been invited
to participate in three working groups due
to its expertise in the area of public policy,
discrimination and combating hate
crimes. SOC will have a chance to directly
affect strategies’ and laws’ contents, but
also to have regular consultations with
other civil society organisations. This
example shows that cooperation with civil
society organisations is possible and, in
particular with specialised organisations,
if the authorities see their interest in that
If we want to create change, we have to act
on two levels:
The first one is the institutional level
which demands long-term action, but can
also result in long-term changes. BiH and
its different levels of government have to
create a framework for civil society development.
In addition to adopting a Strategy
for Civil Society Development, which
would define all measures which have to be
taken, it is necessary to establish office(s)
for civil society cooperation and allocate
funds for their work. More precisely, one
must admit that at this moment, there is
40 For the Locals Unwanted, for the International Community a "Necessary Evil"
a significant imbalance in financing civil
society organisations. Whilst religious
communities, sports associations and war
veteran organisations, as research indicates20,
get more than 100 million BAM per
year, organisations dealing with democratisation,
government transparency and
human and minority rights barely exist
for the state. This problem can be solved
by e.g. establishing a National Foundation
for Civil Society Development.
The second level of action is of shortterm
nature and is more in the hands of
civil society organisations themselves. As
long as there is no institutional framework,
civil society organisations have to show
more interest and commitment and they
have to use the EU integration process to
work on concrete issues that are of interest
for the citizens of BiH. Civil society
organisations have to focus their work primarily
on the relevant governments and
parliaments. With this approach, these
bodies will become our natural allies and
interlocutors. Despite rejection, we cannot
give up. Change will not come by itself, but
rather by active involvement and action.
20 Inicijativa za bolju i humaniju inkluziju (IBHI),
Zašto je NVO potencijal neiskorišten? (2012),
For the Locals Unwanted, for the International Community a "Necessary Evil" 41
Public Space
Belongs to Us
Dražana Lepir,
Oštra Nula, Banja Luka
I recently read a tweet: "Civil rights are not
inherited. Every generation has to start
from the beginning". Honestly, as much
as such a thought is based on the fight for
our rights, personally, I cannot accept that
restrictions imposed by institutions must
be of this intensity.
Citizens Association "Oštra nula"21 was
established in December 2009. We started
as an informal group, but due to bureaucratic
obstacles, we decided to formally
register an organisation in October 2010. A
combination of youth enthusiasm and dissatisfaction
was the trigger for us to gather
and demonstrate through public actions
that we do not accept the corruption, nepotism,
arrogance and discrimination that
those of us who are not in familial-political
relations to the governing political establishment
are exposed to.
At the beginning, our activities were
mainly street performances and debates
that we financed ourselves. We had support
from our friends from other nongovernmental
organisations. The distinct
nature of our activities attracted significant
media attention.
I would like to mention that, although
we didn’t have experience and knowledge
in terms of legal and bureaucratic issues,
we always followed the rules and gave our
best to coordinate our activities with legal
regulations. But, as we became increasingly
present in the media due to our activities,
we started receiving misdemeanour
tickets and the city authorities refused to
issue a permission to use public areas. The
propaganda of media influenced by the
Republika Srpska (RS) regime was aimed at
discrediting our work and similar activities.
Our biggest problems started in February
2011 when we organized protests in
Banja Luka with an informal group, "Glas
naroda"22. The reason for these protests
21 Oštra Nula literaly means Sharp Zero
22 Glas Naroda – People’s Voice
was the statement of Milorad Dodik, who
was Prime Minister of the RS at the time,
that "they will abolish veteran’s subsidies if
war veterans get on the street" but also the
bad social and economic situation of our
citizens. These were the first spontaneous
protests in Banja Luka that gathered about
3000 citizens and were organized through
social media. These protests were very
important because they showed that people
were unsatisfied in the RS. At that time,
the policy led by Milorad Dodik focused on
brainwashing, stating that the RS is more
progressive than other parts of Bosnia and
Herzegovina (BiH) and how everybody
wants the RS to disappear. Soon, we organized
second protests when we also experienced
mighty authority propaganda which
until today is governed by fear and terror
when it comes to freedom of speech and
expression. On the day of these second
protests, SRNA (the RS News Agency) published
an article in which they used parts
of our statements from other articles and
out of context with the aim of discrediting
us as people who live in Banja Luka. They
called us traitors, anti-Serbs, promoters of
Sarajevo’s war story and so on. They also
used our cooperation with organisations
from the Federation of BiH as a final proof
that we are against the RS. Considering the
fact that we don’t have independent media,
this kind of media spin and propaganda is
still one of the most powerful weapons of
the governing structures in the RS.
Restrictions of Public Space
I would also like to state something about
the legal mechanisms available to us
because it is important to say that city
administration regulations are not the
same in each municipality in the RS. I
will now emphasize regulations which are
valid for Banja Luka. As we started street
actions and, in general, decided to organize
most of our activities in public space,
the first restriction we faced was that, as
physical persons, we could not obtain
a permission to use public space. Until
we registered, other legal persons would
apply for permission for our actions. On
the other hand, the application does not
provide an option to sign up for street
actions or performances, i.e. our laws do
not recognise this kind of activism. The
result of this setup is that we never know
for sure if we will get the permission or not.
This mainly depends on internal decisions
of city administration officers. The second
thing important to emphasize is that
protests can be announced by a physical
person at the Centre for Public Security at
least 24 hours in advance. If nobody from
the Ministry of Interior calls you until the
day of the protests, it is considered that
you have a permission to hold protests.
Since 2008, protests in front of public
institutions are forbidden in the RS, or
rather, it is allowed, but in a distance of
not less than 50 meters. If one decides to
organize a protest which involves moving,
one has to consider this decision during
the planning of the route. In addition, the
problem is whether one would even be able
to protest on the move. We mostly witness
prohibition of protests if their organizers
do not find some other solutions, such as
adjusting the protest route or accepting
the authorities’ proposal to move the protest
outside of city centre and other similar
workarounds. This worked for a while in
the case of Picin Park, where there was no
formal organizer of the protest, no leader
to address and the protests were organized
through Facebook, until the police just
started blocking entire streets, or denying
protests in a certain location.
In Banja Luka it is allowed to gather in
public on two locations determined by the
City administration: Krajina Square (Trg
Krajine) and Dr. Mladen Stojanović Park.
At the same time, if one wants to submit
Public Space Belongs to Us 43
an application to use public space, they are
also limited to these two areas implying
that the space for public activity is legally
limited to these two locations.
As I mentioned before, our problems
started a year and a half ago following our
active involvement and action. Granted,
our actions were different than those of
other organizations. They were different
in the sense that we pointed to the nonchalance
and inactivity of responsible
authorities and to social and economic
problems within our society. Due to our
creative actions we had much sympathy
and, to put it this way, a silent support of
the public. Besides our street actions, we
have organized debates, public discussions
and other activities through which
we wanted to animate young people to
be active. Our aim was to promote critical
thinking and awareness of our citizens. We
didn’t limit our work to Banja Luka only
but we have been trying to set other cities
in the RS in motion.
Politics of Penalties
In October 2011 we organized an action
called "I just don’t want to leave". With
this we wanted to say that our activism is
the result of the fact that we do not want
to go from here. In addition, we wanted to
point to the fact that the state level government
wasn’t established even one year
after the parliamentary elections and we
also wanted to point out the debt made by
RS by that date. In this regard, we placed
a banner with this quote on a cinema
fence on the Krajina Square. Very soon
after that police showed up and removed
the banner and gave us a misdemeanour
ticket. As part of the same campaign, we
placed stickers with the same message in
public spaces in the city, for which we also
received a fine. The overall fine was about
1.400 BAM (~715 Euro). The reason for this
fine was "impermissible promotion on the
territory of Banja Luka City", i.e. our banner
and stickers were processed as misdemeanours
on that basis. We decided not
to pay this fine and launched an appeal. A
month later we received one more misdemeanour
ticket for the same sticker, photographed
on another location. The overall
fine was 2.100 BAM (~1074 EUR).
We also went to court with this misdemeanour
ticket whereas this time, we
approached the Human Rights Ombudsman.
They advised us to have a meeting
with the Head of the Communal Police and
explain in writing why we implemented
that campaign, and to admit that we had
made a mistake due to mitigating circumstances
in the process. The meeting with
the Head of the Communal Police, Mr.
Dragan Lukač (he is now the Minister of
Internal Affairs of the RS) was not the most
pleasant one. We verbally agreed to remove
our stickers and that they would not issue
misdemeanour tickets until we removed
them. We solved the issue with the tickets
in 2013 at the Municipal Court when the
fine was modified into suspension of sentence
on probation for 6 months for each
penalty. It’s important to say that we had a
total of 6 hearings because there were separate
trials for the legal entity and for the
responsible person (the president of our
Association). During the whole process we
had support23 from the public but it was
very difficult to get legal aid. Eventually,
we engaged a lawyer who was in favour of
our case and who charged a minimum for
her services. We also immediately initiated
a solidarity fund and succeeded in collecting
money in case we would have to pay
a penalty.
During this period, it was very hard
to continue with our work because many
people who were part of our organisation
23 Uglješa Vuković, Ja samo ne želim da odem odavde
(2011), ne-zelim-da-odem-odavde>
44 Public Space Belongs to Us
slowly withdrew, and the pressure was big.
Luckily, we managed to continue with our
work, but the pressure still remains. As an
organisation and as individuals we were
actively involved in different local and
state initiatives. We took part in protests
for the preservation of a park in 2012 which
lasted from May to October that year. We
supported the JMBG protests (Baby Revolution)
in 2013 in Sarajevo. At that time,
together with several other activists, we
were labelled traitors and destroyers of the
RS. In 2014, we supported Tuzla workers,
by organizing a solidarity walk together
with the Helsinki Parliament of Banja Luka.
After this unannounced event, organized
spontaneously thanks to social networks,
the so-called black list of non- governmental
organisations (NGO) in the RS was published,
led by the SNSD. Our organization
was not on that list, but at the front page
of the daily paper "Glas Srpske"24, it was
declared that we cooperated with activists
of the Free Republic25 (Slobodna republika)
to burn down the War Veteran Organization
of the RS, together with buildings
of the Eastern Sarajevo Administration.
Thanks to Transparency International BiH
(TI-BIH) we filed an appeal for slander but,
to date, this case has not been processed.
After being constantly called out by the
media, having received misdemeanour
tickets and acuity of our actions, and support
that we gave to other initiatives, we
found ourselves in a situation to be seen as
a "risky" organization. During this whole
period we continued with our activities
involving young people from BiH and vis-
24 Goran Maunaga, Planirali paljenje BORS-a i uprave
Istočno Sarajevo, Glas Srpske, (2014), http://www.
25 Nikola Dronjak, at that time President of Slobodna
Republika is now Youth Coucil President of PDP
(Party of Democratic Progress). Nikola Dronjak has
organized protests on 12th of June 2013
its to other cities as the organisers of different
social and cultural activities.
Occupation of Public Space
by Officials
Out of many bureaucratic difficulties we
are facing, it is important to highlight the
issue with obtaining permits to use public
property. For each action we are organizing,
we need to file a request to use public
property and pay a 12 BAM fee. More than
once, we were denied permission, without
any written explanation. At the end of
2014, we did not get a permission to organize
an event to mark November 9 (Day of
Remembrance of Victims of Fascism)
and December 10 (International Human
Rights Day) and later also Day of the City
celebrated on April 22. Even though we
did not get permission to organize these
events, we decided to still proceed with
the organization. As we did not get any
written rejection and had submitted the
request on time, we assumed that we did
not get any answer due to bureaucracy. On
November 9, at the first of these events, the
communal police appeared and gave us
an 800 BAM (~400 Euros) misdemeanour
ticket for disturbance of public order and
use of public property without permission.
