Challenging path to dialogue and cooperation between the NGOs and political parties

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), today organised a conference titled Representative and Participatory Democracy in Montenegro.

Conference was opened by Daliborka Uljarević, CCE Executive director, who pointed out that the aim of this conference was “to stimulate direct dialogue between two very influential structures in Montenegrin context – representatives of political parties and non-governmental organisations – in order to look back on some of the issues which coloured Montenegrin public discourse for quite some time and which remain insufficiently elaborated, thus prone to manipulations”. Furthermore, she assessed: “In modern democracies, which came to be by separating the private from public, state and society, the synergy in the acting of political parties and civil society is not in the focus. However, this is the focus in societies such as Montenegrin which still has not separated the private from public, which hasn’t established the responsibility of decision-makers in relation to those who elected them, nor in relation to public interest, in which the autonomous critical expression still suffers from violation of privacy and attempts of discrediting one’s personality”. She reminded that civic participation in Montenegro is still, dominantly, expressed through activism of civic or non-governmental organisations, but that “unfortunately, the contribution of NGO sector is still not considered as potential, and that partnerships between the NGOs, state and political parties are hard to establish, which could essentially contribute in the increase of level of quality, responsibility and transparency of political decisions and public interest”. Uljarević concluded by saying that “work of non-governmental organisations in Montenegro is atypical for some countries of region, especially for states of developed western democracy. Actually, this is the typical role of non-governmental organisations in societies which face the deficit of democracy, or that have still not established a functional system of rule of law, such as Montenegro”.


Neven Cvetićanin PhD, from the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade, reflected on current state affairs of democracy and relation of representative and participatory democracy in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, pointing out that “the area of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe is a space of social clefts, and the basic obstacle for the development of democracy within a society, regardless of the model of democracy, are social clefts which prevent the normality and stability of democratic model, which is why these areas, more or less, have unconsolidated democracies which face the task of pacifying social clefts to which the societies of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe are the subject of”. Cvetićanin further clarified: “Simply put, it has always been a challenge in these areas to establish cooperation between the state and society, or between the politics and non-political actors”. He emphasised that stability gives the political elites the «inclusiveness, used to involve as many of social actors, non-governmental organisations, expert groups, religious communities, and every other typical non-political actors». By discussing the clefts which characterise particular countries of the region, Cvetićanin estimated: “Montenegro also faces social clefts between the so called Montenegrin and pro-Serbian block, but they are not as drastic like in Macedonia or B&H, and in my opinion the most important task which lies before the political elite of Montenegro is to overcome this cleft, and make some kind of Montenegrin-Serbian reconciliation, so that the democratic process could be completely valid.” By concluding, he stated: “Finally, representative and participatory democracy in region face a challenge of the fact that the democratic model itself in our time is brought to question, which is causing the «mainstream» policy to slowly die off, and thus the European Union itself is searching for a new institutional model of integration”.

Goran Đurović, president of Managing Board of Coalition of NGOs “Through cooperation to the aim”, estimated: “There is no developed dialogue between the NGOs and political parties, aside of some sporadic cases and ad hoc relations. Political parties do nothing to establish systematic communication with NGOs, even the opposition ones, which do not utilise the resources of non-governmental sector, and I believe that it is a luxury which they cannot afford”. He particularly reflected on the work of Parliament, the body which primarily translates the concept of representative democracy, stating that the Administrative committee, as well as the MPs at large, have often “flagrantly violated the law and prevented those representatives of NGO sector who had the support in sector from becoming members of different regulatory bodies, which indicates on the need of MPs to arbitrate in autonomous field of civil sector. It seems that MPs cannot cope with the fact that there is someone who could restrain the extent of their political acting.” He also informed the participants of one first instance decision of Basic court which determined the violation of law by the Parliament, as well as that the mechanisms of disputing and illegal decisions of Parliament are still insufficient.

Miodrag Lekić, president of DEMOS, elaborated on the phenomena of democracy and its crisis, reminding that “free elections are an important test of democracy”, thereby also warning that “Western Balkans sees victory on elections as basis for an indefinite governance, unlike other western democracies, where the same is measured and balanced with numerous checks”. Lekić assessed that “the crisis of democracy exists, and that the level of democracy on international level is lower compared to the level that was achieved internally within certain states”. By addressing the role of NGOs, he stated: “Non-governmental organisations are the reflection of political culture, contemporary corrector of democracy, which acts in two directions – in relation to institutions and public opinion. Without a mature public there can be no democracy, and the resistance to populism is an accolade of non-governmental organisations”. He said that “NGO sector is a new moment which reduces the bleakness, which is in ascent, even though it has “Trojan horses” within, but the status of those who have a recognisable and valuable social role has already been differentiated”. Lekić underlined: “Of course that NGOs should deal with politics, since politics is an inevitable activity. The fact that we degraded it, and that a lot is being done to disgust it to others, is an entirely different and broad subject”.

