Civil Society Renewal

Page 1

Civil Society

ISSN 1230-2155

9 771230 215021



The world is governed by ideas. We are concerned with those that determine the shape of tomorrow. Everybody is welcome in the discussion regardless of differences of opinion. Ideas have practical consequences. An honest debate about them is the foundation of inclusive laws, and simplifications are inherently excluding. This is why for three generations we have been the predominant voice in the debate about the republic.

Civil Society Renewal NEW GENERATION





23 The Golden Mean dorota pietrzyk-reeves Bottom-up initiatives need support, but not one that is based on developing a specific vision of civil society

4 The Necessary Renewal


The Origins of Anxiety

Many non-governmental organisations function on an unhealthy, project-based model

piotr górski Threats agasinst civil society, and its future in Central Europe

THE IDEA OF CIVIL SOCIETY 12 Self-government, Dignity, Solidarity – What Does the Polish Tradition Teach Us? – a conversation with professor andrzej mencwel If you can establish by yourself, without harming others, but in cooperation with others, you need fewer formal arrangements and demands by authorities



25 Money and Standards mateusz halicki

Pressure from the AntiPluralism Movement jakub wygnański Methods for shaping, protecting and cultivating an open society

19 The Beneficiaries of Civil Society łukasz domagała The government’s new policy on civil society benefits the rulers



Performing Different Roles andrej nosko The lack of adequate representation from political parties espousing various, societal viewpoints means that this responsibility must be reluctantly taken up by civil society

30 Working in Their Dream veronika móra If you don’t follow Viktor Orbán’s plan – assuming good relations with the authorities as well as with the Church – you can not ensure a stable and functioning organisation

32 Do Not Go This Way juraj rizman There is a fear in Slovakia that the authorities will apply measures to non-governmental organisations similar to those in Hungary and Poland

R E C O M M E N D AT I O N S 35 Civil Society in the Digital Era

21 Beyond Formalised Structures katarzyna iwińska Increasingly, citizens flee from institutionalised activities. This is a challenge for professionalising civil society and raising funds

D ATA S E T 36 Social Activity of the New Generation




n recent years, civil society has become a more recognisable topic due to the attacks by some politicians and the media on organisations focused on human rights, including migrants, gender equality, watchdog activity or by the tightening up of regulations towards those who use foreign funds, for example in Hungary. In Poland, “The National Institute of Freedom” was established to be a strong actor in shaping the world of NGOs in accordance with a framework set up by the government. For these reasons, many associations and foundations are facing financial difficulties threatening their entire activity. In addition, the condition of the third sector is being affected by a generational issue – not only through the participation of young people in social life, but also the considerable impact the twenty-and thirtyyear-olds are having on the actual shaping of civil society. In Central Europe, modern civil society emerged in opposition to the communist-era authoritarian powers, and then the same people – in cooperation with those who entered into adulthood in the free world of the 1990’s – continued to form organisations and shape the surrounding environment. At least in terms of building the new order, they were fortunate to live in an epochal moment and became the founding fathers and mothers of these social microcosmos in each country of the region, and no one can ever take these achievements from them. Many of them still play important, almost iconic, roles in civil society. On the portal, which is the main forum for exchanging knowledge, information and opinions on civil society in Poland, a discussion on a generational change in the world of non-governmental organisations has been underway since October. In an invitation to this discussion, Hanna Frejlak notes that in the public debate “the generational gap is clearly reflected around the question of value”. 4

While for some it is important to stress personal freedoms, guaranteed by the state which are guarding them, and a well-functioning market, the »young« people are paying attention to such values as, inter alia, social security, rights of sexual minorities, or ecological issues However, the author of the invitation adds doubts related to the inevitability of a conflict between the generations. More importantly, she notes that it affects “not only the aforementioned conflict of values – but also such matters as a distribution of prestige, different forms of activity, different experiences and results in unequal representation in public space, not only political”1. Generational change is inexorable if civil society is to survive but also if it is to become stronger. Certainly, it will not look like it used to; it will not take its new shape from the dreams of those who built its foundations – in the communist era and after ‘89. It will be created by new people who will differentiate the accents in values and topics, and they will use new technologies – both for action and for raising funds. Crowdfunding platforms, the “uberisation” of activities and work within civil society, social campaigns or protests in social media – as was the case of Black Monday or #MeToo movement – activity and cooperation outside formalised structures: all this belongs to the instruments of social activists and direct beneficiaries of their actions. These new possibilities also bring threats to civil society due to the decrease in trust due to widespread disinformation and deep fakes, closing us off in information bubbles or even progressing atomisation, or competing with the increasingly easily supplied entertainment. The challenge is also continuity; what will be conveyed to and what will remain for the new generation? This resembles, to some extent, the dilemma from a hundred years ago when Poland regained its independence. It was covered by Stefan Żeromski in the novel Przedwiośnie, during a conversation between Cezary Baryka and Szymon Gajowiec about the usefulness of respublica

having your own state and the experience of building a “civil society” during the times of partitions and functioning under foreign powers. Today, it seems that the breakthrough forcing us to ask a similar question (about the usefulness of our previous experience) is not as much related to the transformation from nearly thirty years ago as connected to the technological changes. Can the existing forms of cooperation still be useful and effective in building a strong civil society in the digital era? Can the experiences of fathers and grandparents, mothers and grandmothers still be useful? In the coming decades, we will see how well the younger generation has been prepared to renew the common world. The constant task of renewal by successive generations was recognised by Hannah Arendt as a condition for the survival of the world. The preparation for such a task lies on the side of previous generations and is testimony to their love and readiness to take


responsibility for the world. Civil society, for both younger and older citizens, can be a school of responsibility and a place of renewal. On the other hand, it is certainly a magma, a matter difficult to grasp in research and analysis – shapeless, still in motion, within which various formal and informal activities are located, hot with passion and the involvement of people creating it – a power capable of erupting. When that happens, the “lava” will spill onto the streets or across our news feeds on social media. If this change awaits us in the coming years, it is worth seeing what we will inherit and from where we started. Editorial Board 1. Hanna Frejlak, Czy organizacje potrzebują zmiany pokoleniowej?, [dostęp 18.11.2018].



THE ORIGINS OF ANXIETY Threats agasinst civil society, and its future in Central Europe



he European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) prepared a report on the challenges faced by organisations working for human rights. It shows that these institutions have faced increased challenges not only in one or several Member States but throughout the EU. In the current and seemingly ever-changing conditions, the ability of NGOs to function freely in civil society can be severely restricted. Moreover, there has been a stark rise in complications for NGOs getting access to finance while their opportunities to influence the decision-making processes are decreasing. The report shows a need for a profiled analysis of the third sector related to the thematic areas that NGOs deal in because comprehensive approaches obfuscate these key areas that determine the real condition of the third sector and civil society which are the most essential for a well-functioning democracy. To be clear, not only those organisations that address human rights are at risk. In countries nominally referred to as illiberal democracies or those heading in this direction, associations and foundations whose activities promote such democratic values as ​​ equality, tolerance and transparency of public life are being exposed to greater pressures than ever before. Yet, thanks to the participation of a diverse culture, citizens – in accordance with their preferences – may be able to express themselves freely as well as be given the opportunity to participate in public activities and also be the recipients of public discourse. The FRA report emphasizes difficulties associated with obtaining national public funds for the 6

activities of organisations dealing with human rights. This also applies to associations and foundations working in the above-mentioned areas related to politics, society and culture. Looking at the future of civil society, it is impossible to dismiss participation of the young generation in its formation.

Civil Society in Interactional Democracy What is, in fact, civil society; what is its role in the political community; and what are the most serious threats to its capability to function? Pierre Rosanvallon remarked that this interactive democracy is the ideal of social and political life in modern countries1. It is the continuous participation of citizens in the exercise of power; their influence on decisions is a measure of the strength of civil society. Civil society is not just the activity of citizens focused on political, social or cultural matters. In terms of the number of organisations, it is primarily associated with sport, charity, social assistance and even volunteer fire brigades. These areas also arouse the least amount controversy. There are obvious difficulties stemming from lumping such diverse entities together, as it convolutes their overall drive and purpose. The problems facing athletic associations or a coalition of caretakers is not the same as those trying to organise an event on the cursed soldiers or a debate on euro adoption; but if one of these entities did decide to hold such a forum, what challenges could befall them? Controversial cases for example are when athletic associations would like organise a run dedicated to the memory of cursed soldiers or if an association of numismatists want, on Europe Day, to open respublica

an exhibition about how to safely map out a course for euro adoption: topics which may be part of the current political debate. Noteworthy exceptions are the successes of organisations focused on charity, which are doing quite well in Poland. The regularly increasing budgets from productive fundraisers such as the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity or by transferring 1% tax to Public Benefit Organisations (OPP) also highlight disproportions within the sector: PLN 345 ​​million has been donated to the thirty largest beneficiaries, all of which are charitable organisations, i.e. over 52% of the total allocated funds, which means that the remaining 8208 entities shared the remaining 315 million between them2. Charitable organisations may also become the subject of political disputes on the part of the ruling politicians – examples may be provided by organisations helping migrants as was the case in Hungary and Poland. This example highlights the difficulty of clearly distinguishing key areas for civil society and the running of modern states. Civil society includes both formal and informal activities. On the one hand, these are associations and foundations – organisations with a legal personality or the so-called “flawed” legal personality. On the other hand, it is the activity of people outside formal structures, spontaneous activities of citizens which are often not even perceived by the participants as being part of civil society activities. It manifests itself in protests or comments posted on local portals or internet forums.

NGOs in Illiberal Democracy In the following section, I will adopt the perspective of formal organisations dealing with political, social and cultural issues. They are the litmus test of the condition of civil society. It is their activity that arouses the most controversy and is the subject of public debates. They are what both state and local authorities are focused on, not only in Poland, but also in other countries. They are sometimes supported and sometimes overlooked, but they can also be harassed. The dependence of the third sector on public funds in Poland is its weak point. Their total participation in all organisations in 2015 was 55%3, which means that they are an important part of the budgets of individual associations and foundations, without which their activity would be either very limited or impossible. This is not as weak as in Czechia where it is 65% or Belgium (68%), but Poland is still far away from Norway (43%), Hungary (35%), Sweden (16%) and Germany (10 %)4. THE CONDITION

Another challenge that NGOs have to face is the image of the third sector in society. Media coverage has had a great influence on this. For this reason, the largest number of people still identify the third sector with charitable organisations (79% of Poles believe that NGOs are mainly involved in helping the needy, and 77% think they deal mainly with collecting money, although in reality this is the main goal of only 6%). “Polish the effectiveness of non-governmental organisations. (...) Almost 50% are also convinced that there are abuses or that they have been privatised”5, which contributes to insufficient support on their part. In addition, as many as 54% of Poles believe that organisations should not employ paid employees, which would have to be translated into the professionalisation of activities6. And it is private individuals and businesses that can be an important source of funding, contributing to a balanced “diet” of associations and foundations. However, this requires work from the non-governmental organisations side – changing the negative image of the NGOs through stories about the sector and themselves, reaching the imagination of the public, but above all by improving its functioning, which is not an easy task without first changing the beliefs about the sector. Only in this way can you gain the trust of other stakeholders of the third sector – citizens, businesses, cross-border organisations as well as state and local government authorities. Related to this, we will next discuss some issues related to crowdfunding, corporate social responsibility, public funding and cross-border financing.