We decided to pay this fine, as there was
no legal basis for the court to decide in
our interest and, if we accepted the guilt
and paid the fine within 7 days, we needed
to pay only half of the amount. For other
actions, we were verbally informed that
there was an internal decision not to issue
any permission due to other events which
were planned to be held on that property.
As of 2013, a commercial street festival
is held in our city on Krajina Square, Zimzograd.
Due to Krajina Square being occupied
from December until mid–January,
the City Administration brought an internal
decision not to issue any permission
Public Space Belongs to Us 45
for the use of public property to anybody
during this period. That was the reason
why we could not hold an International
Human Rights Day event in 2014. Due
to these circumstances, we approached
legal experts from TI-BiH who suggested
submitting the request for permission to
use public property several months earlier
instead of 14 days before the event,
because we could then refer to the silence
of the administration in case we did not get
an answer. When we did that, we received
permission for some activities, but not to
mark November 9 and December 10 2015.
We were told that they could not know
if the space would be free for our event
(although for our activities we mostly
need a small space of 2 m2). For these two
cases we decided to use all available legal
mechanisms to get an official answer from
the administration about why our applications
were rejected which eventually
resulted with a change of decision and
issuance of permission for our event.
Punish First, than Prove
what Happened
What lies ahead is a legal recognition
of activism, freedom of speech and other
democratic, non-violent mechanisms. It’s
important to emphasize that we speak
about political activism which is denied
or impeded if we want to draw attention
to indolence and political autocracy. The
National Assembly of the RS has prepared
several laws which will additionally limit
the freedom of speech through legal regulations
and definitions which will be used
according to this principle: "Punish first,
than prove what happened". The Law on
Public Order has insufficiently defined
what an insulting message is and has thus
left space for loose interpretation and
selective appliance of penalty regulations
in this regard.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves
what we leave to future generations if we
are not allowed to be political stakeholders,
if we have to expurgate each of our
messages or activities to soften the reactions
of the regime, as they will always be
present, no matter how cautious we are.
The energy that each of us has to invest
in our activities is huge, but we have no
mechanisms to protect ourselves from
authorities’ arbitrary decisions and media
pressures, except the law which is written
to serve only those in power, affluent
people and their subjects. This energy
disperses and forces us to quit the idea of
leading a normal life in this region, surrender
this fight or become followers of political
parties who expect votes for a working
place, in case we even get it.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a chance
to live a peaceful and democratic future
,but the initiative for this has to come from
its citizens. The changes that our society
needs cannot and will not come exclusively
from the EU accession process.
The permanent changes we need require
political literacy of our citizens, a task for
all civil society members to work on, since
laws which are not being implemented
properly are just dead letters on paper. It
is this effort that should be supported and
recognized by the EU and the rest of the
international community, if we are to ever
start moving forward.
Foto by: Oštra Nula
46 Public Space Belongs to Us
Spaces, Battles
and Striving to
Foster Trust in
Civic Activism
Alida Karakushi,
Qytetarët Për Parkun26,
26 Citizens for the Park
As the Eastern Bloc of Europe was finally
leaning towards the West in the 1980’s,
Albania was among the last countries in
Europe to abandon communism in the
1990’s, partly due to its Stalinist loyalty. In
fact, Albania was also the last in the region
to seek independence from the Ottoman
Empire. Hence, we may say that Albania
has taken a pretty different path in its history
of governance, compared to other
Balkan states. Albania was hardly a state
whose borders would remain secure, after
flirting for a very short time with pluralism27;
the state was governed by a selfproclaimed
king in the 1920’s, who was
first under a direct influence, and later a
subordinate of Mussolini.28 After WWII,
moving from a semi-feudal system, Albania
adopted communism. Unlike all other
communist countries (Russia and China
included), Albania remained faithful to
Stalinism, at times openly criticizing Russia
for betraying it in the 1960’s29, as well as
China for doing the same in the 1970’s, in
opening dialogue with Imperialist powers,
meaning relations with the USA30. Consequently,
it is obvious that, in the aftermath
of its break-up with the communist
dictatorship, Albania knew nothing about
democracy, unlike the rest of the communist
countries that had experienced some
degree of freedom and democracy in their
earlier times of governance. In fact, the
communist regime was able to eliminate
every movement or dissident who would
challenge the party line, so as to impose its
27 Smith, Advocate of Peace through Justice, World
Affairs Institute, ii, 87 (1925), 100–102
28 William Miller, Albania and her Protectress, Foreign
Affairs, iii, 5 (1927), 438
29 Speech Delivered by Enver Hoxha as Head of the
Delegation of the Party of Labor of Albania before
the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers Parties,
Moscow, 16 November, 1960
30 Lalaj, Ostermann, and Gage, Albania is not Cuba,
Cold War International History Project Bulletin
dictatorship. Unconfirmed sources report
that 18% of the population was persecuted
for political reasons during the communist
times. Additionally, because of security
reasons, heavy investments in defense
and intelligence were made throughout
the 45 years of the communist regime.
Furthermore, the isolationist path Albania
followed in the 1980’s, led to economic selfreliance
and also a nation that was totally
isolated from the rest of the world.31 Due to
this level of control, Albania’s’ dictatorship
regime is considered to have been among
the harshest ones in Europe. This political
evolution is not a long forgotten history,
but has affected the socio-political life of
Albanians at all levels until present days.
Transition from a one-party system to a
pluralist one became possible after massive
student protests erupted, under the
slogans "we want Albania like the rest of
Europe". What made this transition peaceful
had to do with Albania’s economy,
which proved to be unsustainable, due,
in part to its total isolation in the 1980’s,
as well as the soft stance of the leader of
the Labor Party, Ramiz Alia. As Albania
adopted pluralism, several parties were
established. Unfortunately, all the leaders
of the new parties were communists that
had held high positions in the bureaucracy,
or literally former ministers of the
Reforms and Pyramids
In the aftermath of the 1990’s, Albania
was the poorest nation on the European
continent. Poverty, however, was not its
31 B. Backer, Self-reliance under socialism - the case of
Albania, Journal of Peace Research, iv, 19 (1982),
only concern - Albanians, as a nation,
were neither ready, nor did they have the
knowledge or skills to operate in an open
economy. A number of murky activities,
such as trafficking, money laundering and
informal banking led to a rise in Albanian
pyramid schemes, which were initially
seen as benign by the IMF, since they
replaced the missing banking system.32
As the pyramid companies were able
to buy off the media and the politicians in
power they praised their reforms as a ‘success’,
whilst the opposition never explicitly
said anything against this, for fear of losing
electoral support.33 The situation resulted
in a quasi civil war and an economic damage
which is still not measurable. Some
reports estimate that 50% of Albania’s total
GDP (about 1.2 billion USD) was invested
into pyramid schemes. Albanians took the
streets accusing the government for mishandling
their money. The situation deteriorated
to a state of lawlessness, where
criminal gangs were controlling the majority
of the territory. In the aftermath of the
fall of the pyramid schemes, which led to
the loss of more than 2000 lives, order in
Albania was restored through Italy’s effort,
which drew in the support of a multinational
force. These transformations were
going on while Albania was missing some
of its most important institutions such as:
legislative, financial and administrative
institutions, as well as a civil society.34
32 Jarvis, Christopher, The Rise and Fall of the Pyramid
Schemes in Albania, IMF Staff Papers Vol. 47, No.
1. 2000. International Monetary Fund
33 Fred C. Abrahams, Modern Albania: From dictatorship
to democracy in Europe (United States: New
York University Press, 2015)
34 Blendi Kajsiu, A discourse analysis of corruption:
Instituting Neoliberalism against corruption in Albania,
1998-2005 (London, United Kingdom: Ashgate
Publishing, 2015)
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, 48 Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism
Nations in Transit; Albania
(2015). Stagnation of the CS
During communist times, civil society
in Albania was literally nonexistent. Nowadays,
even the term civil society, which
usually refers to the NGO sector, has come
to be associated with the financial benefits
individuals involved in it enjoy, rather than
civic engagement, or impact on policy
making. When it comes to transparency,
NGOs in Albania are not keen on sharing
information. A CIVICUS report from 2010
found an unexpectedly high refusal rate to
answer the survey questions in relation to
financial issues, human resource management,
and internal governance (over 40%),
among the limitations they faced in implementing
research on the Civil Society Index
(CSI) model. When it comes to proactive
transparency (providing financial reports
online), almost none of the NGOs in Albania
met the criteria. While skepticism is
seen to be very high among Albanians35,
confirming disbelief towards institutions
and each other, the lack of transparency
within the NGO sphere, intertwined with
several corruption scandals, very often
makes engaged citizens distance themselves
from the term civil society.
35 European Social Survey, Data and Documentation,
Political Pressure, Hijacking
Protests and Confirmation
of the Nonexistence of Civil
A recent wave of protests, which served to
discuss the problems persisting in Albanian
civil society, emerged a few months
ago for the protection of the Tirana Lake
Park.36 The main arguments against construction
within the sole green area of
Tirana, had to do with the fact that there
was no transparency regarding the project,
no public hearings (despite the fact that
Albania had signed the Aarhus convention
in 2003), no environmental study leading
to an environmental permit, as well as no
transparent competition. Furthermore,
the activists considered that the implementation
of this project would minimize
the green space of Tirana (which already
36 Alida Karakushi, Albanian activists rally against a
‘concrete’ end for Tirana’s last public park (Global
Voices, 2016),
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism 49
provides less green space per citizen37 than
the vast majority of European cities).
Activists, mostly independent engaged
citizens, encountered a variety of pressure
from the state institutions on one hand,
and apathy, fear to join, and disbelief from
the rest of the society. They faced political
pressures from the main state institutions,
violence from the police and, on other
occasions, total indifference from state
agencies that should have supported them
such as the Ministry of Environment. One
such instance when the police failed to
provide protection occurred when one of
the CEOs involved in the implementation
of the project threatened and beat up some
of the protesters. In order to neutralize the
protests, the police would capture and
accompany some activists to the police
station, keeping them there for hours. The
police also used verbal violence, threatening
the activists with the use of force and
denying them the right to put up tents
during their permanent sit-in protest. The
protesters tried to get support from the
international community in Tirana, and
approached several embassies, only to
encounter silence, mainly because they
focus on the judicial reform.
When it comes to the discourse around
the protests, the ruling Socialist Party (SP)
in power labeled the protesters supporters
of the oppositional Democratic Party
(DP), so as to neutralize their arguments.
The DP’s discourse, on the other hand, was
ambiguous, leading to confusion among
the public, but they were ultimately able
to to ‘confirm’ support for the protesters.
The leader of the Democratic Party (DP),
Lulzim Basha, confirmed his support in a
public debate. This declaration was then
37 Gazeta Tema, Veliaj prezanton programin për
mjedisin: ‘Më shumë hapësira të gjelbra dhe parqe
për qytetarët’ (2015), web/2015/05/25/veliaj-prezanton-programin-permjedisin-
trumpeted by the mainstream media,
declaring that DP was behind the protest.
When asked insistently by a TV moderator
about the protestors, the current
Prime Minister, Edi Rama, claimed there
was no civil society in Albania, thus phrasing
it: ‘Where is the grave of the CS so I can
send them some flowers? (minute 54 of the
On another occasion, the PM prompted
foreign direct investors to invest into Albania
citing lack of trade unions39 as a stimulus.
Considering the PM’s statement, it is
important to point out that the political
class has constantly made civil society
actors part of the government, thus hemorrhaging
it. Such an example is the current
mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, who was
the leader of the "Mjaft" civic movement
prior to joining the Socialist Party.