Zlatko Vujović, president of Managing Board of CEMI, estimated that “Montenegrin society is a deeply divided one, and that this division is becoming more pronounced, even radical, since one part of the society is being excluded, i.e. it cannot evolve based on its merits. That leaves room for radical sides to draw more attention and support than they need. Those who have greatest political power do not accept the idea of someone who is willing to criticize the position and opposition. NGO sector is trapped inside that vacuum, trying to remain neutral and objective, but also be able to criticise certain moves, which lead to severe attacks by the political parties. I think that the only right solution is to further strengthen participative democracy”. Vujović reminded of smear campaigns that have been led against the NGO activists. He concluded that “the key line of division in Montenegro basically comes down to allocation of resources, and that the significant part of society is excluded when it comes to decision-making on public resources, as well as that anyone who openly discusses on social deviations is unwanted. Political parties use the divisions in Montenegro to thrive, which proved to be useful even in the latest pre-election campaign. NGOs are a corrective, but they also face severe attacks, due to the misunderstanding in Montenegro that there are sufficient resources for each actor of this process”.

Suljo Mustafić, political director of Bosniak Party, pointed out that “the relation of political public is highly complicated in Montenegro, both in terms of growing populism, and in other segments. Populism in Montenegro is taking its hold, thus additionally reducing the level of political culture, and contributing to some other negative tendencies for which outcomes we already pay the high price”. By focusing on the work of Parliament, he noted: “Parliament passed the Code of Conduct two years ago, but even though that document was triumphantly emphasised, it was soon crushed by the same people who worked on it for the sake of narrow political interests”. Mustafić estimated that “NGO sector is a good corrective of society, which evolves and could serve as an example of good political culture, considering the size of Montenegro”, but also expressed his view that: “NGOs could deal with politics, but only if they were registered as parties”. He indicated that “analysts and NGO activists should take care of the responsibility of public word, and especially be sensible when it comes to minority parties”.

Vanja Ćalović Marković, executive director of MANS, reminded: “There is a word in English language – policy – which includes economic, anti-corruptive, social policy. Thus, terms of the broader meaning of word, all NGOs deal with policy, especially that policy which is not in the focus of state institutions”. Ćalović Marković further clarified: “Majority of NGOs deal with policies which is acceptable to everyone, even those who are in power, as long as the activities of NGOs do not jeopardise their interests. Whenever the government doesn’t have the answer to arguments, their response comes down to “establish your own political party”, which indicates on the capacity of this society”. She pointed out that no government is perfect, but that the difference lies in relation to different parts of society: “Sweden does not impute any affairs to NGOs and tells them “we will talk once you become a political party”. This government wants us to be an ornament, not to criticise it when Montenegro is being sold away. When we say that there is corruption in the election process, they label us as foreign mercenaries, who came to destroy the foundations of democracy, even though they brag with donations from those same foreign donors”.

Tarzan Milošević, political director of Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), pointed out: “Different, freely expressed interests and values, are not just the essence of pluralism as one of the founding tenets of democracy, but an integral part of process of creation and implementation of sustainable public policies. Hence, the creation of legal, institutional and other conditions for the sake of development and undisrupted acting of NGOs is one of the assumptions of strengthening of democratic processes, political stability and prosperity of each state”. He further stated: “DPS often called every political subject, even the NGOs, to show bigger understanding when it comes to key development objectives of Montenegro, considering that it was hard for DPS to work on the improvement of economy and development while the majority of other political and other social structures had different opinions through their acting. It is a known fact that the role of NGOs is to recognise the needs of the citizens and inform political parties on the same, and that it is up to political parties to transform those needs into rules, laws and decisions that will serve their interest. Only in this way parties and civil society organisations can build effective solutions for problems of citizens, if we want to work in their interest”.

Dragan Krapović, member of presidency of Democrats of Montenegro, said that in the framework of the work of his party “the issue of participatory democracy is primarily the issue of inclusion. Inclusion of all factors does not have an alternative. We came to the point where everybody’s voice must be heard, each according to its agenda and approach. I believe that current political elites are obsolete, encumbered with past and affairs and cannot be adequately persuaded to something like that”. Krapović reminded: “We have emphasised that segment of policy in Montenegro a lot, namely the segment of intentional polarisation of society, which is why we stepped forward with a moto “Victories, not divisions”. He concluded: “New times are coming, times in which people are not encumbered. Emancipatory breakthrough is possible, but until that happens, I’m not sure about the direction in which this society is headed to.”

Stevo MUK, president of Managing Board of Institute Alternative, provided his critical review on the opinion that NGOs should not be involved in politics and pointed out that he personally chairs an NGO which deals precisely with public policies. By speaking about the context in which the NGOs currently operate, he noted: “NGOs are pro-western critics of regime, but their situation is worse than ever, because from one side they are observed by the political regime – DPS, which has a lot to blame on them, and on the other, there is DF with accusations that they do not criticize enough and because of their foreign political orientation. Therefore, the area of free expression is more than ever before polluted today with dictionary of discrediting certain number of NGOs, which only further reduces the political culture and based on which no one can benefit”. He particularly reflected on constant issue of legitimacy of NGOs, because political parties gain that legitimacy on the elections, thereby concluding: “Simply put, we represent ourselves, because we are the civil society, and I quote: Civil sector, meaning us, the citizens, who want their voices to be heard”.

Conference was attended by more than 60 representatives of NGOs, political parties, institutions, diplomatic corps, and etc.

Svetlana Pešić, programme associate