Crowdfunding, or the Great Test for NGOs Obtaining donations from private individuals by non-governmental organisations should be of particular interest. These can be public collections, 1% tax payments for Public Benefit Organisations or crowdfunding. One should keep in mind that 27% of Poles donate to non-governmental organisations, including charities, other than the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (if we add the GOoCC results to this statistic, we will get 52%)7. From the point of view of the entire civil society, it is also the most interesting way to raise funds because it engages citizens, stimulates their activity, even if it is limited to sharing their money, supporting a specific association or foundation or projects they undertake. Convincing people to transfer even small payments, preferably regularly, and then keeping these people with you is not easy. Crowdfunding platforms have become increasingly popular in recent years. More and more people 7

THE CONDITION and organisations have started and continue to run collections with their help. Let an example of dynamics be one of the most popular platforms in Poland, in which the sum of collected money in April 2017 was 13 million, while in September 2018 it was nearly 20 million and it should be expected that it will persistently grow. However, one should remember that 60-70% of the campaign, as the author of the WeTheCrowd blog points out, suffers failure8. Crowdfunding requires hard work and is an investment that unfortunately not all organisations can afford. It is not always possible to hire an additional employee for this task, taking into account the financial possibilities of the third sector. The collection of funds from 1% tax for Public Benefit Organisations may also be considered as a variant of crowdfunding, which may strengthening its impact on organisations whose goal is public affairs, such as watchdog organisations, and thus increasing their independence from the potential decisions of politicians who, if they care about the public interest, should also ensure the greatest possible activity from society within the framework of interactive democracy. This change of thinking is needed not only for people from the third sector, but also for the political representatives of citizens.

The Benefits of a Socially Engaged Business Partner Crowdfunding can be a useful tool to start cooperation between a non-governmental organisation and an enterprise. Success in gaining private donors can show sponsors the potential success of an initiative. It shows that there is interest in a specific action, confirmed not only by warm words, but also by a readiness to invest in a given undertaking by a certain group of people. This is extremely important for business people, after all, it is the basic measurement of their activity. Some entrepreneurs treat crowdfunding platforms as a form of market research. It is also necessary to change the mindset among NGOs, which should no longer shy away from the fact that they are a kind of business, a socially engaged business. Of course, their activities are not subordinated to profit, but their ideas are also less based on acquiring individual customers and the sale of goods or services. Although crowdfunding may be a substitute, the need to raise funds for the general functioning of an organisation, projects as well as maintaining of employee costs bring some NGOs to the business sector. Unfortunately, in Poland the percentage of people employed in the third 8

sector is still low and amounts to only 1.5% – in Hungary it is 3.5%, in the Czech Republic it is 1.9%, in Sweden 3.9%, Norway 3.6%, Germany 6%, and in Belgium as much as 11.5%9. Just as some companies strive to sign short-, medium- or long-term contracts, so too NGOs focus on raising funds from potential “contractors”, enabling them to function and implement projects in a sustainable way. The business world and NGOs do not have to look strangely at each other without understanding; they can be partners. Currently, the share of costs of the third sector in Poland is about 1.4% of GDP, compared to 4.5% in Hungary, 1.7% in the Czech Republic (3.6% including volunteers), and in Norway 6.5%, in Sweden 3.2%, in Germany 4.1% (without the value of volunteers), in Belgium 10.9%10. The cooperation of NGOs with business helps associations and foundations in their professionalisation and expands their general experience and knowledge, which may encourage future cooperation, something which is necessary especially when acquiring funds from foreign sources.

Cross-border Financing as a New Horizon Many countries and international organisations allocate budgetary resources to finance or co-finance activities carried out by civil society in partner countries or member states. In Poland, in 2014, their share in the revenues of the third sector accounted for 25%, with EU funds accounting for 23%11. In addition, there are also private grant-giving organisations in which representatives of the third sector can apply for financing or co-financing projects, 3% share in NGO revenues12. In each case, there is, of course, a specific agenda related to the thematic areas and objectives to which these measures are to serve. Though, it should be noted that there is a lot of controversy around some these funding schemes. Also, there are politicians who would like to limit the possibilities for NGOs to obtain funds from these sources. This is what happened in Hungary while in Poland the withdrawal of EU funds from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund for NGOs were stopped, and the competitions of the Ministry of Interior and Administration have not been resolved. Often in this context there are arguments that foreign forces want to influence the shape of a given society – its values, beliefs and attitudes. What is not acknowledged is that in strongly divided societies there is a large variety of sensitivities and ideas, which respublica

are also shared by members of other communities. If they do not violate human rights, they should be able to be expressed publicly by specific activities. If, on the other hand, there are funds for them, it only demonstrates an international community of ideas with similar values​​ and attitudes. It is difficult to recognise that this was a reason to block or hinder such parts of civil society from carrying out activities. The imbalance that can be observed in financial resources for specific values and ​​ goals cannot be the reason why decisions are made to influence the very functioning of these organisations. Of course, not all topics arouse the same controversy as, for example, migration issues. Their examples show a friendlier dimension of cross-border financing and international cooperation of non-governmental organisations. It often requires meeting several conditions indicating their condition – the qualification of a suitably large team, experience in obtaining funds (if you are a project leader), having a financial contribution and a liquidity perspective. This is particularly important in the case of EU funds – national and regional operational programmes (under which 57% of competitions in Poland were constructed in such a way that NGOs could participate in it), European Regional Cooperation Programs, Creative Europe Program and the Horizon 2020 Program According to the data of the Polish Ministry of Development; by the end of 2016, NGOs had submitted over 5,000 applications for co-financing, amounting to over PLN 9.6 billion13. On the table is the yet-to-be-launched Fund for Democracy, addressed to organisations from EU Member States. Acquiring foreign funds is often associated with the creation of consortia and partnerships composed of entities representing various fields, e.g. business,

scientific fields, entities of the public finance sector and coming from several countries. It forces the establishment of appropriate relationships and increases professionalisation. This is because it is about applying for considerable sums, and thus an appropriate level of trust between partners is needed. You can build them by having the right organisational portfolio, but also through good relationships. These, in turn, are best achieved through direct meetings. Here, however, associations and foundations from Central Europe may face difficulties, for example with the lack of funds for delegations. For partners, not only business but also from richer countries, this may be incomprehensible, and undermines the credibility of an organisation that cannot afford business trips. Even if new technologies allow us to communicate faster and more often, they will not replace face-to-face meetings. Unfortunately, time-consuming application processes – requiring constant and intense contact with other consortium members, and time spent on the application and on project management (including its reporting) which hits smaller NGOs particularly hard – can be very involving. In addition, having stable, sometimes several-year financing can interfere with the conduct of activities aimed at building an association or foundation development strategy based on the diversification of financial sources.

Domestic Public Funds, or Trust in Public Institutions The ability to get resources from national public funds is a great force, paradoxically it has shown a weakness of non-governmental organisations. In the study of the Klon/Jawor Association regarding the condition of


Informal Voluntary Activities

Active Citizenship

age 16-24

age 25-34

age 16-24

age 25-34

age 16-24







age 25-34 4.2






















* low reliability Source: Eurostat (online data code: ilc_scp19), 2015.

For more data on the new generation's participation in Central Europe's civil society, turn to page 36



THE CONDITION non-governmental organisations in Poland, it was estimated that the share of revenues from local and central government and central administration accounts for 30% of the total sector and is used by 60% of organisations14. After 2015, Poland saw a change in the results of competitions, particularly conducted by the government administration and the central administration. We have already mentioned the absence of decisions related to the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. In the lists of positive results of many competitions, new associations and foundations have appeared that have not received subsidies before. On the other hand, those that previously were have disappeared. A good example of this situation is the competition under the Citizens’ Initiative Fund (FIO). His operator, the newly established National Freedom Institute, set himself the goal of supporting small organisations whose budget does not exceed PLN 100 000, and which are located in smaller towns, and those that have not received co-financing from the FIO, which was supported by the adopted regulations. Therefore, the results are not a surprise. Out of 539 offers which received the number of points entitling to sign the contract, co-financing was granted to 66% of NGOs meeting the budget criterion15, 77% were able to enjoy the success for the first time, and 61% of beneficiaries met the residence criterion. The announcements could suggest that participation in the competition should take a record number of organisations, while the number of applications was about the same as in the previous year, ca. 2,800. Many associations and foundations probably gave up, not seeing any chances of success with the new criteria. In this context, it is worth considering the extraordinary popularity of FIO in 2015, when 5652 entities took part in the competition. The element of faith in the success of the national public funds’ competition among the entire spectrum of non-governmental organisations is an important element of the assessment of civil society in interactive democracy. It shows trust in representatives of public authorities in pursuing the public interest connected with the protection of basic human rights, tolerance, transparency of public life as well as taking care of the representativeness in the culture of diverse sensibilities of citizens, evident even during the elections. Thus, applying for funding within local government bodies as well as central competitions tells us, on the one hand, about the trust of NGOs to public institutions and authorities, and on the other, after taking this factor into account, also about the attitude of the authorities to civil society. 10

The Future of NGOs – Increased Interaction and Youth Participation Those who are close to the idea of civil ​​ society reflect on its future. What will its condition be in a few years? The Polish government established the National Freedom Institute – the Centre for Civil Society Development, whose task is “implementing measures to support the development of civic community and civil society in the Republic of Poland, in particular by increasing the institutional efficiency of non-governmental organisations and other organised forms of civil society, their independence and professionalism, while maintaining their civic character”16. However, as emphasised by NGOs, including those working for the third sector, the prepared Program for the Development of Civic Organisations does not present a comprehensive coherent vision – there are no issues related to a friendly legal environment, including tax incentives favouring the support of citizens and companies or indicators enabling the assessment of the achievement of objectives17. From the perspective of interactional democracy adopted for us, the issue of social consultations in which non-governmental organisations can play an important role is particularly important. Although the program itself assumes the increase of NGO participation in consultations of resolutions, documents, strategies and local government plans (in 2015 it was 39%)18, as noted by the National Federation of Civic Organisations, this document did not include sufficiently wide consultations regarding the proposed changes in government policy19. It becomes debatable whether the indicator itself is an appropriate measure, or whether the number of reported and included amendments during the consultation should not be considered. However, to be able to follow the process, the expected indicators should be adopted. In discussions about the third sector and within its framework, the issue of involving young people in shaping civil society arises. There are questions about how to educate young people about the importance of the third sector in interactional democracy and how to increase their participation in civic activities. These issues are connected on the one hand with the previously discussed topic of improving the image of NGOs in society and, on the other, with improving the functioning of non-governmental organisations. In the present situation, it is difficult to connect them with the third sector – for now it does not offer sufficient benefits. In 2015, in Poland, 21% of employees of associations and foundations were people under 30, and 66% aged 30-6020. respublica

Improving the condition of the third sector could change this situation. However, you also need to check whether the organisation’s objectives, as well as competitions and grants from available sources, correspond to their sensitivity and ideas in which they would like to be socially involved. A generational difference that manifests from time to time in the public debate may lead to research on this subject.