Media and Propaganda
When the protest for the Tirana Lake Park
became a permanent sit-in near the designated
area, the media provided almost no
coverage. The media in Albania is partially
free, but it is seen mostly as an extension of
party and corporate interests. According to
Freedom House40 the independent media
indicator worsened since 2009. The alternative
media, on the other hand, with the
help of social networks, became an important
tool against the state propaganda and
gave some level of freedom to civil society
activists. The activists of the Citizens for the
Park then founded their own TV channel,
known as Televizioni 2.0. They were able
38 RTV KLAN, Opinion - Edi Rama! (10 mars 2016)
([n.p.]: YouTube, 2016)
39 Intervista integrale a Edi Rama, Primo Ministro
albanese (, 2015),
40 Freedom House, Albania: Nations in transit (2015),
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, 50 Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism
to do so using streaming applications on
social networks.
Official CSOs vs. Unofficial
A study conducted by the UNDP on
civil society of Albania, argues that NGOs
in Albania are unable to catalyze civic
engagement because of the low social
trust among citizens.41 Such low social
trust results in meagre participation in
important protests, even when they are
organized by independent civil society
activists, and thus, seen as trustworthy,
non-elitist and with no hidden agendas.
In many cases of protests organized by
independent engaged citizens, CSO actors
tried to make them appear as if they were
the ones organizing them. When these
embryonic acts of independent civic activism
are hijacked by NGOs, the level of trust
among citizens lowers even more, creating
a vicious cycle that hinders the creation of
a healthy and sustainable civil society.
When it comes to the involvement of
environmental NGOs for the protection
of the Tirana Lake Park, they refused to be
the flag bearers of the protests. Their reaction
was mainly symbolic, as the only tool
they used to express their concern was an
online joint declaration. When called by
the activists to officially join them in the
legal battle, the representatives of some
environmental NGOs refused to be a part
of it, because of fear of intimidation and a
loss of funds from the government. In fact,
according to Freedom House42, the need
for financial stability for CSOs has made
them follow international organizations’
41 CIVICUS, Albania CSI Report, (2010):
42 Freedom House, Albania: Nations in transit (2015),
agenda and procedures, particularly as
the number of international donors has
decreased. As many international donors
condition their funding to the support of
local and state institutions, CSOs are less
likely to keep the government in checks
and balances43.
Citizens’ Apathy and
the Need to be Totally
During the two months of the permanent
sit-in protest, many of the engaged citizens
got modest support from the rest of
the society, some of which was only virtual.
But they did also directly face the disbelief
of many citizens who approached them
on site and accused them of being paid to
protest.44 For the moment, the only way
to combat the apathy in Albania is to be
totally independent and unofficial. The
international community’s procedures
(particularly when it comes to EU funds)
should be adapted to the local situation,
taking into consideration the level
of corruption and distrust in the country.
Moreover, they should also offer proactive
help, considering the lack of expertise
in human resources. International
organizations (IOs) should not make the
inclusion of state and local actors mandatory
in their funding criteria and promote
more transparency and accountability by
requiring that CSOs become transparent
in their financial reports, not only towards
the donors, but also the general public.
When it comes to grassroots movements,
IOs could officially extend their help to
independent citizens, without condition-
43 Ibid Freedom House
44 Ora News Emisione, ‘Të Paekspozuarit - ‘Shpresa që
ka filluar të vdesë’, Blushi përballë analistëve. - Ora
News’, 9 June 2016. watch?v=qa6eOuynG6o>
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism 51
ing them to formalize, while also providing
the urgently needed judicial expertise.
In regards to civil society in Albania, it
is clear that a new form of civic activism
is about to emerge. Recent citizen movements
resulted from the political pressure,
the mistrust in CSOs, the media censorship,
and its propaganda. Considering the
very high level of disbelief that reigns in the
Albanian society, one of the reasons many
of these engaged groups of citizens make
a clear distinction between them and the
official civil society, and even do not like
to be identified as civil society, is the need
to empower the concept of the engaged
citizen in the political life. Disbelief however,
is still pertinent even towards these
groups of citizens. Nevertheless, helped by
the new era of information, many of these
groups’ use of social networks to inform
and engage is already bringing a slow, but
steady increase in civic engagement.
Albania: Shrinking Spaces, 52 Battles and Striving to Foster Trust in Civic Activism
Srpska: A
Chronology of
Restrictions for
Civil Society
Dragana Dardić,
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly,
Banja Luka
The right to public assembly and free
expression of opinion are basic indicators
of how politically democratic a society is.
When all other methods (meetings and
negotiations with officials, writing complaints,
judicial processes) are exhausted,
citizens only have the choice to get out on
the street and thereby express their positions,
dissatisfaction, requests and/or
expectations. For the past several years in
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), trends disputing
and limiting citizens’ right to public
assembly and freedom of speech have
been present.
In this text, we will present three
events, that might not seem connected at
first glance, but which we believe can be
observed as the beginning of something
we today label shrinking space for the work
of civil society organizations in Republika
Srpska (RS).
The first event began in May 2012.
That spring, in Banja Luka, several hundreds
of citizens rose against the destruction
of a park in the city centre, known
as "Picin park". Citizens requested City
and Entity Governments to suspend the
destruction of the park and construction
of a business facility on this green surface
until all documents concerning the regulation
plan, sales contract and issuing construction
permit to the company Grand
Trade were publicly presented. Up to this
moment, complete documentation concerning
the sale of this green area in the
city centre where a multi-storey business
facility was built has not been published.
In the meantime, Mile Radišić, owner of
the company Grand Trade, being connected
with Milorad Dodik, President of
the RS, through godfather relations, was
sentenced to three years in prison due to
embezzlement of bonds of the Banja Luka
"Medical electronics". Radišić was a fugitive
in Serbia and then, in November 2015,
he walked into KPZ (prison for adult perpetrators)
Tunjice to serve his sentence.
Gatherings and protest walks of citizens
lasted for months. Walks were chosen
to express political resistance and fight the
autocracy of politicians, nepotism, crime,
sale of public goods and arrogant relation
of the government towards citizens’ economic,
social and ecological needs and
rights. The walks were also a symbol of the
civil struggle for free expression of opinion
at any location and time, without fear and
in a public manner45.
However, what was new for the government
and what gave the protest walks
a new dimension was the fact that the protests
did not have a leader, they were not
organized by any centre, and did not have
any relation to any political party. Social
networks, primarily Facebook, had the
leading role in its organization!
These facts led to the introduction
of legal interventions by the authorities,
whose goals were to prevent mass gatherings
and public eruptions of citizen dissatisfaction.
The park does not exist anymore and
the m:tel company has recently moved
into the newly-constructed business facility.
The initiative "The park is ours"
declared this decision of m:tel, the Telecom
of Serbia, as "shameful support to
criminal destruction of the society of the
RS and BiH" and the National Assembly
of Serbia and the Chairman of the Serbian
Government were informed of all the
aforementioned in February this year46.
45 Park je Naš, Deklaracija inicijative "Park je naš!"
46 More on the visit of the initiative "Park is ours" in
Black lList of Non-
Governmental Organisations
The second event important for the chronology
of shrinking space for activities of
the civil society in the RS happened in February
2014, when the official web site of
Alliance of Independent Social-Democrats
(SNSD), the governing party in RS, published
"Destruction of the RS - Theory and
Technology of Revolution" including the
so-called "black list"47 of non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and individuals,
alleged destroyers of the constitutional
order in the RS. This was published not
long after a peaceful protest walk organised
in February 2014 by the Helsinki Citizens’
Assembly from Banja Luka and the
NGO Oštra nula as a sign of solidarity with
workers and citizens of the Federation of
BiH who stood up to defend their rights to
work, salary and decent living.
Again, a peaceful protest walk was
spontaneously organised through Facebook.
Now we come to the third event manifested
in the adoption of the Law on Public
Order in the RS (2015). This event broadened
the definition of "public space" to
social networks, thus opening a space
for prosecuting or punishing a particular
activity or expressing positions ("disturbing
contents") online! The law was adopted
in spite of opposition of the local and
international public and indication that
the proposed law was not in compliance
with the Constitution of BiH and international
standards, primarily, Article 10 of EU
47 The "black list" was a dangerous labelling and invitation
for lynching of those who are non like-minded
with the RS government. In addition to some media
and independent political and economic analysts, the
black list also included civil society organisations:
Transparency International, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly
from Banjaluka, citizens, Slobodna Republika
(Free Republic), Centre for Information Decontamination
of Youth BUKA, GEA Centre for Research and
Studies, Youth Initiative for Human Rights and the
Association of Veterans of the RS.
54 Republika Srpska: A Chronology of Restrictions for Civil Society Organisations
Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms, Universal Declaration
of Human Rights and International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights, and that
this law dangerously questions the right to
freedom of speech and expression.
It is not by accident that the creators
of this law also broadened the definition
of public space to social networks, since
it has been evident that today, social networks
are the channel used for articulating
and spreading information that can be
difficult for the government to control and
Afterwards, there was another attack
on civil society in the form of Draft Law on
Public Gatherings of the RS and Draft Law
on Transparency of NGOs in the RS.
Namely, the Draft Law on Public Gatherings
stipulated that protests be held "in
shifts" (from 8 AM to 2 PM and from 6 PM
to 11 PM), as well as that public gathering
cannot last longer than three hours,
in comparison to "public gatherings for
sport events" that can be held without
time limitation! Moreover, some other
provisions of the Draft Law were arbitrary
and unclear. All the aforementioned could
be interpreted together as an attempt to
further disable civil activism and activities
of citizens’ associations, individuals and
informal groups who, by means of public
gatherings or protests, publicly criticize
the government and point out existing
society problems.
On the other hand, the Draft Law on
Transparency of NGOs also stipulated
labelling organisations receiving foreign
donations as "foreign agents" and placing
their work under complete control of
the RS Government. It would also prohibit
them from performing political activities,
whereby "political activity" according
to Article 2, paragraph 7 of the proposed
draft, was defined as "any activity towards
bodies, institutions or elected RS representatives
in terms of formulating the
adoption or changes to regulations and
policy of RS, or in terms of political and
public interest"?!
Although these Draft Laws have never
been adopted, it is clear that their goal,
along with the Law on Public Order of the
RS, was to limit the space of action for civil
society organisations.
Moreover, this also included disabling
other civil initiatives that appeared in the
past two years in the RS, such as Recreation
Zone Banja Luka and the Civil Initiative
for Borik. The last initiative gathered
more than 5000 signatures in a couple
of days from citizens opposing the decision
of the civil authorities to build a religious
facility, a church, at a playground in
Borik. However, the Assembly of the City
of Banja Luka rejected the proposal of the
Civil Initiative for Borik requesting the
preservation of the public green land and
playground from destruction. This Decision
of the Assembly was annulled by the
Supreme Court of the RS! However, until
today, the proposal of the Civil Initiative
was not returned on agenda of the local
The Recreation Zone is fighting for an
outdoor site in Šehitluci (Banj brdo) without
cars, for which they have organised
numerous campaigns but, despite all the
aforementioned, the local government is
not giving up on opening traffic on this
location that is being visited by several
dozens of citizens each day. The fact that
the local authorities have refused to give
up on this issue could be connected with
the opening of a restaurant «Novak» on
Banj brdo and some personal, party interests.
Anyway, in this manner, somebody
tried to take away citizens’ place to meet,
hang out, spend their free time and talk to
each other.
