THE ‘CHANGE’ AS A THEME GATHERED TOGETHER MORE THAN 90 PARTICIPANTS AT THE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION FORUM NATIONAL MEETING
The change around us – the one we wish for and strive for, begins with a change in each of us. This was the main message of the two-day National meeting for civic participation, organised by the Citizen Participation Forum 17-18 March. The leading theme was “Change – Navigation or Going With the Flow” related to the idea that change globally, in Bulgaria and on a personal level should not be feared or to just watch them happen, but to actually streamline and manage.
The National meeting for civic participation gathered together more than 90 participants country-wide as well as from several European states – mainly civil society representatives. Special guests to the event were representatives of various fields – politics, public institutions and opinion-makers. Their stories of how to make change happen inspired the participants with specific examples how change can instill progress and development; during the discussions they focused on the main societal issues and the most important future changes, for which the civil society organisations should devote resources.
A key speaker at the meeting was Martin Zaimov, a well-known expert in finance and a politician. His strong and emotional speech outlined the global context for change. In his words, recent changes in the world are of a different nature. The good news is that the citizens have more power and influence over them than they actually imagine: ‘Today, there are no obstacle. The obstacles are actually within us, ourselves. On one hand, we have more power than we actually can imagine. We can achieve anything as far as we know what we would like to change. Today is much easier to make a change. Much easier than 40 or even 10 years ago to resist the government and to achieve your own goals. On the other, it becomes more and more difficult to define what is good for the people. The most essential effort that each of us have to make is to get closer to the other and to comprehend the needs…. I also think that it is really crucial to look beyond each personal cause and to imagine the future as a common cause.’
The former Minister of Justice, Hristo Ivanov, also delivered a key message how to make change happen. The most striking image of change for him was the common protests between citizens and judges at the end of 2015. Little public attention has been given that the first protest of judges in the world took place in Bulgaria, where judges are asking for independence.
Hristo Ivanov discussed his role in the judicial reform – as a Minister, and as a civil society representative. According to him, a major share of the civil society organisations’ activities provoke a scandal when they try to induce a change in society: ‘A public scandal is somehow underestimated as a tool for social change. Scandal attracts the public’s’ attention leading to a potency for catharsis. Public scandals give us a chance to raise awareness and divert the public attention to a major societal issue and to find a possible solution together. The whole political discourse for balancing stability now is actually accepting the lack thereof and the reverse changes… The strength of civil society organisations is in their fight for a cause, for what is right and just, which gives a strong dose of courage… The wind of history is stronger today and comes an era of change… Tailwind might be blowing if you dare to stretch the sails ’
An interesting aspect on the theme of change presented Margarita Assadurova – expert in visual communication and image consultant. She focused her speech on the stereotypes in our mainstream culture regarding change as a negative connotation, something to be feared: ‘The more we are aware of our emotions, the more we know how to make change happen.’
She also added an interesting aspect to the perception of anger as one of the basic human emotions (joy, sadness, fear included): ‘Being angry is a positive. When there is anger, this means that we have a natural need of respect. The angry person is the one that doesn’t give up from pursuing justice. This is the good news. We are all angry and this anger can be infectious. Hence we have a great energy for change. The question is what we do with it…’
A wonderful illustration of the idea that change can only happen inside out is the metaphor Margarita Assadurova presented: ‘If an egg is broken by an outside force, life ends. If is broken by an inside force, life begins. Great things always begin from the inside.’
In the afternoon panel on the first day, we met more people inspiring change, who shared with us their approach and views. Daniela Ursic from Vienna municipality presented the example with the changes achieved in the cooperation between the citizens and institutions. Ashod Derandonyan from the Listen Up Foundation focused the audience’s attention on how difficult it is to change attitudes towards the different groups. Daniela Bozhinova from the Bulgarian Association for Promotion of Citizens Initiatives presented the recent initiative ‘Participation, Not Predestination’. Its main goal is to amend the Direct Citizen Participation in Government Act in a way to allow for the removal of obstacles before organising and holding referenda and civic initiatives. Elenko Elenkov from ‘Begach/Runner’ Club gave a presentation about the charity runs – 7 competitions throughout the year, in which more than 4,000 people take part and raise over 30,000 leva for charity purposes. Emiliya Lissichkova from Agora Platform presented the organisation’s approach for the development of local communities in the small villages in Bulgaria that is conducive to change in the context and the living conditions.
The agenda during the second day of the National meeting also proved quite interesting. The concept as a ‘debate duel’ between political figures and representatives from public institutions, on one hand, and civil society representatives, on the other, turned into a constructive dialogue.
The participants presented three different studies about the civic consultations and dialogue, all coming to similar conclusions. Luben Panov, the Bulgarian Center for Non-Profit Law Director discussed the recommendations and conclusions of the Citizen Participation Index, developed by CPF and BCNL. Toma Belev, a leading expert in environmental studies, gave an overview of the outcomes of national survey for participation of environmental organisations in consultative bodies of the national and local government. Daniela Simeonova, the Bulgarian School of Politics ‘Programmes’ Director, analysed the web platform Citizen Metre/Grazhdanomer, where every visitor can check their knowledge about citizen rights, how the institutions function and what the main democratic principles proclaim.
Part of the ‘civic dialogues’ was also Grozdan Karadzhov, a Reformist Bloc MP, who emphasised the importance of the public institutions to acknowledge civil society organisations as partners, whose expertise is key to finding common solutions. He discussed with the National meeting participants how their vigilance and civic pressure are essential for two key changes in particular – the introduction of electronic identity in the personal documents and for open access to public data, i.e. open data/open government. Open data and the Legal Acts were also in the focus of Milena Nedeva and Atanas Slavov, advisers at the Deputy Prime Minister office of Rumyana Bachvarova. The deputy chair of the National Association of the municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria and Troyan municipality mayor, Donka Mihaylova added another dimension to the discussion. She mentioned that not only the dialogue between the institutions and civil society should be improved, but the outcome of this collaboration.
Change was the overall theme throughout the whole Citizen Participation meeting. Thus the organisers gave the opportunity to everyone to capture the inspiration and their personal pledge for change. You can see a short video of the brave ones.
The Citizen Participation National meeting “Change: Navigation or Going With the Flow” is a part of the project ‘CPF – the network in action’, funded under EEA NGO Programme Grants contract 101/24.10.2014 www.ngogrants.bg
The even is also co-funded by Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. www.mott.org