Summary For the functioning of democracy, the part of the third sector operating in the areas of human rights, equality, tolerance or transparency of public life is crucial, as well as the development of a culture that allows expression of citizens with different sensibilities and free access to its manifestations. At the same time, as the report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights shows, in the case of organisations dealing with human rights, their ability to freely function in EU countries is becoming more and more difficult due to, for example, difficulties in access to financing. In the case of other areas, a similar profile analysis is needed to properly assess the condition of civil society. Financial issues are one of the key dimensions of the assessment. Acquiring funds from various sources allows organisations to function and act in a stable manner, and can contribute to improving their effectiveness, increasing the impact and professionalisation necessary in these areas. How will the actions of governments in Central European countries take into account the perspective adopted here? Will they contribute to the building of interactional democracy, or will they, in an unintended way, create conditions for moving towards a illiberal democracy? One definitely needs to look closely at the condition of the third sector, for which it is necessary to conduct permanent, more profiled research on sensitive areas for the functioning of democracy. This interactive variety encourages us to use the activities of non-governmental organisations in this case. In the same way, it suggests that legal changes that will affect the condition of organisations dealing with areas of human rights, equality, tolerance or transparency of public life as well as cultural development were carried out in close consultation with them and properly monitored. Piotr Górski

1. Pierre Rosanvallon, Demokracja interakcyjna, [w:] „Res Publica Nowa”, nr 6(206)/2011, s. 18-28.

2. Based on [access 20/09/2018].

3. Klon/Jawor Association’s report Kondycja sektora organizacji pozarządowych w Polsce 2015.

4. Based on 5. Klon/Jawor Association’s report Wizerunek organizacji pozarządowych, p. 6.

6. The brochure Wizerunek organizacji pozarządowych. Najważniejsze fakty, wizerunek/broszurka_wizerunek.pdf [access 20/09/2018].

7. Based on [access 20/09.2018]. 8. Presentation Culture powered by the community, delivered during the Crowdfunding and CSR seminar in cultural and social projects, which took place in Warsaw on September 6th, 2018.

9. Based on [access 20/09/2018]. 10. Based on [access 20/09/2018].

11. Based on the report Kondycja organizacji pozarządowych 2015. 12. Ibidem.

13. Based on wiadomosci/fundusze-europejskie-dla-organizacji-pozarzadowych-i-budowania-partnerstw/ [access 20/09/2018]. 14. Report Kondycja sektora organizacji pozarządowych 2015.

15. FIO – cały dla małych! NIW ogłasza wyniki konkursu, http:// [access 20/09/2018].

16. The Act of September 15, 2017 on the National Freedom Institute – Center for the Development of Civil Society. As it was presented in the Civic Development Program: NFI – a newly created state legal entity – is an executive agency within the meaning of the provisions on public finances and is an institution competent in matters of supporting the development of civil society. 17. Based on Uwagi Stowarzyszenia Klon/Jawor do Programu Rozwoju Organizacji Obywatelskich na lata 2018–2030 (PROO), Stanowisko Forum Darczyńców w Polsce and Stanowisko ogólnopolskiej federacji organizacji pozarządowych dotyczące projektu programu rozwoju organizacji obywatelskich na lata 2018-2030 PROO. 18. Based on report Kondycja sektora organizacji pozarządowych w Polsce 2015.

19. Based on Stanowisko ogólnopolskiej federacji organizacji pozarządowych dotyczące projektu programu rozwoju organizacji obywatelskich na lata 2018–2030 PROO. 20. Based on the report Kondycja sektora organizacji pozarządowych w Polsce 2015.

– Managing Editor of „Res Publica Nowa”





If you can establish by yourself, without harming others, but in cooperation with others, you need fewer formal arrangements and demands by authorities

Andrzej Mencwel

– Historian of Polish Culture, Professor at the Institute of Polish Culture at the University of Warsaw

Piotr Górski

– Managing Editor of „Res Publica Nowa”

Right now, we are celebrating the anniversary of regaining independence. 1918 was also the year of Edward Abramowski’s death; one of those thinkers who, in Polish tradition, distinguished themselves by reflecting on, what we today call, civil society. It is enough to mention the interest in his work during the times of “Solidarność”, and today, you can again see some intellectual ferment around his work. Is this just the result of the centennial anniversary of his death or is there something more going on?  In my case, it does not connect directly. I’ve been dealing with Abramowski since the 1980s, not only because there was a resurgence of interest in him during the times of “Solidarność” or because I had conducted research on Stanisław Brzozowski and I had to ask about the relations of these two outstanding modern thinkers. The main impulse, however, was historical and political. After the enforcement of martial law in 1981 and declined of Stalism’s etatism, we were prompted to reflect on the very foundations and existence of our societies. Abramowski is one of the most important global thinkers, not just in Poland, who’s work hits directly at this issue in its elemental form. In the face of a gigantic range of changes that we cannot cope with, related to the communication revolution, the Internet and its consequences, these questions have arisen again: what is this elementary interpersonal relationship and what it is supposed to be based on if it is to be fruitful. For this reason, Abramowski is still important and inspiring.  These are also questions about civil society. What is its role?  It is best to recall here the conversation between Cezary Baryka and Szymon Gajowiec from Przedwiośnie,Stefan Żeromski’s novel, which was held in the shadow of portraits of the so-called “Warszawiacy” (people who led social activities in Warsaw under Russian occupation – editor note). During this discussion, a powerful dilemma



appeared, a dilemma for Żeromski himself but us as well. Gajowiec, referring mainly to Abramowski, stated that acting under Tsardom, “we have created a perfect society” (I am quoting from memory) – a semi-overt, semi-secret, multi-tier and multifunctional network – as we would say today, civil society – although in the Russian partition its members did not have civil rights (in Prussian it was different). After regaining our independence when everyone formally became its citizens, the question arose whether this earlier experience was still needed? Before that, in 1905, Abramowski published The Universal Collusion Against the Government, but it was about the possessive tsarist government. Szymon Gajowiec replied that this experience in his own country is just a memory. Żeromski was not as sure as his hero, a hesitancy confirmed by his essays (Organization of Professional Intelligence, Beginning of the World of Work). We know today that “creating a perfect society” is always indispensable. Not because to create such a society can be a conspiracy against the official state, “a conspiracy against the government,” but because the existing societies are far from perfect. If the society is not filled with a multicellular network of connections and mutual help, then it is threatened with anomie or disintegration. A dispersed society is easily manipulated, and a state can be easily transformed from democratic into authoritarian.  Tocqueville also believed that intermediary associations were needed to protect man against the state.  It’s about solving two problems. First of all, the omnipotence of the state is dangerous by itself, it can enter at any time and in any sphere of our lives. Resistance and counteraction protect against this omnipotence, which is itself a destructive and negative theme. The second reason is that we cannot exist if we do not make association. This is a positive motif, especially important in modern societies – atomised, rationalised, calculated.  Downright existential.  Very clear in Abramowski’s thought. Man is essentially a connected entity.  Is it about any relationship in which we create a group of people, for example, going together to a bar or a purposeful association, i.e. coming to the aid of the poor or sick? Or maybe cooperation for public affairs are crucial? THE IDEA

Each association is better than anomy and atomisation. Although I am a supporter of self-help, not charity, I do not condemn any charitable actions. I may not be a supporter of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, in particular its domination and entering into excessive symbiosis with the state authorities, but I will be the last one who will condemn Caritas, since it fulfils its mission well. And playing Caritas against Owsiak’s actions is more than just political folly. It is social blindness. This is one level of this issue. The second one – more essentially proper to Abramowski and other thinkers and practitioners of cooperativity and the cooperative movement – is connected with the adoption of an anti-capitalist and cultural-ideological perspective.  What does anti-capitalism mean in this case?  According to Abramowski, capitalism, of which he was a profound critic, maximises competition. If we do not want this to lead to the mutual elimination or the “everyone fighting against everyone else”, we must necessarily create links and levels of cooperation. But the author of Ethics and the early revolution, even before the beginning of the 20th century, also saw the danger of totalitarianism in the then revolutionary programs. It could be said that he criticised Bolshevism before it arose. Hence his reformist and micro-sociological orientation, as we would say today. It is necessary, in every human element to learn cooperation and to collaborate, not in order to achieve certain profits, but so that society can develop in its cells and not transform into the “primitive horde” as it was referred to then. Although it was also believed that cooperatives are more effective than companies.  How to understand the cultural and ideological perspective of the association?  I would like to invoke Maria Dąbrowska, a writer which I prefer more than the other theoreticians and practitioners of the cooperative movement of the interwar period. She was connected with this ideological movement that was strongly attacked in the 1930s. In 1938, she published The Hands in an Embrace booklet, in which she defended cooperativity as a third perspective of civilisation, better than communism and fascism – two totalitarian regimes, which had yet to be referred to as such. 13