In addition, the recent adoption of the
Law on Police and Internal Affairs of the
RS in April 2016 has, according to statements
of opposition parties, created a
Republika Srpska: A Chronology of Restrictions for Civil Society Organisations 55
legal framework for the increase of repression,
interception, detaining and limiting
freedoms and rights of citizens guaranteed
under the Constitution. Opposition parties
claim that the law is not completely
harmonized with the EU legal acquis48,
and that it violates other laws on state and
entity level, including the Criminal Code of
the RS and that it also derogates cooperation
with governmental security agencies
and judicial institutions in BiH. One of the
main objections is related to the increase
of authorities, such as the control of the
President of RS over the police and broadening
the authorities of the police.
In the end, we need to mention two
protest rallies held on May 14 2016 in Banja
Luka at almost the same time. One was
organized by the governing coalition at the
Trg Krajina under the title "With Heart for
Srpska - Stop the Betrayal" and another by
opposition parties, one kilometre away, in
the park Mladen Stojanović under the title
"Free Srpska". Several tensions marked the
days before the gatherings took place, such
as conflict announcements, statements on
"foreign elements" trying to destabilise the
RS and conspiracy concerning the issuance
of permits for holding protest rallies.
It turned out that the space on Trg Krajina
was reserved by the SNSD, the ruling party
in the RS, from May 14 to June 5 2016 and
that the opposition had to be contented
with a park (one of the rare remaining
parks in the city), which is another confirmation
that criteria for issuing public
gathering permits are not the same for
The protests in Banja Luka held on
May 14 2016 will not be remembered for
anything spectacular, apart from incredibly
high security measures, the "appear-
48 Dragan Čavić, president of the NDP, claims that
the not harmonised parts refer to rights guaranteed
in Europe that no citizen should be subject of
surveillance and be recorded. com/369892/Sta-donosi-novi-Zakon-o-policiji>
ance" of Sonja Karadžić at the opposition
gathering and Darko Mladić at the rally
of the governing coalition and an almost
complete blockade of the city centre where
everything was closed.
Cafés were closed, shops were not able
to sell alcoholic drinks, local and suburban
transportation was hindered and police
officers were present everywhere. One of
their tasks was to prevent protesters from
both sides to meet. However, the opposition
rally and the counter-rally, as it was
called by the media, opened at least two
questions - one concerning the role of the
police and second, concerning the criteria
for giving permits for public gatherings. As
for the former, the police should maintain
order and peace and secure gatherings
but one could not help but wonder, why
the Ministry of the Interior of the RS- if
they already estimated those were highrisk
gatherings-did not prohibit both of
them?! Or, perhaps, it was necessary to
demonstrate readiness of police forces to
decisively respond to all potential threats
directed at the constitutional order and
stability of the RS?!
56 Republika Srpska: A Chronology of Restrictions for Civil Society Organisations
Bosnian Blues:
Nenad Veličković,
Faculty of Philosophy,
University of Sarajevo,
In his book The Structural Transformation
of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas49
describes, in an exciting and convincing
manner, the establishment, development
and role of the press (the media), in the
political fight for the organization of public
space. Habermas does not doubt at all that
democracy – as a tool of the bourgeoisie –
depends less on the literacy of the ones
that vote than on the strength of the voice
of the ones being voted for. This is the reason
why, I must add, in countries with a
young democracy such as Bosnia and Herzegovina,
public education sets very low
aims when it comes to literacy; schools do
not make an effort to install skills for analytical,
critical and independent opinion
into the future voters, which is why their
expectations from the government cannot
be high.
Conflicts at the Boundaries
A fight for shaping public opinion in Bosnia
and Herzegovina is fought parallel to
the fight for the cultural/collective identity.
Culture is not understood as the socalled
high culture or, even as a synonym
for civilization, but as a means of national
homogenization (which is the issue Gellner,
Smith, Anderson and others wrote
about50); culture is primarily national cul-
49 (Habermas, Jurgen) Habernmas Jirgen, Javno
mnenje, (Beograd, Kultura, 1969), Translator: Gligorije
50 (Anderson Benedict) Anderson, Benedikt, Nacija,
izmišljena zajednica, Školska knjiga, (Zagreb: Bilig,
1990); (Billing, Michael) Bilig, Majkl, Banalni
Nacionalizam, (Beograd: XX vek, 2009) Translator:
Veselin Kostić; (Smith, Anthony D) Smit, Antony
D., Nacionalni identitet, (Beograd: XX vek, 2010),
Translator: Slobodan Đorđević; (Gellner, Ernest) Gelner
Ernest, Nacije i nacionalizam, (Zagreb: Politička
kultura, 1998) Translator: Tomislav Gamulin; see
also: (Assmann, Jan) Asman Jan, Kulturno pamćenje,
Pismo, sjećanje i politički identitet u ranim visokim
kulturama, (Zenica: Vrijeme, 2005) Translator:
Vahidin Preljević
ture and working for and within culture,
merely the mimicry of nationalism.
At the first and the most visible level,
the fight we are talking about, in the public
space, in the culture, is fought between
three nationalisms. Each of them controls
one part of the territory of Bosnia and
Herzegovina, and in their respective territories,
they have at their disposal the entire
state apparatus (media, police, judiciary,
education, etc51). The probability that one
of the nationalisms would hit the other
across the boundaries of its territory is not
very high, except in the returnees’ settlements,
where the power is fairly balanced.
An example for this is the conflict related
to the national group of school subjects in
some returnees’ settlements in the Republika
Srpska, or in the areas with established
two schools under one roof, where Bosniak
and Croat children are separated according
to their ethnic affiliation, even though
they live and grow up in the same municipalities.
In other words, the three nationalisms
in a divided country are not each other’s
genuine enemies. What seems as a mutual
fight in the public space is primarily a
smokescreen used to divert the public’s
attention from the country’s real problems.
Pressures within the
The real, far less visible struggle is taking
place between the nationalisms and the
so-called civic option, which is ethnically
unaffiliated or international (pro-European,
maybe?), and whose standards are
different. This option, which is marginalized
within the parliaments, partially
because social democracy has taken a right
turn in its activities aimed at collecting
51 Concept taken from: (Althusser, Louis) Altiser, Luj,
Ideologija i državni ideološki aparati, (Loznica,
2009), Translator: Andrija Filipović
votes, can be found within what is called
the civil (civic?) society: among independent
intellectuals and non-governmental
By focusing on the rights of individuals,
in the sense that human (individual) rights
are more comprehensive than collective
rights and that, as such, they are supposed
to be more visible, if not superior
to the collective rights (cultural, national),
this political option is disturbing (but not
quite endangering) the domination of the
However, even though it is not directly
threatened, the force of the state apparatus
used by the government (of national
parties) will act every time the criticism of
nationalisms becomes loud, and therefore,
These actions will be presented in the
form of pressure through the media that
will bring individuals or organisations (e.g.
Open Society Foundations) into disrepute;
or through cultural politics that will refuse
financing critics and alternative views (e.g.
Hasanbegović’s policies in Croatia); or
even through judicial or economic measures
(e.g. Feral Tribune).
The result of such pressures is the
reduction of space for criticising the existing
social patterns. Public opinion control
is achieved through marginalizing the critics,
exhausting them financially or, if this is
impossible or insufficient, by disqualifying
them as traitors, foreign mercenaries or as
being insufficiently patriotic.
One of the reasons why the government
needs to defend its positions in this way,
is that it has not set the rules of the game
in the media space at any level. The truth
belongs to the louder and the stronger,
and not to the ones equipped with facts,
knowledge and evidence. For this reason,
the potential of social networks cannot
ameliorate the consequences of the above
described reduction of space for criticising
the existing practices. Twenty years of the
58 Bosnian Blues: Culture, Pressure, Suffocation
international community’s investing in the
society of Bosnia and Herzegovina have
not paid off significantly. There are plenty
of reasons for this, but I find that the key
one is losing sight of the role of education
in shaping public opinion.
Education for Stagnation
Through socialization processes, nationalism
in schools imposes collective cultural
values to every child, using indoctrination
as the dominant method. The choice of
music, favourite athletes, required readings,
actors and the values promoted in
cultural activities, is related to the governing
ideology, and its basic values, which
significantly determines the identity of a
young person.
In schools, the concept of culture as
civilization has been reduced to the ethnic
component. Three parallel education systems
– Serb, Croat and Bosniak ones – with
different syllabuses, dominated by onesided
narratives, represent and interpret
reality by favouring their own group in an
uncritical manner and by presenting the
other two groups as enemies. Literature,
music, theatre, art, tradition, folklore and
heritage are primarily ethnic and separate,
and only infrequently general and common.
The outdated concept of student
assessment, poorly designed external
graduation exam, and other forms of
irrelevant evaluation, the power-based
authority of teachers and boring syllabus
unadjusted to the needs of the children,
constitute forms of pressure that suffocate
the freedom of opinion and expression,
and limit the potential of civil society to
reform itself by leaving behind the existing,
obviously bad practices.
A good text by a journalist in a magazine
or a good show cannot achieve much
without the good lessons of a teacher in a
textbook on media literacy and culture.
Bosnian Blues: Culture, Pressure, Suffocation 59
under Threat
– A Personal
Professor Slavo Kukić PhD,
ANUBIH52 and Faculty of
Economics of the University
of Mostar
52 Corresponding member of The Academy of
Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Instead of an Introduction
In democratic societies, civil society has
always had the role of a partner, even a
watchdog, as an institution in charge both
of civic oversight and pressure on governmental
institutions, with the aim of making
them work for the citizens and their
interests instead for political elites, or the
often alienated power centers and their
interests and goals.53
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina
(BiH) and its civil society, it is obvious
that, it the past two or three decades, this
area has undergone significant changes.
Namely, in pre-war BiH, civil society was
mostly reduced to public organizations in
the area of sports and culture. However,
after the war, it is possible to speak about
a sort of civil sector explosion. For example,
available data indicate there are 12,000
non-government organizations (NGOs) in
It is true, however, that their operation
should be approached in a critical manner.
Namely, it is believed today that only a
small part of the NGO sector – between 500
and 150055 – is active in the sense of their
primary mission. Why is this so? And why
is it necessary to approach them in a critical
There are many reasons for this. Primarily,
most of the NGO sector was not
formed with the aim of becoming a part of
what the existence of civil society should
be about. On the contrary, they were
formed in order to serve as an agent for
providing the sustenance of several persons
– often only one – and their family
53 Civic society is often used as a synonym for civil
society. Here it is important to mention that the term
civil society does not only include non-governmental
organisations – this type of understanding is quite
frequent – but also many other organisations – trade
unions, social movements, self-aid groups, charities,
54 Information available of the EU delegation in BiH
55 Ibid
members. Thus, the moment the funding
sources dry up, it is disputable whether
those NGOs would still operate. On the
other hand, this fact makes NGOs – at
least those that can be related with the
abovementioned thesis – prone to external
influences, including influences of foreign
political and state power centers. Besides
this, the abovementioned centers often
establish their own NGOs in order to create
an illusion about the actual situation
and present it in a completely different,
positive light.
Exposure of civil society to
the pressures of political
power centers – a personal
Civil society is a target in almost all
countries of the formal joint Yugoslav
state. For example, the forum of the Croatian
Centre for Democracy and Law Miko
Tripalo, has recently published utterly
concerning information about the government’s
pressure on civil society institutions
in Croatia that, as they claim, uncannily
resemble pressures that occurred in the
nineties of the past century, which were
used to neutralize civil society as a partner
in power.
A similar situation is present elsewhere
too, however, according to certain parameters,
this type of pressure is significantly
more aggressive in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
especially when it comes to nongovernmental
organizations that monitor
government operations, the situation in
the area of human rights and freedoms,
and crime and corruption, particularly
crime and corruption within the system.
However, political power centers do
not target civil society institutions only.
They often pressure individuals, persons
known in the public as social reality critics.
