On 10th June 2021, BCSDN held the extended session of its 15th Annual Council Meeting. Representatives of BCSDN member organizations joined together virtually to discuss the civil society situation in their countries, the difficult operating environments and circumstances in times of COVID-19, and the current issues in their organizations. The meeting also served as a networking opportunity for BCSDN EO and its members to exchange best practices of civil society development in the region, identify common challenges, and create new synergies.
The first part of the networking event focused on the impact that civil society has had during the last year, focusing on issues such as the CSOs’ financial constraints, the lack of governments’ transparency, and the difficulties for CSOs to reach their beneficiaries. Some of the positive stories exchanged reflected the active civil society participation and advocacy for inclusion in crisis management bodies. The members also provided insight into the state of the basic freedoms in their countries, particularly on the right to assembly and organized protests, the governments’ repression against journalists and media, and the practices on the state funding system for CSOs in the region.
Regarding the COVID-19 impact, problems, and practices for civil society, the discussion mainly focused on the issues such as the CSOs’ adjustment to the new situation and role in providing services to the most vulnerable categories in society. The members also emphasized the decrease of public funding to CSOs and the obstacles they faced with addressing the pandemic challenges, on the one hand, and the increased donor flexibility on the other hand. The media criticism against governments’ efforts for handling the crisis, the lack of multi stake-holder participation in crisis-management bodies, the polarization of the civil society sector, etc., were also recognized as common negative trends during the pandemic.
Besides the difficult times, the members continued with their monitoring and advocacy efforts towards strengthening the civic space and the civil society position in the Balkans. Some of them, facing financial hardships, explored new opportunities to increase the cooperation with other networks and CSOs. The members also tested new opportunities for capacity building of CSOs through training practices for youth, strengthening activism and solidarity among communities. The representatives shared their current projects and funding opportunities, and through the work in the national resource centers, committed to providing further funding and capacity-building opportunities to CSOs.
The event concluded with acknowledgments for the significant achievements and persistence of BCSDN members, which, besides the difficult times and challenging operational environment, contributed to protecting the region’s civic space, providing a basis for future collaborations within the network and among the members individually.