THE IDEA We must remember that in Poland the fascination with the then Soviet Union was significant as well as Italian fascism and Nazism. We were in the clutches of two powerful cultural and ideological realities. It was a genuine intellectual and social threat, which comprehensive social cooperation was supposed to prevent.  We are talking about cooperatives, not in an economic context, with which today we often have a connotation, but in a social context.  Yes, shaping interpersonal relations.  Civil society, cooperativity, which we can translate into Polish as spółdzielczość or kooperatyzm. It is difficult to decide which term best represents the essence of things.  The point is to understand through them a society of constantly expanding self-government, which is synonymous with self-government in communes, but it is not only about the commune’s self-government, but the fullness of the rights of every human being and their dignity.  Difficulties also arise from the complexity of this social reality, which is currently complicated by emerging technologies. As you noted at the beginning, they create new relationships. Are they a hope or a threat?  No invention brings good of itself – faith in technological automatism is equally dangerous because it is blind, like an ideological utopia. Similarly, as regards the Internet, which is the largest communicator of humanity, which quickly enveloped the entire globe and the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants. This expansion will not be stopped by any movement, being a new version of The Machine Breakers. But it is our task to properly prepare people, especially children, for conscious participation in this new world of global and almost total communication. For the first time in history, I think, we are in a situation in which there is no systematic education to use the most powerful medium in our history. In the past, we were preparing a child for independent reading of books by special educational procedures, today we thinking that user manual is sufficient.  If we read them. For young people, the digital world is so obvious that it seems to them that they do not need to learn about it, and even consider themselves 14

more competent in moving around it than the older generations. They do not know what they could learn about it from previous generations, and in fact many adults may lack competence in this regard. It is different in the case of civil society. How should we talk about it so that young people understand why cooperation in the public sphere is important?  As for the “digital world”, as you said, the problem is to inculcate into the consciousness of its participants the ability to criticise content, which the internet does not provide itself. The solution is and will always be on our side. We only need to work on it. When it comes to civil society – the solution is seemingly simple, although internally complex. I have already pointed this out – it is about the dignity, or self-determination, in the broadest sense, about a comprehensive self-government. If you can establish them by yourself, without harming others, but in cooperatives with others, you need fewer formal arrangements and demands by authorities.  So why do people abdicate?  The “escape from freedom” syndrome is probably wider and more persistent than Erich Fromm thought. In Poland we can say that civic education did not work in the right way. Our minds and imagination were occupied with historical upheavals, which closed us off to what was not directly related to political transformation.  Maybe we did not know how to talk about it, how to communicate it, how to include the new generations?  Activists of the so-called political scene believed that the bread was already baked and the question is only to cut out the right piece from it. Nobody dealt with the bakery, especially the grinding of grains into flour.  Can we talk about the untapped heritage of “Solidarność”? Was it possible to use it at all?  Not directly, but certainly in this heritage are elements that have not been used so far, such as the vision of “Samorządna Rzeczpospolita” (a Self-governing Republic – a name of the program adopted on October 7, 1981 at the end of the First National Congress of Delegates of NSZZ “Solidarność” – editor’s note), which could be a contemporary inspiration. Translated by Piotr Górski respublica

PRESSURE FROM THE ANTI-PLURALISM MOVEMENT Methods for shaping, protecting and cultivating an open societ



he concept of civil society was created in Central Europe, but it is difficult to define in a way that retains its operational advantage. We are currently dealing with a completely new societal “topography”, so we also need novel techniques for communicating. Today, people are engaging with each other and their communities using numerous methods; for example, they can even “uberise” (omit structures) social activities, but this can lead to both positive and negative consequences.

What Kind of Society Do We Need? One thing is certain, the number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) does not necessarily translate into a high-quality or resilient civil society. NGOs serve to both safeguard pluralism and add to the wealth of thought in a society, but they can also be tools for “barracking” certain ideas or become platforms that support a militarisation of thinking. Thus, it has the potential to be used for anti-pluralist endeavours. This is important because the current dispute is not about civil society but about an open society. Hardly anyone remembers that after the war, the open society concept, coined by Karl Popper, was to be a response to the “misery of historicism” and the reasoning that a person or group will know better how everything should be arranged than the people. THE SITUATION IN POL AND

Moreover, it also showed how good intentions can lead to horrible consequences. This idea of an open society is today portrayed, simplified and primitivised by presenting it as a vision of a society without identity, without properties – one that is easy to colonise because it is based on cosmopolitan values. Yet, regardless of this proposed criticism, each of us has their own idioms, totems, values and religious beliefs – society is a mosaic of very different identities. We live in an increasingly complex world, so the problem of anti-pluralism has now become a worldwide issue. It is worthwhile to return to the values of the associative society, described by Alexis de Tocqueville when he was travelling to America after the French Revolution, which directly addressed the concept of self-government and forbade the existence of any intermediary institutions. The state and the nation (the people) as sovereign at that time did not allow these institutions to function since they considered it to be stealing democracy. A French aristocrat and conservative travelling to the United States and thinking about solutions for European societies, he noted that since there is no aristocracy being swept away by a revolution, there must be some agreement between citizens representing certain values and who are able to stand united against the government; this was of crucial importance as the government has an extreme advantage when it has a confrontation with each citizen individually. 15

T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND The fact that these governments do not like intermediary organisations is understandable; especially since, besides the certain public services they provide, an organic function of these organisations is to keep an eye on the government. As well as free media, the third sector creates the immune system for democracy. Without it, the government falls ill with dangerous diseases.

Polish Paternalism The third sector in Poland has been neglected and undervalued, but although this observation is similar to that presented in state documents (largely based on diagnoses of the non-governmental sector itself ), NGOs have completely different ideas for remedy than the current government. To be more precise, this remark only concerns several vectors of intervention activities that the current government has proposed. In particular, I do not like the centralist variant of which the National Freedom Institute (NFI) is an emanation. Of course, some activities at the central level must be carried out, but currently there are too many. A few years ago, an idea appeared that the Civic Fund would distribute regional money. It was believed then that if local governments would provide financial support to non-governmental organisations, it would lead to the crystallisation of local institutions which are the nucleus of local society. This is a completely different solution than building up a central distribution institution. Meanwhile, the NFI has prepared an institutional grant program. The basic question in this context is: who will distribute this money? Discretionary powers were conferred to the organisation, whose essence should be to generate pluralistic opinions, but in this case institutional safeguards were omitted. In this solution, all decisions are based only on the will of a particular person. Let’s imagine a situation in which NFI is headed by a politician like Prof. Krystyna Pawłowicz (a member of ruling party, well know from her radical opinions usually presented in aggressive tones – editor note); this brief example highlights the problem with building institutions that have embedded structural risks. The Development Program for Civic Organisations prepared by the NFI includes references to rescue subsidies, which is a kind of insurance fund. Here also the same basic question arises: who will decide which organisation is worthy of receiving a life preserver? 16

The creation of appropriate decision-making mechanisms is very difficult. This is an extremely sensitive issue, which is why we should create institutions immune to sudden changes induced by those who are currently in power. The non-governmental sector is not a “manor” that can be built to support one party’s platform (particularly since the interests of a party may not necessarily be consistent with the state interests). Recent months have shown how strong and shameless actions can be performed to favour those supporting the government and lead to a starvation for those the government does not like. The best example of the latter is the fate of organisations working for the benefit of refugees. Consultations about proposed legislation are equally important. In the case of the current Polish government – as shown by the Stefan Batory Foundation – over 70% of the legislative changes have been prepared as parliamentary projects so as to avoid any obligatory consultation process. Of course, most of them were government projects that bypass the consultation requirements. In contrast, it must be acknowledged and appreciated that work on the law which established the NFI was an exception as there were many discussions and opportunities for consultation. Of course, you can have different assessments of how the critical comments were taken into account, but it is still an important, noteworthy exception. In a certain sense, the “tragic” situation regarding NFI (on the executive side) is that I do not think it was carried out with bad intentions. However, there was a naivety and inadequacy of the proposed solutions. Unfortunately, apart from these “errors”, there have been many obviously harmful and dangerous governmental actions. Recently, there has been a proposal regarding the regulatory control of NGOs. Based on this proposal, the head of the Committee for Public Benefit will be given new authority to make unilateral decisions such as initiating a control procedure against any NGO without even informing the said foundation or association. The only necessary, sufficient reason required is the will of one person. There has never been any consultations about the proposal, even on such a sensitive issue. The project has been prepared in silence although it deals with fundamental aspects of our society. This is unacceptable and a shame! I am also concerned about the form of “greed” which was revealed in the case of the Norwegian respublica

Funds. I am not saying this from a biased perspective, although my association is in a consortium with the Batory Foundation, which is seeking to be the operator of these funds. From my experience, distributing money is not a privilege! If someone has seen the process of administrating grants, they know that it is much better experience to apply for and get funding than be the administrator. Conducting a grant system is very difficult. The fact that the government is doing everything to delay this decision seems to me harmful from the point of view of the third sector. In this case, making any decision is better than no decision. I do not understand why the government does not want to hand over a “piece” of the power, despite the fact that they have an enormous amount of their own resources. The ruling party cannot stand that a part of the decision related to such important issues as support for programs aimed at civic oversight of government activities may be outside the government’s influence. The government should understand that it must renounce this “temptation” – the more so because this government has a “weak character” and can succumb to the temptations of authoritarianism. People from the government as well as people from the NFI are utilising a very “toxic” method. They are dividing organisations into big and small, those located in urban or more rural settings, politically left or right wing, conservative or progressive – and what pains me most – patriotic and unpatriotic. I cannot overstate how much this last categorisation hurts. Who gave them the right to instruct who is patriotic and who is not? Can they explain where the origins of this superiority lies?

Shaping Civic Virtues The most cherished currency in civil society is volunteering. As people, we expect attention, time, patience and solidarity. These habits of the heart cannot be bought by money. In Poland, this habit isn’t well developed yet, and for a country that was considered an icon of solidarity, it is sad. But. if we want to change this, we must be very careful. I will give an example. Apart from Scandinavia, the Dutch have the highest volunteerism rate in Europe. School-age students carry out compulsory public service at local schools. A duty like this is the opposite to volunteering, and it was a reason why some citizens protested against this solution. However, it turned out that if your first experience of doing something for others is positive, you can recreate the “original” THE SITUATION IN POL AND

contract based on the fact that if you get something from the republic, you have certain obligations to this community. Based on this solution, volunteering in the Netherlands has developed. Presently in Poland, I would be afraid that the government would introduce a similar solution. It is essential that appropriate civic virtues – truthfulness, diligence, moderation in claims, the ability to assess the rulers and readiness to change our minds in the discussion – prevail over the institutions. However, this requires work and development from the molecular level of society.