56 Here they use a wide range of attacks
against such persons – public discrediting,
presenting them as "national traitors"
and foreign mercenaries, threatening their
right to work, and exposing them to physical
attacks and intimidation.
My personal experience in the past fifteen
years confirms the abovementioned
observations. This is the first time that I
publicly speak about it – not for myself,
but in order to warn the world about the
situation and society in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Being labeled a "national traitor" is a
platitude that has been used for more than
twenty years. Thus, my "hostile" activities
seem to have caused all the mishaps
that the Croats have been going through
– from their persecution during and after
the war, to present-day decisions to leave
their homeland together with their families
and set off to some other world meridians,
without any intentions of returning
to their homeland ever again. My "hostile"
activities are also evidenced in labeling
some privatization activities as plundering.
They have asserted such instances
were not plundering, but rather actions
aimed at "keeping" the most profitable
companies in the hands of "Croats" – that
privatization is what prevented these companies
from moving to the hands of others,
primarily Bosniaks and Serbs.
However, should denunciation yield
no results, they will not abstain from more
radical forms of "cultivation", as I experienced
prior to the 2014 elections – "a cultivation
specialist" was sent to my office,
instructed to break my ribs – because I
had not understood their previous mes-
56 They should not be ignored as a part of civil society.
Just on the contrary, "Civil society is not only made
of organisations and institutions but also individuals
with their initiatives, activities and opinions – those
who have developed civic-mindedness (see: Tijana
Dimitrović, Izazovi civilnoga društva u BiH, Fondacija
za socijalno uključivanje u BiH, p. 8,>
Academics under Threat – A Personal Experience 61
sages. This was supposed to send me and
the rest of the world a clear message that, if
this was how a member of the Academy of
Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina
(ANUBIH) could end up, others who
stick to their opinions should not expect
anything less, especially if they decide to
publicly express their thoughts.
The physical attack I was exposed to
in 2014 was condemned by all significant
instances in BiH – embassies and international
organizations, local institutions,
associations and prominent intellectuals.
However, it is interesting that, in his interview
to Oslobođenje, the then chief of the
cantonal Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the
Hercegovina-Neretva Canton had tried
to defend this and some understanding
toward it could be found in the statements
of the leader of the Croatian Democratic
Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ
BiH). It is also interesting that the University
of Mostar stood quiet about the attack
against its professor and that the faculty
where I am employed – and whose management
I used to be a part of for fifteen
years – failed to utter a single word to the
public on how the life of one of their professors
was jeopardized.
However, this fact was a signal that
physical "disciplining" would not be the
end and that they would turn to other
mechanisms for the same aim, which had
been used before. Namely, the focus of the
pressure moved to the sphere of work – I
was shifted to teach at units of the University
of Mostar in which one could not get
permanent employment, but only contract
work. However, this type of pressure
lasted until 2010. After the 2010 elections,
I was "thanked" almost overnight by the
Faculty of Philosophy where I was teaching
five courses and mentoring two PhD
theses. Due to me criticizing the political
philosophy and practice of the HDZ, especially
its leader, my contract was cancelled
mid-semester, with the explanation that
this had to be done due to political pressures.
I was also called off from the position
of mentor of two PhD theses that were
in their final stages.
After the physical attack in 2014, the
same approach was applied at the Faculty
of Medicine – with the Medical Sociology
course – and then at the Faculty of Medical
Studies in 2015 – with the course Communication
Skills - with the explanation
that I had been teaching both subjects
for ten years. It is interesting that, on both
occasions, the same elimination method
was used – no one informed me about the
change or thanked me – not even insincerely
– for the extensive cooperation, nor
did they tell me why this had been done,
even if this meant expressing the greatest
possible platitudes, etc. I was simply out of
the agenda and others – my teaching assistants
and the like – took my position.
However, this kind of elimination was
not possible at the Faculty of Economics
because I had a work contract signed with
this institution. At the same time, a sudden
termination of employment would
have caused a fierce reaction of the public,
both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and internationally,
because this would mean the
elimination of the only ANUBiH member
in the history of this institution, but also
one of the three members that the University
of Mostar can boast with. This would
have sent a direct message that the reason
could not lie in my competency, but a
whole different sphere related to the political
disloyalty to the Leader and the Party.
Thus, another approach was applied
– elimination from the teaching process
with different explanations. First, my promotion
to the position of a professor for
the Consumer Behavior course was prevented,
even though I met all the requirements,
with the explanation that I lacked
a degree in economics, and that the said
course was a fundamental economic discipline.
However, I was promoted to the
62 Academics under Threat – A Personal Experience
position of Associate Professor for this
course back in 1996. It is true that promotion
to the position of Full Professor
was not significant for me before, as I had
already been appointed to this position in
the year 2000 for another course.
However, I requested to be promoted
because, from the very beginning, I had
known what I might undergo. Of course, I
met all requirements for the promotion –
I was, among other things, the co-author
of the only two textbooks in BiH titled
Consumer Behavior. All the persuasive
arguments I used could not help – that
Consumer Behavior is a discipline that
contains specialist knowledge of psychology,
social psychology and sociology
applied in economics, that the authors
of 70% textbooks dealing with consumer
behavior, including the ones at the most
prestigious universities, are not economists,
but rather psychologists, social psychologists,
sociologists, etc. What they had
set out to achieve was not prompted by
their concern over the Consumer Behavior
course, but was meant to harass a professor
for reasons beyond the academic
sphere – his disloyalty, for which he had to
pay the price.
The final operation was conducted in
2016. Namely, it meant eliminating the
courses Economic Psychology and Methodology
of Scientific Research from the
syllabus. The matrix used with Consumer
Behavior could not be applied in this case.
This is why they turned to an alleged syllabus
revision, its "modernization", the
only result of which was the elimination
of courses taught by a professor disloyal
to the Party and the Leader. The comparative
analysis of the syllabi of the Faculty
of Economics of the University of Mostar
and all others in the country that include –
with a significant number of classes – both
courses, in some cases taught by the very
same professor that was being eliminated
from his own house, made no difference.
I had requested help from the Rector of
the University of Mostar and then from the
Senate of this University association. However,
neither of the institutions has sent
any response since 2010. Utter silence.
Utter silence, despite of what I reminded
the University Senate in a letter sent in
March this year that, for the past quarter
of a century,"I have been writing from the
position of a critical intellectual about the
deviations in all the spheres of BiH society".
I pointed out that I had never "been
ready to write about deviations at the University,
even though they were numerous",
which is why I expected the highest university
body to use its authority in order to
"protect me from mobbing and from being
harassed as a professional and a person
to which I was exposed in our university
Utter silence, a silence which shall
remain going forward. Today, one can hear
stories among professors and teaching
assistants at the Faculty of Economics and
the University in Mostar in general, about
what lies in store for professor Kukić next
year. Since in July I will have been teaching
for forty years, I will be retired at the
age of 63, the youngest retired professor
in the history of the University of Mostar
– the same University that employs my colleagues
that are 80 years old, or even more.
The twenty-eight books that I have published
cannot help me – more books than
the entire Senate of this University Association
has – or the 150 scientific works
published in a number of world languages.
The fact that I am the only academician in
the history of the Faculty of Economics will
not help either.
I will have to leave because my retirement
is the revenge of the structures I have
been critically questioning for years.
Academics under Threat – A Personal Experience 63
Media and Democratic
Media have always been an important part
of every democratic society. When discussing
the role of media in contemporary society,
the starting point is that the media are
institutions which help every individual,
every member of the society to orientate
between his/her private and public life.
In private life every one of us depends on
media-produced information about the
world outside of our private sphere (local
news on current events, for example) and, as
participants in the public sphere and public
life, we try to approach media in order
to spread our message. That is why we say
that the role of media in society is mediation
between the private and public sphere.
There are several roles that media play
in this mediation between the private
and public sphere, which makes them so
important and influential. The first role,
or the first function of the media, is to
inform and, based on that main function,
two other media roles become important
for every individual and society in general:
education and political debate57. When it
comes to political debate, media play a
triple role. The three tasks media play in a
democratic political environment are:
• To provide space for public debate; to
open space for all relevant actors who
have a will and competence to participate
in discussions on some specific,
important issues in the community
(this is why media are usually called
the "virtual agora"58)
• To provide information for public debate;
to make sure that those who
participate in political debate and especially
in decision-making have a
sufficient amount of good quality in-
57 More on media functions in Šiber I., Politički marketing
(Zagreb: Ljevak, 2003)
58 More on this in Nuhanović.A, Demokratija, mediji,
javnost, (Sarajevo: Promocult, 2005)
Media and
Public Space in
Prof. Lejla Turčilo, Ph.D.,
Faculty of Political Science,
University of Sarajevo
formation in order to make proper decisions
(this is why we usually say that,
during elections, for example, media
need to provide citizens with programs
and content which will help them
make so-called "informed choices").
• To legitimize actors of public debate;
to make sure that the public understands
what kind of role in political life
and what kind of political standpoints
certain actors have in public debate
(this is why we say that media make
people understand who is who on the
political scene).
However, one of the most important
political roles of media is their watchdog
role, that is, to make political actors
accountable for their acts and decisions.
This is why media is seen as "the fourth
"Yet a at its core, at the news-center
of the media business, remnants
of an ideal remain. This ideal
is grounded in the notion that
among the checks and balances
that ensure that powerful are held
accountable, the media has an
essential and highly political role
to play. The process of finding, distilling
and analyzing information,
that is the media commodity, also
ensures its political role, the core
of its self-definition as the Fourth
Estate" (Schultz, 1998:2).
Politics – Media – Public:
Triangle of Power in
In every democratic society the triangle
politics-media-public constitutes the
essence of the public sphere and public
life. In that triangle, the "natural alliance"
is between media and public, which should
work together to hold political institutions,
as well as political elites, accountable and
responsible. This is why we say that media
belong to the field of civil society, although
they are strong political institutions as well.
But, their main activities, aimed at providing
the public with information and influence
(which is the ideal case and should be
demanded from media, especially public
broadcasters), make them important players
on the public scene, in public space. The
key word in this context is public interest.
"The public interest can be visualized
as a continuum that represents
the values, aspirations, and objectives
of the community or polity.
There are values that are clearly
central, such as health; and there
are objectives that are controversial,
such as fluoridation of water
or discouragement of cigarette
smoking. There are aspirations
that are nearly universal, such as
world peace; but there are numerous
policy objectives to this end,
which are subjects for debate. It is
impossible to state with precision
where any given item belongs on
the continuum, yet there is general
acceptance that a range of activities
and goals exists above irrational
or selfish individual interests."59
The main role of media in public
space is, in short, to inform citizens on
the decision-making of political actors,
to hold decision-makers accountable (in
a way that they compare to what extent
their decision-making is in line with pub-
59 ‘Public Interest’, International Encyclopedia of the
Social Sciences, 1968, com/topic/Public_interest.aspx>
Media and Public Space in Democracy 65
(when the first data was available) when it
was only 4%. Smartphones are becoming
one of the most important tools for internet
access. Mobile phones are used by 91,12
% of the population, a significant increase
from 48.7% in 2006. These are extremely
huge numbers in comparison to the population
size, but most analysis show that
media space is limited and only partly open
to public participation and debate. Media
freedom is limited, pressures on media
quite high, which influences the public in a
way that it limits opportunities for gaining
a sufficient amount of good quality information
for informed participation in public
and political life and limits opportunities
for participating in public debate.
