World NGO day in Montenegro is marked by shrinking space for NGO development

On the occasion of 27 February – the World Day of Non-Governmental Organizations – the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points out the complex position of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Montenegro. The changes in government did not lead to the necessary improvement of the legislative and institutional framework for the participation of NGOs in shaping and implementing public policies, as well as for the financial sustainability of NGOs. On the contrary, this part has gone backwards, and numerous services provided by NGOs have been called into question because the Government has not implemented many tenders that the current legal framework obliges it to do.

Findings of the public opinion survey on the role of civil society in the process of democratization and Europeanization of Montenegro, conducted by the CCE within the project “CSOs in Montenegro – from basic services to policy formulation – M’BASE“, with the support of the EU Delegation to Montenegro and the Ministry Public Administration, indicate that citizens see NGOs as the most prominent part of the civil sector and that there is a prevailing positive attitude towards them and an assessment that they do a good job. Also, in determining the most important role of NGOs in society, the prevailing view is that NGOs should be harsh critics of the work of the Government, local self-governments, state bodies and institutions. This is followed by the standpoints that NGOs should monitor the work of the Government, local self-governments, state bodies and institutions, and participate in the drafting of laws, strategies and other important acts and decisions. Additionally, the majority of citizens (45.1%) believe that NGOs work in their and the public interest, as well as that NGOs have considerable influence in society (43.8% of them cumulatively recognize a certain type of NGO influence), which is disproportionate to the real possibilities of NGOs, but also a reflection of the deficit of trust in the institutional framework. NGOs are predominantly recognized as necessary, important, professional, reliable, accessible, transparent and helpful, and citizens also see them as modern and successful organizations. When it comes to the Government’s relationship with NGOs, the opinion expressed is that this Government has taken over those NGOs and leaders who answered to it, while it has a negative attitude towards others (24.2%).

The change of government did not expand the space for dialogue between the Government and NGOs, as the new authorities also took over the bad practices of the previous ones, applying a different approach to NGOs depending on whether they are criticized or not, trying to threaten the autonomy of NGO activities. Availability of information remains a huge problem, which hinders the work and reach of NGOs.

NGO support is not a priority of the Government, which results in a delay in the announcement of Calls, as well as the absence of some of the long-standing calls for project funding. This put primarily small and medium-sized service-type NGOs in a difficult situation, but it also affected the intensity of the work of other organizations.

The degree of development of the political culture of each Government is also measured by its attitude towards NGOs, especially towards critically oriented NGOs. Unfortunately, all Montenegrin Governments have failed this test so far, and it is worrying that after so many years of work on strengthening the mechanisms of cooperation with the Government, today these mechanisms are the weakest and the number of relevant NGOs that want to participate in them is decreasing.

Bearing in mind that the last period was marked by polarization and radicalization of Montenegrin society, it is important to emphasize that European values and their promotion are key factors for stabilization and that the civil sector is one of the key actors for such action.

The proposal to establish the World Day of Non-Governmental Organizations was submitted by the philosopher and activist Marcis Liors Skadmanis in 2010 at the Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations of the Baltic Region, but it took several years, although the proposal was then adopted, for the wider celebration of this day to take root.

Mira Popović Trstenjak, Democratization and Europeanization programme coordinator