In Search of a “Healthy Diet” At the systemic level, much is being said about the oligarchisation of the sector. Honestly, I think I may have been the one who formulated this thesis for the first time. I regret a journalistic “passion” incurred me. Now it is used like a “hammer” – a universal argument of accusation, and this should not have been the case. What is needed is good knowledge about statistical distributions. The fact that organisations are naturally different is not necessarily a disadvantage. They are simply different. Appreciating smaller organisations is important, but this postulate has been implemented for a long time (e.g. in FIO programs). It must be remembered, however, that in this case, equality does not mean justice, it does not mean a better situation. It is very good that not everyone has the same amount of money. There are many small organisations and initiatives which constitute the “civic plankton” which is the basis of the food chain. It is not an invective. On this level, the first habits of citizenship are created. “Plankton” transformed into institutions, especially as a product of artificial processes, do not always result in positive outcomes. It is not an evolutionary necessity for spontaneous bottom-up activities to recognise the fact that they have received government support as a success. While the median income for NGOs in Poland is 11,000 PLN and more than half of the organisations do not employ any personnel, this is not a problem. These facts are not the result of “grantosis”, but based on public tasks within cooperation with self-governments. Poland is the only country that has established an act which imposes in two and a half thousand communes the obligation for local cooperation with NGOs. The third sector has three sources of funding. The first is the redistribution of taxes, including 1% from 17

T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND income tax, and mostly it is based on public tasks. The second source is money from philanthropy, private or institutional. Poland has one of the better legal regulations in terms of tax incentives, and it no longer needs much more. The challenge is a willingness of citizens and businesses to take advantage of them. One thing that could lead to an increase in revenues to the third sector is an allocation of 1% from CIT. In this case, however, you need to think about good safeguards, so that it does not end up like in Slovakia, where a similar solution was applied. There, large corporations – if they did not use this money to take care of their “political insurance” – allocated this 1% to their own promotional funds. However, protection against this behaviour is possible, and it can lead to increased philanthropy by local companies. This is an alternative to the American Community Reinvestment Act, under which banks must share their earnings with the local community instead of paying them to the central. Looking at the current government in Poland, I’m afraid of how this tool could turn into a stick for entrepreneurs, so I would like to keep some kind of license for this idea. Moreover, the third sector can use money from privatisation. Professor Lester Salamon, the doyen of research of the third sector, wrote the book Philanthropication thru Privatization, in which he presented the list of concepts used by the third sector, from across the globe, that have their own resources. In Poland, the category of social ownership has disappeared. In 1952, the foundations were nationalised and today, when we talk about reprivatisation, we are thinking about


annexation by the state. Warsaw Zachęta, Inka building, Wolna Wszechnica Polska, are examples of institutions that were built from citizens contributions. The third source of financing for the third sector is economic activity. Winston Churchill once said to his colleagues: “Guys, the money has run out, we have to start thinking”. The same idea applies to newly established NGOs who know that money can be a death kiss and see the value of financing by other people. An example of this is the payroll used, for example by the Akcja Demokracja. Many institutions have understood that the government can implement a law aimed at stigmatising organisations from abroad as “foreign agents”. The only healthy diet is one based on support from the citizens and on the social economy, but this one in Poland turned towards social employment and departed from what is its essence, that is the idea of possessing money as a source of sovereignty, not proof of greed. Until we straighten it out, we will have trouble. Working on all these mentioned fronts, there is a chance that the condition of the third sector will change. Transcription of the speech during the conference The State of the Third Sector in Poland Translated by Piotr Górski Jakub Wygnański

– sociologist, activist, President of the Board of The Unit for Social Innovation and Research “Shipyard”


THE BENEFICIARIES OF CIVIL SOCIETY The government’s new policy on civil society benefits the rulers



n Poland, we are dealing with a new government policy towards civil society. The National Institute of Freedom was established to be an instrument of the government capable of exerting influence and power over civil society; essentially, aiding those who follow the values proclaimed by the ruling party and limiting funding for those who do not adhere to those beliefs or policies. While controlling the funding for civil organisations is in itself a form of subjugation, it is also worth mentioning an oppressive example of police activities. On the day following Black Tuesday – a nationwide women’s strike – police forces, without warning, entered the headquarters of several women’s organisations, taking documents and computers (in an apparent attempt to investigate why they had been receiving funding from the Ministry of Justice for several years). In a democratic society, situations like this should not take place. However, if it is already occurring, politicians should explain each case thoroughly and convincingly. Added to this are attacks in public media on representatives of non-governmental organisations. The list of unacceptable practices is long. Day by day, resources are being withdrawn from organisations that have conducted educational activities in schools (despite a previously-granted subsidy) when politicians learned that the project covered subjects like gender equality. THE SITUATION IN POL AND

There are, regrettably, many examples of this abuse of power, such as organisations which had been granted funds from the Ministry of Justice for years, suddenly stopped receiving them, and some of the funds aimed at supporting people who have been the victims of violence have been reallocated to the Central Anticorruption Bureau. These are bizarre activities, which have been contested inter alia by the Supreme Audit Office. It can be said that the Polish government has introduced a new strategy in their approach to procedures; they simply do not respect them. Currently, the key questions which need to be answered concern the role of the state towards civil society and who is the beneficiary of the new government policy. It turns out that it is the government itself! A new institution was established, expanding the tool aimed at civil society, which in reality gives the government the opportunity to influence social organisations. Unfortunately, politicians have become especially interested in civil society because they think it should be restructured and divided into segments or factions resembling political parties. In addition, situations in which a high-ranking government representative at a meeting in the region says that some organisations are better than others or that the more important NGOs are those operating in small communities while those addressing larger issues are corrupt or depraved is unacceptable practice. We have already heard such rhetoric, but this is not the case in civil society nor is it reflective of the search for a common good. 19

T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND Values including the preservation of freedoms, openness to diversity and solidarity are the basis of civil society. The new government policy leads to a regression in terms of social diversity. That is why it is now so important to support – by each of us individually but also by key stakeholders and decisionmakers – those who are excluded from the sector and discussion and for whom pressure is being applied. Caring for the edges of civil society means that, as a whole, we can all breathe more soundly. So, I urge everyone to find a social organisation whose values are close to you and to get involved in its activities, as much as you can afford to, even by setting a fixed transfer for a small amount. Systematic support is crucial. This will build philanthropic attitudes which naturally spread through casual discussions with friends. It builds true independence of social activity. I do such an exercise myself, supporting six organisations. If I am dissatisfied with the functioning of some – if they do not provide me with interesting materials about their actions – I change it to another one. When building a civic culture, we need to start with ourselves. We need fewer words, more activity and more money. In times when an organisation receives partial financial support for a public initiative, the onus for finding the remaining necessary funds for structural


or organisational support (i.e. staff and administrative concerns) is heavily burdensome for the civil sector, and this practice needs to be ended. Instead of helping, this actually drains the resources of social organisations.. When performing a public task, the organisations often work on a voluntary basis or with self-raised funds, and we must keep in mind how very difficult it is to pull this off. Currently, there are no incentives for organisations to build up the own capital, which it could use in a difficult moment. There is also a lack of appropriate and helpful local government policy. For example, they could transfer premises or buildings to organisations because this is within their competence. The social sphere has no capital, no resources; it is based on good will and hard work. It may not be enough to take up significant challenges and activities at difficult times. Transcription of the speech during the conference The State of the Third Sector in Poland Translated by Piotr Górski Łukasz Domagała

– President of the Board of National Federation of Polish NGOs


BEYOND FORMALIZED STRUCTURES Increasingly, citizens flee from institutionalised activities. This is a challenge for professionalising civil society and raising funds



ivil society in Poland has been transforming for 30 years. Recently, as evidenced by qualitative research from 2014 and 2015 carried out by the Local Activity Centre, a trend of departing from formal NGOs has emerged. This has also been visible in Sweden and other European countries. In their respective articles, Dominika Polańska and Galia Chimiak each wrote about the changing face of urban activism which is moving away from the more institutionalised forms1. Social movements are growing in popularity everywhere though especially in cities, and these social groups are contesting the world of “professional” NGOs, large ones that are umbrella organisations and the smaller NGOs that cannot cope with the professionalisation of activities. This is not only related to financial issues – a lack of resources or difficulty in obtaining them – but above all, it is a dissent against this form of organised activity. Too much bureaucracy, complicated formal conditions and continuous applications for funding has exacerbated the reluctance of many people who have opted instead to invest their resources – time and money – and act socially in a smaller circle or local community. On the one hand, I think that such non-institutionalised social forms are a positive indication for the development of civil society. THE SITUATION IN POL AND

On the other hand, institutional cooperation between smaller and larger organisations in Poland is not easy because networking between organisations is challenging as well as finding common areas of understanding. This is mainly due to the lack of trust in new or relatively unknown organisations. Perhaps this is the reason why in small communities people are reluctant to formalise their activities, circumventing any legislative or governmental controls. The third sector is not only comprised of NGOs but also a sphere of volunteers. They work at the interface between private, business, public and governmental activities because of the sheer need and have taken up this activity for various reasons. Recent research, for example by the Klon/ Jawor Association, has revealed an important characteristic of the citizenry: people do not think of themselves as volunteers. This term, for some people in Poland, colloquially connotes “suckers” because it is not related to paid work. Many do not even admit if they do work for free. After all, this is connected with free time, outside of work, so people do not declare that they operate in the civic sector for their neighbours, local seniors or the development of an informal group to which they belong. This again explains why informal groups deliberately avoid formalities and any potential problems that may arise. In turn, when it comes to this “institutionalised third sector”, some issues should look completely 21

T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND different. The idea of commissioning public tasks, which exemplify the cooperation between non-governmental organisations and authorities in central or local governments, is a matter that should be related to professionalism. Unfortunately, in the last two years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reduced the funding for such cooperation with NGOs by 50%, with similar cuts being made by other ministries. The exception is the Ministry of National Defence but in this case, the funds are not considerable. It is difficult to talk about the cooperation of non-governmental organisations and central authorities or local governments if there is a lack of trust between the entities as well as an inconsistency between what the government says – declaring, for example, the principle of subsidiarity – and what is actually happening in reality. We also have a problem with philanthropy in Poland if 50% of the money for non-governmental organisations is coming from public funds. Affluent people do not recognise that they have enough money to share with those people or institutions in need. This is starkly different than in Anglo-Saxon culture. Although there is a mechanism for transferring 1% income tax to Public Benefit Organisations, the current solution means that revenues from it are mainly received by the largest organisations. We must keep in mind that this mechanism, in fact, is no form of philanthropy. The more known an organisation and the larger its network of contacts, the easier it is to get funding. This means we don’t give equal opportunities for alternative actors in our supposedly pluralistic society. Therefore, I would not avoid the division of non-governmental organisations into larger and smaller entities, richer and poorer, those based in cities or in the countryside, this can be the basis for a better understanding of the sector which can lead to a wider pluralism. Our dream is to have a diverse civil society, but without funding, it is difficult to understate the direness of the situation. In recent years, many organisations have stopped receiving subsidies, their grants and projects have ended, and some of them have ceased operations altogether.