In terms of media freedoms in B&H,
according to the 2016 World Press Freedom
Index, B&H was ranked 66 out of 180
countries, which is a decline of two points
since the previous year.62 Freedom House
similarly views the media situation in Bosnia
and Herzegovina as "partly free".63
Chart: WPF Ranking for B&H64
62 Reporters Without Boders, 2016 World Press Freedom
Index 2016,
63 Freedom House, "FREEDOM OF THE PRESS 2015"
(2015) FreedomofthePress_2015_FINAL.pdf > [accessed
June 17 2016]
64 Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Media freedom in Bosnia
and Herzegovina (2015), en/71.13562/> [accessed 18 June 2016]
lic interest) and to make sure that the
public has a channel, a tool for feedback
and expression of their political views and
ideas. That is why we say that in this triangle:
politics-media-public media play such
an important role.
Shrinking Media Space in
The number of media in B&H at first sight
would seem like good enough for democratic
media environment and open public
space for public discussion. According to
the Communications Regulatory Agency60
and Press Council61 there are 189 broadcast
media (145 radio stations and 44 TV stations),
9 daily newspapers, 116 magazines
(weekly, monthly, periodic) and 8 news
agencies, as well as many online media
(web portals – the exact number is not available,
since online media are not registered
anywhere). Internet penetration amounts
to 72,41% of the population. The number
of users has increased rapidly since 2002
60 See Communications Regulatory Agency website:
61 More information on the Press Council can be found
66 Media and Public Space in Democracy
When it comes to indicators of media
freedom and sustainability (which can
also be seen as indicators of openness of
media and public space), there is a constant
decrease in the level of free speech,
professional journalism, plurality of news
sources, but also a decrease of quality of
the media environment, including weakening
of supporting institutions (regula tors,
self-regulators, journalist associations and
unions etc.), as well as a weakening of the
media market, which means that, in the
present difficult economic situation, media
are becoming more dependent on political
and other sources of financing (international
donors, rich individuals etc.).
Table: IREX Media S Sustainability Index
– B&H65
Most research on Bosnian media66
shows that most media are controlled by
politically or economically powerful individuals
or groups, which directly influence
their reporting. This trend is seen most
clearly during election campaigns, when
"most outlets are divided along political,
ethnic and territorial lines and remain
under the strong influence of their owners
and political patrons".67 Political and
65 IREX Media Sustainabilty Index
66 Some of them listed in the book Turčilo L. (2011).
Zaradi pa vladaj: politika-mediji-biznis u globalnom
društvu i u BiH. Sarajevo: Vlastita naklada
67 Media Plan, Assesment of Political Diversity in
Media Reporting on General Elections 2014 in B&H,

[accessed June 17 2016]
economic influences on media are very
strong and media owners are very often in
close relations with political and economic
elites. This is, of course, difficult to prove,
since it is difficult to find exact information
on media owners (i.e. the real names
of the owners of certain media). However,
it is known that many media owners own
other profitable businesses (such as Mujo
Selimović, the owner of the newspaper
Oslobođenje, for example), or they hold
elected office after formally transferring
ownership to family members (such as the
owner of Dnevni Avaz, Fahrudin Radončić,
for example). Some other media are funded
through politically-controlled money by
certain political parties or interest lobbies
(such as newspapers Glas Srpske and
Nezavisne novine in Banja Luka, owned by
Željko Kopanja or NAŠA TV from Mostar,
which is owned by 55 private businessmen,
in close connection with the political
party HDZ). In all these cases media are
used as tools for promoting business and/
or political goals. Advertising money is also
distributed according to the political affiliation
of certain media, since public companies
(such as Telecom operators etc.) are
the biggest advertisers. Some sources say
that even the distribution of print media is
influenced by political affiliation of media
(so that certain public offices, ministries
etc. are subscribed to a certain number of
copies of daily newspapers if the owners
are in close relations to ruling parties).
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Free Speech 2.96 2.54 2.45 2.38 2.36 2.56 2.46
Professional Journalism 2.12 1.87 1.68 1.60 1.83 1.77 1.67
Plurality of news sources 2.77 2.59 2.16 2.20 2.26 2.23 2.20
Business Management 2.43 1.84 1.61 1.60 1.64 1.58 1.39
Supporting institutions 2.71 2.27 1.95 2.35 2.12 2.02 2.15
Overall score 2.60 2.22 1.97 2.03 2.04 2.03 1.97
Media and Public Space in Democracy 67
space for journalists occurs within their
own media.
It is, therefore, obvious that pressures
on media can be direct and indirect. Direct
pressures, apart from censorship, include
threats to media and/or journalists, as
well as economic pressures (withdrawal of
advertisements, for example, from media
which report critically). Indirect pressures
include manipulation (for example
giving exclusive information to media
which report in favor of certain political
actors, or not inviting investigative journalists
and reporters who write critically
to press conferences and other events),
bribing journalists (giving them presents
and expecting them not to write critically
or write only positive stories in return) etc.
The general aim of such pressures and
manipulation is to "buy silence", that is, to
make sure that media do not report based
on public interest, but in the interest of
political (and other) elites. The consequence
of such non-democratic behavior
of political elites is shrinking space for
media to fulfill their role and shrinking
space for the public to participate in democratic
processes and public life. Public
debate is impossible without free media
and free public and, without public debate
and fair decision-making processes, there
is no democracy in general.
Shrinking media space, thus, is a direct
danger for the democratic potentials of
every society. It has to be prevented by
every means, which include, first of all,
enhancing relations between media and
public in order for media to have stronger
support against political and economic
pressures they are exposed to. Secondly,
building democratic potentials of every
society (such as introducing laws that
support media freedom, preventing pressures
on media and publically speaking
about those that occur, etc.) is an important
aspect of protection of media freedom
and media watchdog role in political life.
All these circumstances diminish the
watchdog function of B&H media and
make citizens believe that media represent
less their and public interest, but
rather interest of elites. Lack of public
trust in media makes media in Bosnia-
Herzegovina less a platform for citizens to
widely participate in democracy and more
a tool for political manipulation. This puts
democracy in B&H at risk.
Shrinking of Public/Media
Space and What We Can Do
About It
As soon as the influence of media and
its power have been recognized, elites have
started looking for ways in which they can
influence the media and make them serve
politics rather than the public. All forms
of influence on media, direct or indirect,
can be seen as shrinking of public space
and media space for public debate and
the watchdog function of media. That is
why it is important to recognize and resist
these influences. They usually come from
political elites, but also from economical
elites, since nowadays political and economic
spheres are closely related. The
most extreme form is, of course, censorship,
which prevents media from being
an accountable source of information
for citizens and prevents journalists from
doing their job professionally. Censorship
is immanent to non-democratic and less
democratic countries, but it can manifest
itself in developed countries as well,
mainly in the form of self-censorship of
journalists. Self-censorship occurs when
media are exposed to pressures or when
political and economic elites are in close
relations with media owners and, through
their influence, they make sure that media
will not report critically or do investigative
stories on them. This is when shrinking
68 Media and Public Space in Democracy
Development of political culture (which
includes political literacy and media literacy
of the public, in order to make it more
aware of the role that media (needs to)
play in democracy, but also making political
elites aware that their misuse of media
and misbehavior towards journalists is
unacceptable) is the only way we can protect
media and, consequently, make sure
that as citizens we have a tool and a space
to participate in democracy. That is always
a long-term process, but it is also the only
way. Otherwise, if the most powerful actor
in the triangle politics-media-public is
politics, then democracy is – none.
Media and Public Space in Democracy 69
The life of an ordinary Bosnian and Herzegovinian
has been marked by transition
for over 20 years: everything we knew
existed is today no longer acceptable. A
violent end of the century in the Balkans
introduced new values: the transition from
socialism to capitalism and the introduction
of democracy; in a society recovering
from a violent and blood-shedding war,
this change was not easy nor smooth.
The international assistance that came
at the end of the war was unprepared for
the traditional and moderate society here,
which was unaccustomed to democratic
principles and civic responsibilities. In
such an environment, media have probably
suffered the most. The old and clumsy
socialist conglomerate of media was not
in line with contemporary media structures
foreseen for the European context of
BiH. During the late ‘90s and early 2000s,
a significant amount of money was spent
on the "democratization" of independent
media and capacity building for outlets
that were promoting democratic values as
well as a better future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
When the overall reform process
in the country was recognized as prosperous,
media outlets suffered yet another setback:
international assistance was abruptly
cut and the generous financial support was
withdrawn. Readjustment to these new
conditions characterized by a lack of financial
resources and flood of political influence,
involved businesses and advertising.
This is heavily reflected in the public discourse
of BH media within the last decade.
The global economic crisis had a devastating
effect on media globally – the
lack of advertising money caused significant
re-shifting within newsrooms: who
was important and what could media live
without was the most important question.
Investigative reporting departments
were first to suffer – expensive to support
with no guarantee of success, investigative
reporting was considered the easiest
Reporting in the
Era of Shrinking
Leila Bičakčić,
Center for Investigative
Reporting, Sarajevo
to discard. That was around the time when
the first non-profit investigative centres
appeared in the US – a trend that became
very popular worldwide after 2010. Traditional
newsrooms have not fully recovered
yet, and the question remains whether
they will ever recover – the internet is taking
over the role of traditional media and
filling the void caused by the crisis. Internet
reporting is free and fast – information
is available instantly worldwide. New generations
expect to know everything about
anything in the world, with no consideration
of the time, language or any other
obstacle – thanks to internet, everything is
one click away.
Attacks Against Journalists
While the Internet is increasing opportunities
in communication with readers, it is a
double-edged sword for good journalism.
On one hand, it creates a space for direct
communication and sharing stories with
a wider audience by avoiding the middle
man in distribution. Internet publishing
is the future of publishing, as it allows
for direct communication with readers:
what has been done well? What could be
improved in a story? Is the journalist missing
an issue? It also provides a unique
opportunity for independent and objective
investigative reporting in a challenging
environment, where media are under
the influence of corporate and political
elites. On the other hand, the internet is
open to everyone’s opinion, where standards
of good reporting, ethical norms and
principles of balanced truth, are worth
nothing. A recent case of intimidation and
profanation of a (female) journalist of the
Center for Investigative Reporting who
exposed a corrupt scheme in the health
sector in the Sarajevo Canton, and who
was called a prostitute by the subject of
her investigation, is a perfect example of
how the internet could be used in negative
context. This is merely one of many examples
of pressures on independent media in
BiH.68 The OSCE has strongly condemned
"any humiliation and threat to the journalistic
profession and journalists who do
their job with a high degree of respect for
the principle of objective reporting".69
When we look at the BiH media environment,
manifestations of global problems
are very present here: decreasing
advertising money, now shared within a
larger media community; "infotainment"
as a new trend dominant in public discourse;
political influence, disguised in
media owners, controlling editors. Space
for journalists to work freely is shrinking...
