Or: “whom has been given to speak, to defend, explain or keep quiet”
In the last few days, Vienna hosted the leaders of the European Union, its countries and the Western Balkans countries, in the context of the continuation of support to the EU accession process of the region, which was launched last year in Berlin. On the sidelines of this year’s summit, as a innovation compared to last year’s event, a Civil Society Forum was organised. With the support of BiEPAG, Balkan in Europe Policy Advisory Group, recommendations for regional cooperation, freedom of media and expression and creating jobs and prosperity were formulated and presented to the leaders’ summit. BiEPAG has prepared an analysis on bilateral issues which was the basis for drafting the adopted Declaration. Also, on the Forum day, in the eve of the summit, through working groups, representatives of civil society have discussed how to continue joint activities and monitor progress in the implementation of reforms for the benefit of the entire region. Networking and fellowship as the two essential components of the progress.
Forum in a nutshell? The introductory section was opened by the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs and representatives of five small NGOs who have sent a clear message: Don’t ever again make decisions about us without us! The central part of the Forum was the discussion of five Western Balkans and the EU leaders and six NGO representatives, in an interesting arrangement – circle, surrounded by more than 250 representatives of civil society organizations and other guests. In accordance with a joke of two prime ministers – Vučić “fast” (and “theatrical”), Rama “furious” and concrete. The others (Lukšić, Han and Crnadak), have stayed in the shadow of reunion of Serbian and Albanian Prime Minister, re-organised the following day on the set of the TV show “Okruženje”. Panelists from civil society were a little bit more concise and direct. Unlike them, the discussion of the politicians was too extensive and barely interactive, which is why there was not enough time left for questions from the audience and a real discussion. Unless we take into account the wit of the listeners and extorted answers about the daily “Informer”, (not) freedom and control of media.
According to the speech of Deputy Prime Minister Lukšić, there is no any problem in Montenegro, enriched with everyday DPS rhetoric about the evidence that we are leaders in the region and encouraged by signing Border Demarcation Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. So, what are the indicators of that success? Lukšić claims that, regarding the freedom of media, Montenegro is the best in the region. We know that it’s not, but, just to be sure, we have checked once again all available sources and indexes, such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. It is not. Present in the room objected to this statement. I guess it was expected that the audience has a collective amnesia.
Science and education represent, in fact, the adoption of values, stated further Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration in Vienna. Especially in a country where the Minister of Science was accused of plagiarism, and the charges against her were dropped because of the obsolescence, must be added. So, what values? Clearly, neither this event could have passed without the mantra “The Government of Montenegro has directly involved civil society representatives in the negotiating working groups.” In this way, from the very beginning of the negotiations, the Government is trying to prove that its relationship with civil society has progressed and became full of confidence. But, why not mention the selective access to information, limited reporting on the implementation of action plans, or the impossibility of accessing the decisions taken regarding the negotiation process? Neither the EU itself completely realises the essential role and contribution of civil society to the democratisation of the countries in transition, so the Commissioner Hahn himself has wistfully concluded at the Forum that it often seems to him that the civil society and the Government are two parallel worlds. In Montenegro they are, because the Government keeps civil society in this “gap”, with the EU contributing by arbitrary deciding what documents can and cannot be published in the process of European integration.
The answer to the question from the beginning of this text – “whom has been given to speak, to defend, explain and keep quiet”, borrowed from the great text about the novel “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov, is: always and mostly politicians. Even when they have nothing to say or give a mislead information or restrict the freedom of speech. The voice of the civil sector in Vienna was not shy, but it is clear to everyone that it demands more attention from the other side and concrete response / actions regarding the identified deficiencies.
Dr Jovana Marović
Research coordinator at Institute alternative and the member of the Working group for the Chapter 23
Text originally published in the section ,,Forum” of Daily Vijesti