For example, in the last two years many women’s organisations, those focusing on migrants or hate speech as well as watchdogs have all lost their funding. Some of them have not yet been professionalised enough to be able to obtain funds from crowdfunding or other sources. They have accomplished very important tasks, but without funding, many activists from these organisations had to move to the traditional workforce, relegating their social activity to the proverbial “hour” in the evening. This means they do not respond to emails in a timely fashion or do not send information about their activities, which prevents them from raising funds and further functioning. Civil society is not created at universities, it is not created in offices. You must learn the behaviours that create them beginning in kindergarten. These are the issues that lead to changes in mentality and culture. The third sector and civic education should be supported also by public institutions and activities for this purpose; this does mean additional financial support. If this does not happen, young people who will become entrepreneurs in the future will not learn philanthropy unless they go to study, for example, in the United States or Great Britain. But in Poland we should also work on developing this important and neglected behaviour. Transcription of the speech during the conference The State of the Third Sector in Poland Translated by Piotr Górski Katarzyna Iwińska,

– adjunct in Collegium Civitas, Member of the Board of Social Thought Club Initiatives, co-author of the report Krajobraz społecznościowy: Polska 2014

1. See among others Dominika V. Polańska, Galia Chimiak, Organizing without organizations: on informal social activism in Poland, [in:] “International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy”, Vol. 36 9/10, 2016, pp. 662-679 and Dominika V. Polańska, Going against institutionalization: New forms of urban activism in Poland, [accessed 12/11/2018].


THE GOLDEN MEAN Bottom-up initiatives need support, but not one that is based on developing a specific vision of civil society



itizens do not ask themselves: what is civil society for? There is a lack of awareness in our society of what it means to be a citizen in the full sense of the word. We know that this is associated with certain rights, privileges and obligations enshrined in the Constitution and other legal acts. However, in Polish culture and civic upbringing, little emphasis is still placed on citizenship. Citizenship is a conscious, willing and voluntary use of rights and freedoms. It is shaped in practice and operation; it is not a legal status. For many researchers, the basic problem in understanding civil society today is identifying it with the third sector. There would be nothing negative about it if it was perceived as a form of shaping and developing citizenship. There is, however, a gap between an organised, institutionalised third sector that fulfills an important role in society and the citizens who do not engage in its functioning either because they do not know about it or are not encouraged to act within it; they are not mobilised nor do they feel a need to take part in this type of activities. After almost thirty years of transformation, we must look at civil society differently. In 2015, non-governmental organisations came forward to meet this by creating a strategic development map, “The Third Sector for Poland�. This strategy underlines the civic mission of non-governmental organisations, which they should implement in cooperation with more spontaneous, less formalised initiatives that are undertaken in society. Civil society is shaped spontaneously, voluntarily and independently of state institutions. Does it THE SITUATION IN POL AND

need a central institution to support them in this case? In my opinion, no. Of course, self-organisation must be in a friendly partnership with the state and the free market. These are not spheres that can be separated because they have a very significant impact on each other. The development of civil society by the state, however, leads to potential disturbances in the healthy relationship between these spheres. In dealing with far-reaching cooperation, even in the form of providing public services by non-governmental organisations, we are moving towards the model of associative democracy, in which associations assume many functions, so far provided by the state administration. I do not mind such a solution, but it should not function in a central institution that sponsors and creates a specific model of civil society; it should form spontaneously. Bottom-up initiatives need support, but this does not entail a specific civil society vision. When this happens, the question arises: which organisations are part of this model and which are not. Another thing, are we able to imagine such a model solution? I do not see it. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, Poland is in second place, after Spain, when it comes to the level of trust in non-governmental organisations. It is at 54%, an increase of 6 percent compared to the previous year. Of course, it is difficult to measure the actual level of trust, whether it is for institutions or people. The fact that there is a high level of confidence towards non-governmental organisations shows that we do not perceive them as corrupt, like in Russia or Romania. This potential could be utlised by the organisations themselves to strengthen citizenship. This can take place through education, but also through 23

T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND specific activities so as to increase interest in civil society. Among average citizens, the awareness of civil society’s importance or even knowledge about it is small, so it is difficult to expect that the change will be achieved in a short period of time. We could use election campaigns to strengthen our sense of citizenship; however, this is not a topic covered in public or private media. Thus, this potential to increase the level of citizenship is being neglected.


Transcription of the speech during the conference The State of the Third Sector in Poland Translated by Piotr Górski Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves

– Political Scientist, Professor in Institute of Political Science and International Relations of the Jagiellonian University, author of Civil Society, Democracy and Democratization


MONEY AND STANDARDS Many non-governmental organisations function on an unhealthy, project-based model

Mateusz Halicki

– PhD in Economics, President of the Board of Ecorys Poland

Wojciech Przybylski

– President of the Board of Res Publica Foundation, Editor-in-chief of “Visegrad Insight”

You represent an international company that cooperates with civil society organisations – how do you perceive the level of professionalisation of NGOs in Poland?  I represent ECORYS Polska, a consulting and research company belonging to the international ECORYS group. Over the last 15 years, we have supported civil society in Poland mainly as an operator of Norway Grants or the Swiss Fund. We have supported a total of almost 1,000 projects, and we continue to support them at the international level. During all these years, we have witnessed the progressive professionalisation of the Polish third sector, and we actively supported this development as the operator of entrusted funds. However, there are still many aspects that need improvement or change if we want to talk about having a strong, independent and stable non-governmental sector in a few years. Today, most non-governmental organisations are based on a project-focused model that I would call unhealthy. They are not looking from the perspective of profit, which does not mean, of course, that they do not analyse whether a proposed project will bring losses that may threaten the existence of the organisation. The so-called “grantoza” and the lack of stable funds to cover administrative and organisational costs seem to be the most important phenomena at present, hindering development and professionalisation.  When we talk about money in the context of civil society, there are always voices that it is threatened in Poland. What does financial liquidity look like in this sector? I have not seen any comprehensive research on this subject in Poland, and what does exist only gives us a partial picture. Maybe in the near future such a study will be carried out, maybe it will be financed by the National Institute of Freedom; we will see. The main reason for the current financial situation of the third sector I see is the stagnation in financing projects, partly due to the structural conditions of the funds. Over the past year and a half, we have had a lack of announcements for grants and resolved competitions from multinational and international sources – the entire structure of the funds could not be estimated. We have been waiting a long time to hear who will be the operator of Norway Grants – Active Citizens Fund (at the end of October it was announced – editor note). Non-governmental organisations count on these funds, especially



T HE SI T UAT ION IN POL A ND as the proposed changes in the EU financial perspective has brought about considerable uncertainty. Furthermore, it must be remembered that in addition to domestic sources there are many EU funds that are available to non-governmental organisations, and Polish NGOs have had success when they apply for these resources.  How do you ensure the transparency of activities and how do you include non-governmental organisations as a grant operator?  As a private company, we have the comfort that we are free and independent in our activities. It does not change the fact that we are focusing on including the NGOs and want to be transparent with our decisions. When we put out a call for applications, we always use external assessors who evaluate the


submitted projects. They are independent substantive experts with extensive experience and knowledge of the sector. Each project is evaluated by two people, and if the difference between the two assessments exceeds 20%, a third external assessor carries out an additional assessment. The final decision on the allocation of funds is made by a steering committee composed of representatives of the sector. When we started as an operator of funds in 2006, these were not considered the common practice, and we are proud to have contributed to the raising of standards in this area. Transcription of the speech during the conference The State of the Third Sector in Poland Translated by Piotr Górski


PERFORMING DIFFERENT ROLES The lack of adequate representation from political parties espousing various, societal viewpoints means that this responsibility must be reluctantly taken up by civil society



nderstanding what the “third sector”, a title of this conference, is may be confusing for many. The definitions offered can often feel vague or too multifaceted. When representatives of this sector of society wish to reach out to the public, they often face the dilemma which component is more important for their audience: is it that the third sector is not focused on generating profit, or is it that they are separate from the elected political representation embodied in the government? To overcome these issues, instead of NGOs, or third sector, I prefer to talk about organised civil society. It is a little more encompassing, and I think it enables us to have more clarity in the concept.

Who Stands Up to Represent? Today, we see global phenomena – acutely though not exclusively affecting Central Europe and the continent – leading to profound changes in our societies. They are not limited to civil societies; but are visible also in the business and political sectors as well. However, these changes are very much visible in the processes in or with organised civil society – we feel it every day. First, let’s look at what is going on within our “liberal” or “constitutional” democracies. We have a problem with our representative democracies, perhaps this is most visible through the state of political parties. A normal democratic process embodies a conflict over policies. THE SITUATION ACROSS V4

Examples of healthy policy conflict might arise while trying to answer questions over the appropriate retirement age or what type or amount of taxes governments should collect. These are normal questions for society to have discussions and disagreements about. Normally, these deliberations would occur in the parliament between political parties representing their voters. What we are increasingly seeing and is becoming prevalent even within my own generation, is a perception that entering representative (i.e. partisan) politics is something disgraceful, something to be avoided. The reluctance of people to join partisan politics makes representative democracy hard to fulfil its role. Some of these trends are understandable, many citizens are disheartened with the political processes of their countries because many politicians are seen or have been found to be corrupt. Consequently, this has driven many active members in society to prefer to join either organised civil society or the business sector, and we simply don’t have a proper and full representation of views that exist throughout society in the party-political arena. This results in situations where a lot of ideas and issues that are of a policy nature are only being heard from civil society; yet, crucially, these ideas are not reverberating or being echoed by political parties in governmental or administrative spheres. This leads to a misunderstanding and misperception that civil society organisations are in some way associated with or taking on a role of political parties or political actors. This is neither their role, nor where they want to be. 27

T HE SI T UAT ION ACROS S V4 Civil society organisations, including NGOs, don’t want to take over the role of political parties in society. However, the void which is being left by either incompetent political parties or the absence of political party platforms representative of society’s views has forced civil society to become involved in the policy conflict; essentially, performing a role that fills the gap of representation in politics. This is not normal, this is a pathologic situation that we have in our societies, and it makes the work and understanding of the role of civil society organisations much more difficult. This is one element of what is going on inside of our countries.