Globally, the media are under attack
and the space for, what we know as free
press, is closing – governments are aware
of the power invested in the free press
and they are afraid of the consequences
of such an "uncontrolled" force. On the
other hand, we are faced with a global
trend of terrorism, that is threatening the
free world, whose governments are rightfully
trying to minimize the damage and to
(over)protect their territories. In BiH, governments
are not so concerned about wellbeing
of the citizens as much as they are
concerned about their own. In a country
struggling with a lost identity, lack of perspective,
and poor economy, free media
are just a myth! Unlike the explicit political
pressure and censorship of the past, the
current political and economic pressures
are much more subtle and covert, which
does not necessarily diminish their efficiency,
but makes their identification and
the fight against them much harder. In a
deeply divided society, media is divided as
well. They stay stacked in between politi-
68 As of September 15, The Free Media Helpline had
registered 41 cases of media freedoms and journalists‘
rights violations
69 OSCE Mission Condemns Humiliation and Threats to
Journalists, Bosnia Daily, August 4, 2016, p.4
Investigative Reporting in the Era of Shrinking Spaces 71
Another form of media control is
media ownership. Who are owners of
major media outlets in BiH? It is no secret
that big businesspeople are investing
money in the media – it is just another way
to invest your cash. But, the problem is
when media is being used as an extended
arm of a business, used as a supporting
device for a business, particularly when a
business collaborates closely with politics,
as it is the case in BiH. Then, journalists
are being used for PR services, rather than
journalism – truth doesn’t matter, readers
are "served" with a tainted truth that
serves a purpose, a business purpose. The
controlling device is, again, money – professional
standards are disregarded for the
purpose of surviving on a job. While this is
a recognized global trend, the situation in
this country has aggravated to the point
that media outlets are not trusted sources
of information anymore. Citizens, aware
that political rhetoric dominates in BH
media, are distrustful of those few honest
media outlets trying to remain ethical. As a
result, young journalists are raised believing
that respecting journalistic standards
is a waste of time – they are choosing the
fast lane of politically approved and affiliated
Both of these two forms of control boil
down to censorship – when journalists
are pressured to report on issues that are
imposed by a higher authority (being politics,
owners, or editors), they are not free.
Their freedoms are limited and the space
for independent work is shrinking, which
consequently leads to the destruction of
free speech and freedom of expression,
as absolute freedoms guaranteed by the
Constitution. However, the most devastating
effect of shrinking space is manifested
through self – censorship. Journalists, aware
of strings attached and potential conflicts
that their reporting might lead them to,
are choosing not to report on certain topics.
Or, they choose to only report on topics
cal/ethnic messaging, and owners’ private
interests, almost completely incapable to
act professionally. Media can be furious
and destructive, as well as sophisticated
and helpful. Our outlets (surely, not all of
them) choose a third option: "whatever
you do, don’t make the decision maker(s)
angry". Divided media (media lacking professional
standards) is useless to society,
but very useful to corrupt individuals.
As a country coming out of a socialism
regime, BiH still has a long way to go in
terms of transparency. The fact that information
is still not valued as a public good,
but is being guarded by public officials, is a
direct indication of the controlled and hostile
environment for independent media.
The legal framework for guaranteeing free
access to information is in place since
2001, but the situation has not improved:
access to information is denied based on
protection of personal data, protection
of national security and, most often, by
protection of rights of private companies
doing business with the government. In
such an environment, it is hard to do honest
journalism without compromising
"power centres" protected by the system.
The BH media landscape is characterized
by a large number of outlets70, but a
lack of pluralism - the average consumer
is forced to look at at least 10 different
sources of news at any given point, in order
to get basic information. Media outlets are
politically affiliated to the point where
they are not even hiding this devastating
fact: the media is being used to promote
political goals, aims and agendas, without
even offering a basic analysis of why
citizens would even care. There is a simple
reason for this – money is being controlled
by politics, particularly advertising money,
and obedience equals survival. Pluralism
in BiH is being used against the free press.
70 5 daily newspapers; 184 magazines; 148 radio
stations; 47 TV stations; 6 news agencies; 80 web
72 Investigative Reporting in the Era of Shrinking Spaces
and issues that will not offend anyone. In
such circumstances, investigative journalism
is facing its greatest problem: lack of
good investigative journalists - people who
have passion, interest, and strong will to
talk about the forbidden. It is as simple as
that: journalists are used to work under Big
Brother expecting His approval for every
single word. Such non-existing professional
self-awareness represents a huge weakness
of democracies in transition. Journalists
will therefore stay out of problematic areas,
such as corruption, abuse of public funds
and/or abuse of office. A friend of mine
once said that "you are not reporting, if
you not making someone uncomfortable"
- journalism should be all about crossing
boundaries, testing the unknown, provoking
the public to action. However, this can
only be achieved if journalists are free to do
their job, if they have access to documents
and information of public interest, and if
they are not controlled by their superiors.
The problem with good investigative
reporters is partially caused by a lack of
professional training and/or journalism
schools with investigative reporting curricula.
This is a common problem in the
whole region, where traditional journalism
schools have yet to adopt contemporary
journalistic forms and apply modern
reporting techniques practiced in Western
countries. In the absence of formal education,
reporters are offered a range of trainings,
providing an insight into the practical
experience of distinguished investigative
reporters in the region and wider. However,
while opportunities are being presented, it
is up to a journalist to decide which way to
go – continuing education, as in any other
profession, is a must!
Investigative reporting is in a particularly
weak spot: the new trend of moving
investigative reporting into a non-profit
sector has left journalists with an "identity
crisis". This limits their performance field
– are they journalists or civil society representatives?
- while in non-profit sector:
journalists or civil society representatives?
While in profit sector: journalists or advertisers/
PRs? Very often, investigative centres
are disregarded by fellow journalists – if
they are not part of the mainstream, they
do not exist; if they are not sharing same
(financial) problems, they are not part of
a "gang". On the other hand, by being an
NGO, investigative reporting is heavily
dependent on publishing through other
(mainstream) media outlets, which puts
them in a position to condition stories –
topics of interest are selected by editors of
"competitive" outlets, those same outlets
that are politically affiliated. This double
jeopardy is an effective way to limit areas of
focus for investigative reporting – no matter
how good the story is, if it is not published
and reaches no public, the impact is minimal.
Further, investigative reporting is an
expensive business that guarantees no success
and/or outcome, making it unreliable
for support, and often risky. This is a limiting
factor for support providers, unable to
adjust their expectations to the reality of
investigative reporting. On the other hand,
such uncertainty is comforting for those in
focus of investigative reporters – by limiting
opportunities, fewer damaging effects
are to be foreseen.
In a reality of decreasing opportunities
for free and unbiased journalism, investigative
reporting is surviving. Compared to
2004, when BiH’s Centre for Investigative
Reporting was opened as one of 10 other
similar centres in the world, now there are
more than 100 known, functional independent
centres. The fast increase in number
of centres is a guarantee that, despite
efforts to silence good journalism, demand
for in-depth reporting is alive and striving.
While traditional approaches to journalism
might be dying, new channels of communication
are being created, which in turn
provide new opportunities for those willing
to take the risk.
Investigative Reporting in the Era of Shrinking Spaces 73
The Serbian public is increasingly deprived
of access to trustworthy information. It has,
instead, been served with campaigns, scandals
and media combats. Most commercial
media are under obvious political and economic
pressures, while only a handful of
independent media have the capacity to
produce powerful, objective stories that
relate to matters of public interest.
In December 2015 the Serbian Anti-
Corruption Council published its report
on the situation of the Serbian media. The
Council has identified and singled out five
systemic problems that had been paralyzing
the public information system in the
Republic of Serbia, namely: lack of transparency
of media ownership; economic
impact through the state budget and other
indirect forms of financing with public
money; problems of privatization of the
media and the uncertain status of public
services; censorship and self-censorship
and last, but not least – the obvious tabloidization.
The Council warned that there was an
open state control over media. One example
they used to prove it was the fact that stateowned
companies had entrusted the largest
number of their advertisements to private
companies and media close to political parties.
Also, the privatization process is very
problematic, because a large number of
local media have been purchased by individuals,
which are considered to be associated
with the ruling parties.
With every passing day, the media are
getting under even stronger pressure from
political leaders. Since 2014, a couple of
very important, popular and critically
oriented media production shows have
stopped their broadcasting. The pressure
is also becoming much more sophisticated
- this has been labelled "pressure without
fingerprints". In fact, one cannot say that
any media is banned, but media productions
on TV, radio and in newspapers critical
of the authorities are disappearing.
Media in Serbia
– The Fight
Jelena Vasić,
KRIK, Belgrade.
As a result, Serbian citizens are losing
trust and interest in traditional media. In
an atmosphere of complete media tabloidization
in Serbia, readers can only rely
on investigative journalism, which in its
original form exists only on internet portals
such as KRIK, Insider, CINS or BIRN.
But these independent media are
struggling with a different kind of pressure.
Being myself a part of KRIK’s team I
could present the situation from our point
of view.
KRIK - Crime and Corruption Reporting
Network71 is a non-profit organization
established to improve investigative
journalism in Serbia. The organization
was founded by a team of journalists who,
for years, have been engaged in exposing
crime and corruption at the highest levels
of power. KRIK is funded by donations from
private and institutional donors and commercial
revenues. This method of funding
prevents any one source of money from
influencing the media content of KRIK.
Nowadays, the origin of funds raised by
civil society organisations and media are
also the target of government institutions
and tabloids striving to present such civil
society organisations and media as ‘foreign
agents’. KRIK has also had such an experience.
Almost since its founding, KRIK has
been the target of many attacks by the
pro-government tabloid "Informer" and
other media close to the government and
criminal circles. "Informer" has, on several
occasions, made false accusations about
KRIK’s editor-in-chief Stevan Dojčinović,
representing him as a partner to foreign
secret services.
The strongest media attack on KRIK
started this year on March 18 when
«Informer» published a photo of Dojčinović
(we believe this photo was taken by police
or intelligence agencies) on its front page
and it was insinuated in the headline that
71 More about Krik available at:
KRIK is "cooperating with criminals" and
planning to publish "a fabricated scandal»
against the Prime Minister of Serbia.
Besides the fact that KRIK›s editor was
followed and photographed on the street,
we were most concerned about the details
presented in the article - «Informer», along
with many lies and fabrications, was writing
about the specifics of our unpublished
journalistic research on the assets of politicians.
This raised a serious question on
who is monitoring KRIK and how they
knew the details of our unpublished stories.
"Informer›s" owner and editor-in-chief did
not want to answer where he obtained the
information, but it is quite clear that this
type of recording and tracking cannot
be done by one tabloid and indicates the
involvement of state institutions.
The smear campaign continued for
days and our editor was marked as a
«media terrorist», «spy» and even «sadomasochist
During the writing of this article, media
attacks continued, again though the proregime
tabloid "Informer". This time, Stevan
Dojčinović was accused of being an
"educator" of the Macedonian opposition
on fighting the regime72.
KRIK’s case characterizes the threat
independent press faces in Serbia. Relevant
state institutions dealing with the media
and human rights, failed to be responsive
and did not support KRIK in this situation.
The Serbian Ministry of Culture even
announced that it believed that the tabloid
"Informer" did not break the law during its
smear campaign against KRIK73, although
the Independent Association of Journalists
MAKEDONIJI: Evo šta se krije iza takozvanog
nezavisnog novinarstva!, (2016),
73 Pavle Petrović, Ministarstvo kulture: "Informer"
nije prekršio zakon’ (2016),
Media in Serbia – The Fight Continues 75
Serbian public broadcasting service. This
year in mid-May the entire editorial staff of
RTV was dismissed overnight – the board
of directors of RTV had replaced 14 editors
and staff who were responsible for the news
program. This decision was communicated
to them by telephone or passing by in the
hallway. The new editors were recruited
immediately without open competition.
Since then, citizens and journalists have
protested because of this several times. It
is obvious that these dismissals were influenced
by politics.
The described phenomena are occurring
at the time when the government
insists on Serbia’s EU perspective and
when, on the other hand, the climate is
deteriorating for the operation of civil
society actors, and generally for those who
think differently. In such a situation one
can only rely on solidarity and the spirit of
the profession, because we must continue
to fight for the freedom of journalistic pens.
of Serbia has pointed out that the law was
However, KRIK received strong support
from well-known international organizations:
GIJN – the largest global network
of investigative journalists, Civil Rights
Defenders and the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
It was also very important that a number
of non-governmental organisations and
Journalistic Associations expressed and provided
their support to KRIK. We were thus
able to show that KRIK is supported by the
society, by professional international and
local communities.75
During our work we have also faced
many different limitations and problems.
