On the occasion of III Eastern Partnership Days organised by East Poland House, the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) invited three of its grantees to speak about the situation of civic activism in their countries.
Democratic Values in EaP
Teona Henderson from Georgia (Tbilisi Solidarity Network), Taras Yatsenko from Ukraine (media hub tvoemisto.tv) and Vitalie Sprinceana from Moldova (Moldova Young Artists Association Oberliht) shed some light on the civil society’s struggle for democratic values and social development in their respective home lands, talked about challenges they face as pro-democracy and social activists, and showcased their biggest achievements.
Timur Onica, EED’s Programme Officer East got the meeting underway by noting that democratic values in the Eastern Partnership countries are often instrumentalised for propaganda purposes by the respective regimes, with democracy portrayed as a political tool of the West used in high politics battles to subjugate other countries. This makes democracy somewhat toxic in EaP societies, while activists are stigmatised as foreign agents. This is where the role of pro-democracy grass-roots activists and EED comes into play: with our efforts we provide the proof that democratic and European values are not the tools of governments, but rather guiding lines for empowering people to tackle the real, local problems in their countries.
Ukraine – “future of the country in our hands”
Taras based his intervention on the findings of the SCORE index survey on Ukraine, indicating that at the moment the level of civic engagement in Ukraine is strikingly low, especially when compared to the Maidan times. During the dignity revolution, everyone in Ukraine was a civil activist, knowing that the future of the country was in their hands. Today many people seem tired, disillusioned and misinformed. Still, despite of the situation in Donbas, the pro-European orientation remains equally vivid all around the country, fostered by good examples of civic involvement and general optimism towards a change. It seems that nowadays in Ukraine these are the local organisations which are taking a step forward and contributing significantly to solve the national problems, with a positive outcome on the level of cooperation with local governments, as showcased by tvoemisto.tv.
Vitalie – community organiser, journalist, involved citizen, feminist, philosopher - as he describes himself, indicated the trouble we encounter when using the term “civic activism”, as usually the activities branded with this particular lemma are re-active by definition. As a big fan of participation, perceived as a one of the primary values, Vitalie described participatory processes as a mechanism in which you can actually see the mechanisms of exclusion working. Through his urban civic network, Vitalie is trying to create a movement tightly connected to other groups and movements, which de facto talk about the same things, but on a different facet, and re-connect people sharing the same faith. He emphasised how careful we should be when approaching the value question, as values are dynamic entities in the constant process of change. He concluded that as activists alone have limited horizons, help from beyond is still needed.
From Georgia to Georgia
Teona grew up in the United States, but one day she suddenly decided that her real vocation was to bring change in her home land, Georgia, where she moved directly from the US state sharing the same name. Her source of inspiration was what she calls “Ella Baker model”; Ella Baker was the behind-the-scenes organizer of Luther King’s campaign, a person that a very few people actually heard of.
The point Teona made during her EED presentation was that there are too many people who do not get proper appreciation for the crucial work they do behind the scenes. In her view, Georgia is full of flamboyant personalities who do not bring any substance with her work, with lack of real content hidden behind political discourses. That is why she decided to create a civil society network based on “one to one” organising style, truly grassroots, creating space for values and ideas, and fighting the above syndrome. Teona believes that democratic values are deeply imprinted in the EaP, but there are not enough people who are actually empowered to be their multipliers. The key to solve the problem is shifting the focus from the elites to the middle class and labour representatives. Her network encourages independent ideas which do not rely on external funding decisions, popularises volunteering and attempts at translating the transition momentum into real citizenship. Tbilisi Solidarity Network believes that tangible improvement of working conditions and real deliverables of a kind are a crucial step towards creating the positive discourse about values, so much needed these days.