The Focus of Anger The second important element is how economic globalisation has played out for many people in society, especially in local communities. Subsequently, many people feel that they are losers of economic globalisation. This apprehension leads them to rethink the changes of the past several decades: what impact the global trade has had on mine or my neighbours’ lives and how has it affected the distribution of power and resources? Given that parts of organised civil society especially in the post-communist world has received significant support from abroad, and is seen by some as an idea from abroad, the ire for people’s dissatisfaction with globalisation can fall, inappropriately so, on organised civil society. However, while potentially underrepresented in their own countries, these individuals are learning from like-minded individuals across borders. They see attacks on organised civil society as an act of re-appropriation of national sovereignty, and in many instances feel these actions are justified when they are targeting certain types of NGOs. There are many NGOs helping with technical assistance or charity; they are much more efficient in completing their tasks than if these were done by the government, and these organisations are less often in the crosshair of the attacks. However, we see that the attacks are primarily against NGOs that focus on changing value sets, or debate about how society is and should be organised – essentially political questions. Mainly, these are human rights NGOs, watchdogs or organisations that focus on social change. Attacks on them get further exacerbated when they receive significant support, including funding, from abroad. 28

Just by the act of asking these political questions, NGOs are inadvertently (and perhaps unavoidably) opening themselves up to criticism by those who wish to reject the civil society’s involvement, seen as an “interference”, in these questions. This criticism is a sign of a process of introspective reassertion of national sovereignty and often a sign that the society is closing itself off. Just as people desire to mitigate the negative external effects of globalisation, they don’t want to have any external influence over how their society should develop. When you have an organisation that has a very shallow domestic constituency, and whose work is not appreciated by many, once someone attacks it, then they are an easy target. This was also the situation that Open Society Foundations in Hungary found themselves in. Part of the problem is that, with the increase of professionalisation and institutionalisation, some civil society groups are losing sight of their domestic constituencies. They lost track of and became disjointed from those for whom they were working. This is partly a result of how the incentives are structured. When you only want to invite a group of people together and want to serve them coffee, or help them pay for transport, you need some money, someone needs to pay for it. You can go around and collect the donations from your neighbourhood, or ask your friends to make the coffee, bake cakes, share car-rides, offer a meeting room etc. But it’s much easier to raise 150,000 EUR by talking to one person at one organisation. This is not meant to be critical of the fact that civil society organisations are able to fundraise from abroad or from wealthy individuals, but it’s a reminder that in doing so we need to be careful not to lose track of whom are we working for at home. Using a horticultural analogy: The flower of civil society is home-grown, the seeds are domestic; it’s only the fertilizer which comes from abroad. Having worked for an international donor, I’ve seen situations when an organisation comes and says, “what would you fund” rather than “we want to do this, are you willing to fund us”. This illustrates a distinction between an NGO that has its own mission and plans, fully informed and guided by their domestic constituency, and a salaried contractor hired for work. At times, this line can become really blurred. What is the difference if an international company or international organisation hires a contractor respublica

in a country to organise an event, or if an organisation receives a grant to do an event? The main difference is in who owns the work. Who decides which speakers to invite and what is on the agenda. There is a genuine difference. Philanthropy is essentially a structured gift. A benefactor gives money to someone to do the work that they wanted to do. The benefactor is not telling them that “it would be very kind for you to organise this specific event for me”. That’s what one can ask from a contractor: there are companies that do this but that’s not philanthropy.


I think that a part of the problem that we are experiencing now came about because civil society was allowed to blur these distinctions. It is fine to do work for money, and some of the organised civil society groups may have the time and skills to accomplish these tasks while using earned resources to enable them to do independent work, but the priority should always be on the mission and the original stakeholders. Andrej Nosko

– PILnet’s Director for Europe. Before was the head of Governance and Policy Debates Division at Open Society Initiative for Europe (OSIFE) and the Program Manager at Think Tank Fund



WORKING IN THEIR DREAM If you don’t follow Viktor Orbán’s plan - assuming good relations with the authorities as well as with the Church - you can not ensure a stable and functioning organisation



ince the transition period in the early 1990’s, a diverse and active civil society has evolved in Hungary, with about 55,000 organisations (associations and foundations) currently active at some level. However, in the past six to seven years, many of them have had to begin operating under increasingly deteriorating conditions, characterised by a degenerating legal environment with limited access to funding and the closure of numerous advocacy avenues as well as a government-orchestrated smear campaign against independent civil society organisations. While the basic legislation of CSOs allows for free operation (though with considerable administrative burdens), in 2017 – in a move unprecedented in the European Union – the Hungarian Parliament passed an act “on the transparency of organisations supported from abroad”. This move, styled after the Russian “foreign agent” law, prescribes that CSOs receiving more than 7.2 million HUF (approximately $24,000) from non-domestic sources (whether public or private) on an annual basis must register with the courts as being “foreign funded” and use this label on their websites and all publications. Non-compliant organisations are subject to sanctions, which eventually may lead to fines or even the organization’s dissolution. This was the first time in Hungary that the harassment of CSOs has taken the form of a restrictive legal rule, but unfortunately it was not the last. In 2018, the restrictive legislation was followed by the so-called “Stop Soros” law package, aimed at those persons and organisations allegedly supporting migration; 30

it essentially threatening anyone (e.g. lawyers) who provide legal aid (or other assistance) to refugees and asylum seekers. Additionally, the law imposing a 25% tax on the income of any organisations doing the same. (So far, in practice neither of these measures have been used against anyone.) The financial viability of the sector is being characterised by a peculiar ambiguity: according to the latest available statistics, the total income of the sector, amounting to 630 billion HUF ($2.33 billion) shows a theoretical abundance of funding, yet “starving” CSOs are clearly visible and increasing in number. 40% of the sector still works with a small annual budget of less than 500,000 HUF (app. $1850). Also, there is a large gap between the capital and the rest of the country, with 60% of the income under the control of Budapest-based organisations. Public funding constitutes an important source for the sector as a whole – according to latest official statistics it comprised 38% of the total income. The EU Structural Funds for the 2014-20 period (which can be considered as part of public funding as these are distributed and managed by the government) has recently sped up, with a large number of calls announced and contracts concluded. However, there are very few budget lines where CSOs could apply by themselves – they are mostly only eligible as partners of local governments or churches. Therefore, only CSOs loyal to these institutions have any chance of winning grants. The political bias in the distribution of public funds is practically out in the open and increasing. A characteristic case was that of the so-called Civil Union Forum, the government’s main “CSO arm” respublica

(or GONGO); investigative journalists found out that the state-owned electricity company subsidised this organisation with 500 million HUF (app. $1.85 million). No other organisation received amounts anywhere near this magnitude. In this situation, CSOs working in sensitive or controversial areas (e.g. gender issues, drug prevention) are virtually excluded from public sources. CSOs receiving funds from non-domestic sources – whether private or public – are being stigmatised by legal and governmental institutions, with particular ire being directed at Open Society Foundations (founded by philanthropist billionaire George Soros) and their beneficiaries. At the same time, other major international donors while expressing their concern over the shrinking civil space in the region have so far given only minor contributions – although this seems to be changing now. Under these circumstances, fundraising from private donors, including crowdsourcing (e.g. are becoming more popular, but rather benefit the professionally communicating CSOs and independent media outlets. Occasional collections for charitable purposes can also be successful, but only to cover individual actions. Corporate giving is championed by multinationals, but Hungarian-owned businesses give mostly along personal or political lines. Sadly, private donors of CSOs do not receive any tax deduction, while the conditions of exemptions on corporate donations strongly favour professional sport organisations over CSOs. The total amount of funds from the 1% income tax incentive significantly decreased in 2016 for the first time in several years (by app. 1 billion HUF, 3.7 million USD), largely due to the new “automatic” tax declaration system which had been introduced. While this generally simplifies taxpayers’ lives, it also makes it easier to forget about the 1%. (Still, some harassed organisations were able


to increase their income from this source as a result of strong campaigning). CSOs can – in theory – generate income from selling or contracting for goods and services, but in practice this is rare in the absence of a market. Most of the sectors where CSOs have traditionally provided services (e.g. education, social welfare) were nationalised, and services are provided by state institutions themselves or outsourced exclusively to churches and state-owned companies. Also, governments – both national and local – attempt to downplay the gravity of social problems and issues (e.g. housing), stressing that public institutions can take care of everything without the assistance of independent actors. As a result, there is hardly any state funding, or indeed space for CSOs to provide services in these areas. While social entrepreneurship is fashionable, and there is support available (both from the EU and private foundations), there are only a handful examples of sustainable enterprises that are able to operate without external funding. Under these conditions, retaining professional staff is a grave problem for most CSOs, especially the smaller ones. According to statistics, the number of employees in the sector remained constant in the last few years, comprising app. 80,000 full-time equivalents. But employees are hired often on a (part-time) project-basis, and once funding runs out, there are no means to keep them. In this situation volunteering would be a way of survival for CSOs; however, it is still not widespread: according to a research by the statistical office, 94% of the people who help voluntarily do this informally and not through CSOs. Veronika Móra

– the Director of Ökotárs Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, chairmanship of the Hungarian Donors Forum, volunteer



DO NOT GO THIS WAY There is a fear in Slovakia that the authorities will apply measures to non-governmental organisations similar to those in Hungary and Poland



he announcement last year by the Slovak Ministry of Interior that it intends to establish a central register of civic organisations has caused many people to sit up and take notice. This is because we have slowly got used to the fact that when this part of Europe starts talking about new legislation for the civic sector, it does not tend to end very well. This is especially worrisome after a series of critical statements about civil society by the then Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico; there is little reason to think Slovakia’s attempts to restructure and regulate the civic sector will be any different from the policies of the other restrictive V4 governments. Representatives of Slovak civic organisations as well as several observers from abroad have all raised concerns that the new Registry Act would symbolically represent the first step by Slovakia down the same road already taken by the Hungarians and Poles. No need to keep you on tenterhooks any longer. In the end, it all turned out well. Despite some strong objections by populists, the Registry Act was prepared in an inclusive and appropriate manner. The government and parliamentary talks went on with the support of all major platforms representing the civic sector across the country, and in the end, the legislation gained cross-party support. On the one hand, the new law increases the transparency of non-governmental organisations as the public will now have one centralised online source of updated information about civil organisations instead of several non-functioning registers. But it does this without significantly increasing administrative burdens, 32

discriminating against civic organisations or endangering their operation or functioning. Does this mean that in Slovakia everything is all right from the perspective of the civic sector? Unfortunately, the answer is no, it doesn’t. It is no exaggeration to say that the Registry Act is a classic example of a win-win situation, but it only covers one small section of a wide and diverse set of issues. From a broader perspective, the situation does not look so optimistic.