When our journalists were doing a story
about the private business of Mayor of Belgrade
Siniša Mali, they were constantly trying
to get his reaction and answers. So one
day our team had approached Mayor Mali
at a construction site in Belgrade, but their
mobile phone and camera were confiscated
by the plain-clothed officers guarding him.
The officers, who refused to identify themselves,
deleted footage from the reporters’
iPhone and camera. Among the men who
confiscated equipment belonging to KRIK
reporters was the Chief of the Municipal
Police Nikola Ristić.76 After this, Mayor Mali
refused to comply with a request by Serbia’s
Ombudsman to fire Ristić for obstructing
journalists trying to investigate corruption.
This is an example of how the disruption
of journalists and jeopardizing their rights
went unpunished in Serbia.
Another case which now clearly draws
public attention, is the case of Radio-
Television Vojvodina (RTV), a part of the
74 KRIK, NUNS: Ministarstvo treba da podnese prijavu
protiv ‘Informera’ (2016),
75 KRIK, Smear campaign against KRIK (2016),
76 KRIK, ‘KRIK’s cameras seized as Belgrade mayor
ducks questions ‘(2015), kriks-cameras-seized-as-belgrade-mayor-ducksquestions/>
76 Media in Serbia – The Fight Continues
Ways to Open
Dragana Dardić,
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly,
Banja Luka
While reading texts in the brochure Shrinking
Spaces, one observation imposed itself
spontaneously – that there are at least four
mutual elements that permeate the context
in which civil society organisations in
Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia,
Croatia and Albania work and operate
today. Those elements, which are reflected
in or have direct influence on the exercise
of the right to freedom of assembly, association
and expression, which constitutes
the backbone of the work of civil society
organisations, are the following:
> Unfree media
Media exposed to political pressures and
pressures of financial centres of power.
Media that openly side with one political
option, ruling party, or leader. Media who
have long stopped exercising their function
– reporting in the interest of the public.
The media situation in all five countries
is very similar. It is characterised by a fragmentation
of the media market, increase
of violence against freedom of expression,
tabloidization and decline in the quality
of journalism, as well as changes that the
so-called old or classical media are going
On the other hand, the work of modern
civil society organisations can hardly
be imagined without support of the media.
Media are simply (or should be) the natural
allies of civil society activists in their
fight for justice and truth.
The space that opened after the
development of new information and
communication technologies and new
information channels (websites, online
portals, and social networks) is space that
has to be captured by civil society organisations,
as their almost only alternative in
the current constellation of relations. New
information channels are the alternative
unbelievably long period, with a tendency
of continuing in the future. One of
the issues that civil society organizations
(CSOs) should deal with is finding a way
of putting an end to this continued "state"
harangue. How to strengthen the connections
between CSOs and people in the
field, how to connect the activities and
interests of different groups with the purpose
of mutual operation for the common
It is necessary to use the momentum
we have been facing recently, reflected
in the growing support of the "common"
people for initiatives and actions directly
related to the protection of natural
resources and public goods.
For example, 6,000 citizens of the
Republika Srpska signed the Petition for
Saving Sutjeska in only a couple of days
(2015). A group of citizens, journalists,
cultural and public figures organised on
their own initiative and managed to convince
the City Council of Bihać to withdraw
their decision on the construction
of a mini hydroelectric power plant on the
Una River. Twenty-three associations from
the Republika Srpska and the Federation
B&H have been fighting for seven years
now against the construction of a mini
hydroelectric power plant at the source
of the Sana River that might destroy the
natural biodiversity of this area. At the
same time, an ad hoc organised signing
of a petition for saving a children’s playground
in the Borik community in Banja
Luka has resulted in withdrawing the decision
to build a church in this location. In
Belgrade and Skopje, the citizens are providing
their support and participating in
activities whose aim is to save urban areas
from suspicious investors and unplanned
construction (this relates to the "Belgrade
Waterfront" and "Skopje 2014" projects).
Citizens of Tirana have organised on their
own initiative to save the Tirana Lake Park
from being cemented.
media of civil society that, in comparison
to traditional media, provide numerous
possibilities that are reflected in their
global availability, interactivity, cheapness,
simplicity and the possibilities of connecting
and mutual operation with other activist
groups on a local, national, regional and
global level.
Failing to use and develop new operation
strategies through the new media
means remaining "glued to the sidewalk",
as Nicholas Negroponte explained it in a
picturesque manner saying:
"Once you get run over by new
technology, if you are not part of
the steam roller, you are a part of
the road."77
> Strengthening of rightwing
ideologies and
parties accompanied by
extreme nationalistic
rhetoric and continuous
discrediting of civil society
organisations as "state
enemies", "constitutional
order destructors", "foreign
mercenaries", etc.
Discrediting human rights organisations
in all countries that are in focus of
this brochure has been going on for an
77 Nicholas Negroponte is one of the founders of
the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. As a theoretician of new technologies, in
his book Being Digital, he presents a thesis that the
state-nation will give way to small and big electronic
communities; that the fight for atoms and firm and
specific things has been completed and that what we
are facing today is the fight for bits. In his book that
was published in 1996, Negroponte predicted many
things in a visionary manner, and some of his ideas
are still present.
78 Ways to Open Space
Therefore, a critical mass and the will to
do something indeed exist, but they should
be additionally articulated and directed
towards decision makers, without hesitating
to request that they take responsibility
for negligence, wastefulness, criminal
activities, corruption and lack of strategic
planning of urban development. Citizens
must have access to environmental and
political processes of decision making and
development of common goods.
> Lack (nonexistence) of a
regulated and transparent
institutional framework for
CSO operation
In most of the countries there is no clear
and transparent institutional framework
that regulates and provides conditions
for undisturbed operation of civil society
organizations and their financing by the
state. The only exception is Croatia which
in 2006 established a National Foundation
for Civil Society Development that manages
the process of allocating financial
assets to non-government organisations.
However, in 2016, when right-wing parties
came to power, Croatia faced numerous
significant cuts and reduction of assets for
the work of the National Foundation that
lost more than half of its annual budget.
This resulted in the destabilization of
the civil scene in Croatia and the loss of
numerous jobs in this sector.
Even though the Agreement on Cooperation
between the Council of Ministers
and the non-governmental sector in Bosnia
and Herzegovina was signed in 2007,
in practice, it has not come to life yet.
The uncontrolled and non-transparent
allocation of assets without clear criteria,
favouring one type of non-governmental
organisations, must come to an end. However,
CSOs must first insist on the establishment
of a convenient environment
for its operations, including the right to
freedom of opinion and expression, right
to assembly and association, freedom of
movement, private life, etc. Conducive and
safe environment for operation includes
efficient protection of dignity, physical and
psychological integrity, freedom and safety
of civil society activists that are frequently
exposed to different pressures and threats.
This is a precondition for exercising the
right to defend human rights.
> (Non) use of international
standards in the area of
protection of the right to
public assembly, association
and free expression of
One of the segments that has been
neglected and poorly used is related to
urging and insisting on the application of
numerous international instruments that
regulate the right to freedom of assembly
and expression.
Domestic laws, regulations, measures
and practices must also be in line with
international standards of human rights.
They have to be precise enough to provide
legal security.
The fact is that documents/instruments
are not lacking!
Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
regulate the right to freedom of opinion
and expression, as well as the right to freedom
of peaceful assembly and association.
The International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights (entered into force in
1976)78 and the International Covenant
Ways to Open Space 79
Besides this, the Council of the European
Union adopted in June 2015 a
new Action Plan on Human Rights and
Democracy for the period 2015-2019,
which emphasises the key contribution
that civil society actors and human rights
defenders make to peace and security, stability
and prosperity. The Action Plan also
stresses that the "EU will step up its efforts
to promote a safe and enabling environment
in which civil society and independent
media can flourish".82
One of the significant institutions for
the exercise of the right to freedom of
assembly and association and freedom of
expression in the European continent is
the OSCE - Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights (ODIHR).
Civil society organizations in West
Balkan countries can and should use the
OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful
Assembly83 which provide four principles
that the Council of Europe member
states should take into consideration
when adopting laws on public assembly.
The Guidelines urge the governments of
Council of Europe member states to look
to the following principles when creating
or amending the law on public assembly:
non-discrimination (freedom of peaceful
assembly is to be enjoyed equally by everyone),
legality (any restrictions imposed
must have a formal legal basis and be in
conformity with the European Convention
on Human Rights and other international
human rights instruments), proportionality
(without routinely imposing restrictions
that would fundamentally alter the
character of an event and the purpose of
82 European Council and Council of the European
Union, Vijeće donijelo novi akcijski plan EU-a za
ljudska prava i demokraciju pod nazivom: Ljudska
prava kao trajni prioritet programa EU-a (2015),
See also a text in this brochure by Mirela GrüntherĐečević,
titled Shrinking Space for Civil Society
Actors Needs Serious Attention, p. 7
83 See:
on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(entered into force in January 1976)79 constitute
a referral framework for the work of
civil society actors and organisations, and
legally bind signatory states to respect the
rights to freedom of assembly and association,
freedom of opinion and expression,
as well as the right to participation in the
cultural life.
Besides this, it is important to mention
the following: Resolution A/RES/53/144
adopted by the UN General Assembly
on December 9, 1988, titled "Declaration
on the Right and Responsibility of
Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society
to Promote and Protect Universally
Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms"80; Resolution A/HRC/
RES/24/21 that the UN Human Rights
Council uses to urge the states, among
other things, "to create and maintain, in
law and in practice, a safe and enabling
environment in which civil society can
operate free from hindrance and insecurity"
and Resolution A/HRC/32/L.29
(adopted by the UN Human Rights Council
in June 2016), titled "Civil Society Space".81
The key document at the level of the
European Union is the European Convention
of Human Rights that includes both
the right to the freedom of expression
(Article 10) and the right to the freedom of
assembly and association (Article 11).
79 Međunarodni pakt o ekonomskim, socijalnim i
kulturnim pravima regulations/unmikgazette/05bosniak/BIntCovEcSoc-
80 Deklaracija o pravu i odgovornosti pojedinaca grupa
i društvenih organa da unapređuju i štite univerzalno
priznata ljudska prava i osnovne slobode
81 United Nations General Assembly, Thirty-second
session, Agenda item 3: Promotion and protection
of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social
and cultural rights, including the right to development
80 Ways to Open Space
a public assembly) and the principle of
good administration (the public should
be informed which body is responsible
for making decisions about the regulation
of freedom of assembly and, should any
restrictions be placed on an assembly, this
should be communicated promptly and
in writing to the event organizer, with an
explanation of the reason for each restriction).
Any limitations to peaceful public
assembly must be based on real and justified
reasons. Invoking the protection
of national or state security may not be
used as an excuse for imposing vague or
arbitrary limitations to public assemblies,
except if this indeed relates to a threat to
territorial integrity or existence of a nation
of one state.
Besides these, the OSCE has issued
Guidelines on the Protection of Human
Rights Defenders84 that are grounded on
key international instruments that relate
to the protection of human rights defenders
and that may also be used by activists
of civil society organisations which are
exposed to threats and attempts to reduce
space for work and operation with the aim
of provide adequate answers to the challenges
they are facing.
Civil society organizations in Western
Balkan countries must use the opportunities
and possibilities given to them within
the process of joining the European Union
and insist on/request the launch and
implementation of legal and other reforms
in accordance with the EU acquis communautaire,
thus avoiding, or learning from
the "mistakes" of some neighbouring
countries that have already joined the EU.
The fact is that there are instruments and
space for operation! They only have to be
used wisely.
84 OSCE/ODIHR, ‘Smernice o zaštiti branitelja
ljudskih prava’ (2015) odihr/195336?download=true>
Ways to Open Space 81
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