What is civil society and how does it work?

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Civil society implies that citizens in different groups, initiatives, and organisations, but even as individuals, by participating in the public space, represent different interests and values. Civil society is a space of initiative and freedom, but also action in accordance with the highest values of the constitutional order.

The organisations in Croatia, through various socially important activities and mainly through volunteer work, locally and nationally, but also at the EU level, significantly contribute to shaping a better and more just society through civic initiatives, promotion and protection of human rights and vulnerable groups, active participation in formulating different national regulations, programmes and strategies, and providing social and public services of general interest in the field of education, healthcare, social welfare, sport, etc.

Government corrective

Without organisations and civic initiatives, which are the most important entities of the civil society, it is impossible to have a good democracy. Independent media and empowered civil society organisations are the guard dogs of democracy and a government corrective. They supervise state institutions and government officials, remind them to keep their promises, warn the public of problems, impose new ideas and topics on the political agenda, inform, educate, and sensitise the public. The extent to which the civil society will be a government corrective of the adverse decisions for the society by the political elites depends on its development and strength.

Institutionalised framework for action

For more than two decades, Croatia has been building the system of institutional support to the civil society in Croatia and its three pillars – Government of the Republic of Croatia Office for cooperation with NGOs, the National Foundation for Civil Society Development, and the Council for the Civil Society Development. To have a developed and strong, synergistically connected civil society is a civilisational democratic achievement, not a threat to democracy. On the contrary, that active civil society hinders non-transparent and individual work of the politicians who do not act in accordance with the public interest and the rule of law.

Project Financing

In a situation where civil society organisations in Croatia are being subjected to administrative violence through ESF tender – through not adhering to the tender announcement calendar, not announcing the tenders, frequent suspensions and cancellations of the tenders, numerous changes to the tender documentation, delays in responding to inquiries and requests, countless inconsistent rules and procedures, inconsistency of implementing bodies, unclear generic responses, lack of flexibility and broader perspectives and a lack of transparency of the whole process – it is insulting and dangerous to claim that political parties are funded through the civil society. The organisations compete in tenders, but if they win funds for their previously planned work and a programme that meets the tender criteria, they can only get earmarked funds, which means that every kuna or euro must be accounted for by the invoice, and the organisation must explain why they spend them while implementing the individual activity.

Public tender financing is subject to control – from administrative checks, capacity checks of the organisation, compliance of the proposed activities with the objectives of the call, to evaluations and audits, and every project must submit financial reports throughout its implementation and at the end. In addition, the organisations must have external audits and are retroactively subject to control of documentation and implemented activities.

Trust

According to research of political literacy of secondary school graduates this year, secondary school seniors show quite low levels of trust in various institutions and sources of information. Their trust in political parties is only at 7.2%, their trust in the Parliament is at 14.7%, and their trust in the Government of the Republic of Croatia is only at 16.7%. Around 60% of the students think that political party members are people who want to network in order to gain something. However, as many as three quarters of young people support the individuals’ involvement in solving social issues, and the study shows that they are aware of the role that civil society has. The topics of public interest are political topics, and the civil society deals with them, but through non-partisan and independent action, not through political parties.

Gong is a beneficiary of operational support – structural support to European think-do-tanks in its entirety “Democratic and Civic Participation” under the Europe for Citizens program.

Gong is a Knowledge Center in the field of civic activism and building democratic institutions of society within the Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.

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