Propaganda and Attacks In the last two to three years, there has been a significant increase in the activity and popularity of various types of media dealing in disinformation – including websites (eg. Hlavné správy, Infovojna, Na palete), print magazines (Zem a vek, ExtraPlus) and radio (Slobodný vysielač). These media outlets actively attack specific aspects of civic society and civic society organisations. The narrative of these attacks is similar to those found in surrounding countries. Their primary target are the so-called “political” non-government organisations – liberal and progressive, anti-corruption initiatives, LGBTI, migration related organisations and, of course, groups supported from abroad (mainly from the US or from the foundations and funds of George Soros). While some of these media outlets propagating conspiracy theories have already reached a considerable audience, even one akin to the Slovak mainstream media (e.g. the readership of the “alternative” news portal Hlavné Správy is already comparable to the websites of some key Slovak daily newspapers), the bulk of NGOs fall short in reaching their target audience and fail respublica

to adequately fulfil their specific remit, either through outreach activities or as stipulated by law. The attacks by the disinformation by these media sources on civic initiatives and organisations started to gain traction in the spring of 2018 during the massive wave of civil protests that followed the assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner. The conspiracy media singled out the citizens’ initiative Za slušné Slovensko (For a Decent Slovakia) that was organising the protests and portrayed them as undermining Slovak sovereignty through an attempted “Slovak Maidan” or coup, going as far to label the protest leaders “Soros’ Children”. Until 2018, this rhetoric was almost exclusively confined to extremist and populist groups. The change came after its inclusion in the repertoire of Prime Minister Róbert Fico. In a series of political statements, the prime minister accused President Kiska, independent (in Fico’s words anti-government) media and the civil sector of trying to destabilise the government. It got to the point where the prime minister was actively spreading information to the public that a coup attempt was taking place in the country, and called for the State Security Council to meet before one of the demonstrations that was due to take place. Fico’s rhetoric was quickly adopted by other leaders of the strongest political party in the country – SMER Social Democrats and their coalition partner the Slovak National Party. Only the junior partner of the ruling coalition – the MOST-Hide party – has taken a stand against this “Soros fear-mongering”. The situation escalated last March with Robert Fico’s resignation. There was a government reshuffle and the chair of the prime minister was taken by Peter Pellegrini. Despite this, Robert Fico kept his seat in the Slovak Parliament and retained leadership of the largest party. Attacks on the civil sector from positions in the Government of the Slovak Republic have since ceased, but Fico and his group of loyal partisans have been returning to the topic recently .They are still trying to paint a picture of that they were robbed of their government posts through an attempted coup d’état by foreign presidents and NGOs, but the number of these attacks coming through the media and in political circles is much lower now than when they were the expressed opinions of elected representatives. There is a growing tendency in Slovakia of spreading hate towards and intimidating civic activists and non-governmental organisations. There have been THE SITUATION ACROSS V4

hundreds of cases on social media but also in other methods such as mail, paper’s letters, phone calls and other personal communication. In at least one case, we were able to confirm that police had to be deployed in order to protect a civic activist (whose address and phone number were advertised by extremists) after a series of threats. So far, we have not seen any more significant physical attacks on civil society representatives.

Legislation The basic legislative framework applicable to civic organisations in the Slovak Republic is relatively stable and has not changed significantly in recent years. Certainly not from the point of view of reducing the operating space or right of existence of NGOs, their stigmatisation or any increase in their administrative burden. The Government of the Slovak Republic openly advocates for the development of civic society and international commitments in the area of open ​​ government and civic participation. The Government Council for Non-Governmental Non-Profit Organisations – such as the government advisory body (in which civil representatives make up half of delegates) and the Government’s Representative for the Development of Civic Society (as a point of contact for the sectoral legislation) – are working continuously to further this agenda. However, we should keep track of the other developments in this area. After the elections in 2016, the fascist People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) led by Marián Kotleb and the populist party We Are Family (Sme Rodina) of “entrepreneur” Boris Kollar entered the Slovak Parliament. Both of these parties have already initiated a debate on the civic sector in parliament and have offered concrete proposals for legislative changes. The fascist LSNS has twice failed to try to promote the labelling of non-profit organisations funded from abroad by the term “foreign agent”. Moreover, the populists from Sme Rodina have been trying to solve the alleged problem by lobbying NGOs in parliament through its legislative regulation. It was an absurd bill to solve a non-existent problem, which fortunately the MPs of the government, but also most of the opposition parties, completely overturned and refused to accept in the vote. In preparing and approving the Non-Governmental Non-profit Register Act, all stakeholders – the government, the parliament and the civic sector – were able to find common ground, achieve an acceptable 33

T HE SI T UAT ION ACROS S V4 political consensus and push for positive change in a sector-wide, non-threatening scale. The good feeling was tainted by a few representatives of governmental parties (SMER-SD, SNS) in the parliamentary debate and the LSNS fascists who have asserted that it will be necessary to return to the issue of NGOs in the future. Their public statements suggest that in 2019, we can expect to see an attempt to tighten the legislation surrounding the financing and transparency of NGOs, especially that of civil society organisations.

Finance Similarly, with regards to both the legislation and ​​financing of the civic sector, the situation in the Slovak Republic remains relatively stable. Despite these attacks and challenges to the civic sector, the government has so far not put any restrictions on the ability of civic organisations to freely accept donations from individual donors, companies, foundations, state or European institutions. Nor have there been any changes to the assignment of 2% of tax to civic organisations. Even in the most controversial areas of ​​financing or co-financing activities and the running of civil society organisations from abroad, there have been no legislative or administrative restrictions so far. In 2019, we expect to see a new source of funding for the civic sector emerge in the shape of the recently announced lottery (being established by well-known Slovak foundations), but, on the other hand, we also expect to see a legislative attempt to limit or at least significantly complicate the funding of civic organisations. Politicians (mainly SMER-SD and SNS ruling parties) who have expressed a need to “tighten the rules” on funding NGOs in the media have not yet released any more concrete plans. According


to inside information, there is a possibility we will see a wider use of the so-called transparent accounting as well as a tightening of accounting and reporting rules (e.g. introducing the obligation to publish financial statements for citizens’ associations, or extending the obligation to publish the annual report to civil associations). Extremist political forces claim that in 2019 they will continue to push for the designation of “foreign agents” and will propose changes to the so-called “Political non-governmental organisations” to make it harder for foreign sources to operate, potentially including restrictions on access to public finances as well.

A Great Challenge for the Future There is no doubt that the situation in Slovakia is getting worse. There is an increase in propaganda campaigns against non-governmental organisations, increasing attacks on civic organisations and their leaders, and hoaxes and conspiracy theories about NGOs coming from the political basement right up to the level of government and parliament. We have been discussing the alleged attempted coup d’état and the first attempts to identify “foreign agents”. We know that, for a significant part of the political spectrum, the “settlement” of non-governmental organisations is a topic that is planned to be returned to in the future. But even so, when we look at developments in the V4 and the wider region, we see that Slovakia still holds a relatively high standard of both legislative and financial environments in which civic initiatives and organisations operate. The main challenge for the future will be to keep this relatively high standard as the status quo. Juraj Rizman

– coordinator of the Civil Society Defense project of VIA IURIS (Slovakia)




t Forum 2000, the annual conference in Prague devoted to supporting the values of democracy and respect for human rights as well as assisting the development of civil society, Res Publica convened a panel discussion entitled #DemocraCE: Civil Society Renewal in the Digital Era. This conversation afforded us the opportunity to gather first-hand opinions from leading social researchers in the Visegrad countries on the new generation of civil society activists in the region. Additionally, the discussion included the panelists recommendations for fostering civic activity and support for democratic values in the light of the ongoing democratic backsliding in Central Europe as well as covering issues like migration, xenophobia and media integrity. The debate on civil society in the digital era underlined the importance of the transnational debate in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in the current climate of political uncertainty permeating the wider CEE region, and the importance of civil society renovation and revitalisation, so that it can meet the fresh challenges and threats posed by the rise of far-right. Therefore, civil society actors are able to learn a few lessons from the debate, which can be put in general as the need to adapt to the digital era and to better represent


the values and priorities of the younger generation. In more detail (though each CEE country differs and the advice is not of equal importance to all), we should take into account the following: −− face-to-face political activity remains more effective −− effective engagement of young people should be operated throughout all levels of social and cultural spaces, not limited to social media −− the deepening disparities and inequalities at the sub-national level should be addressed −− providing progressive debates and the maintenance of civil society is crucial for the long-term future of Central Europe −− a stronger sense of belonging for young people needs to be encouraged −− clear messaging on represented values ought to be offered −− prioritising the reinvention of civil society to fit the new generation. As one cannot take past, static definitions of our values and anachronistically use them today when our democracies are undergoing so many changes, civil society needs to be prepared to keep up the pace with this evolution. In many aspects, civil society proponents need to engage with opposing viewpoints directly on social issues relevant to the individual countries of Central Europe.




Time Formal Voluntary Informal Voluntary 12.0 13.2 22.5 23.0 19.9* 14.2* 28.8 25.1

No Interests Formal Voluntary Informal Voluntary 38.7 33.9 38.1 38.1 31.5* 9.2* 25.2 22.4

Other Formal Voluntary Informal Voluntary 36.2 34.7 30.1 30.2 33.8* 23.6* 37.9 34.4

* low reliability Source: Eurostat (online data code: ilc_scp21), 2015.


Time age 16-24 3.8 6.8 9.0* 13.5

age 25-34 7.1 11.2 13.7* 17.3

No Interests age 16-24 age 25-34 56.8 58.5 59.8 55.0 54.9* 47.5* 51.1 49.2

Other age 16-24 36.1 29.4 30.4* 33.2

age 25-34 30 29.8 30.6* 30.6

* low reliability Source: Eurostat (online data code: ilc_scp21), 2015.





30 19 19 32

A youth club, leisure-time club or any kind of youth organisation 18 11 13 23

A local A cultural An organisation An organisation organisation organisation promoting active in the aimed at human rights domain of climate improving your or global change/environme local community development ntal issues 11 18 6 7 10 7 3 6 12 10 5 1 13 23 11 9

A political organisation or a political party

None of these

2 1 2 5

49 63 60 43



No* 86 53 45 no data

No, but I plan** 10 27 29 no data

Yes*** 2 15 22 no data

No Answer 2 5 4 no data

* No, I haven’t been involved and I do not plan to get involved ** No, I haven’t been involved but I plan to get involved *** Yes, I have been involved Source: „Central Europe: Youth, Politics, Democracy”. Report of The National Democratic Institution, 2018.


Liberal Democracy age 18-24 age 25-34 62.7 66.2 59.8 75.1 70.8 66.0 71.0 64.1


age 18-24 19.0 29.9 20.8 26.5

age 25-34 27.8 21.6 24.7 26.5

Don’t Know age 18-24 age 25-34 18.3 6.0 10.3 3.3 8.4 9.3 2.5 9.4

Source: GLOBSEC YOUTH TRENDS: How Young Central Europeans View the World.



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