From November 19-21, Kyiv hosted the 7th Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which brought together representatives of 236 NGOs. The slogan of this year’s Forum was, “Promoting reforms in testing times.”
We spoke with several participants about their overall impressions of the Forum, as well as their suggestions for how to improve it and to foster dialogue among civil society organisations in the Eastern Partnership generally.
Boris Navasardyan, President of the Erevan press club:
-For me personally, it was important to understand how the Forum manages to retain a vision of its own role and importance in the changing Eastern Partnership. And to what extent its participation allows the member organisations to realize their potential in its format. This question arises almost every year, but a definite positive response was given only at the first Assembly in 2009. However, the absence of a negative response in our times full of challenges is a good result. I left Kyiv with a clear idea what to do next. In short, there were benefits. As for the organisation, there is even more certainty: me and my colleagues outlined specific actions in the media subgroup that allow to combine efforts to promote free media in our countries and counteract the propaganda war.
It is good that in many areas civil society organisations form a clear vision of the priorities for action and cooperation. Though there is a concern regarding strengthening the institutional framework of the Forum, clear procedures and efficient management. The dedicated funds have not yet yielded the expected results.
Liubov Maksymovych, head of the western Ukrainian “Women’s Perspectives” Centre:
This is the second time our organisation has participated in this meeting. There are many interesting aspects of the Forum, but the most valuable is the communication. There are many interesting people and sessions, and the event has a quite democratic and modern format. As the leader of an NGO, there were many organizational lessons I took away from the event.
But something is missing. A forum involves a large number of people and numerous events held simultaneously. I would like to have had the opportunity to get more information about the events I didn’t have a chance to visit. It would also be nice to have an open database of the Forum’s participants with their contact info. It would be useful for the future activities. Of course, the Forum’s organisers have such a database – why not make all the information about the Forum public? We are civil society; we are meant to be open.
Andriy Kulakov, program director at the NGO “Internews-Ukraine”:
Representing our NGO at this year’s Forum, I had the opportunity to talk to my colleagues from all over the Eastern Partnership countries and discuss plans for the upcoming year. Our media subgroup, which operates as part of the First Group of the Forum, has successfully been implementing joint projects for several years now. We are pleased that the organisers recognised one of these projects, the EaP Media Freedom Watch, with the symbolic award of the Best Project Idea for 2015. Together with our partners, we also discussed prospects for a project on monitoring and countering Russian propaganda in the region.
Since I have had some experience with the Forum in the past, I can attest to the fact that there has been significant improvement in its organisation as an institutionalised platform for dialogue. Creating and expanding the role of the secretariat has contributed significantly to all organisational processes and increased the orderliness of the Forum. Establishing a line of financing for joint projects in sub-granting format also made it possible to implement jointly-elaborated ideas and encourage participants to take on more specific work. The Forum has also become a significant voice on the international level in the region, particularly through its resolutions on various vital issues of the member states. It managed to identify the hot spots and become a platform for decision-making. However, the participants in this year’s discussions suggested that it would be better to make working groups more structured and to increase grants for projects, since ambitious international projects are unlikely to be implemented with relatively small funding amounts.
Nadine Gogu, director of the Centre for Independent Journalism (Chișinău, Moldova):
The forum provided a good networking opportunity for me; colleagues involved in the implementation of joint regional projects had the chance to discuss specific issues related to the project, but also share some new ideas to be implemented in EaP countries. Also, thanks to the fair organised on the first day of the event, more people had the possibility to learn about our recently-implemented projects. I had the opportunity to raise some important issues at the panel on media and to put forward for discussion possible solutions to problems affecting the state of media in EaP countries.
In general, dialogue among civil society organisations in the EaP is not bad, but there is room for improvement. My impression is that there is a kind of fatigue on the part of civil society actors. Not all member organisations are active contributors to this dialogue; consequently the intensity of discussion was lower compared to previous years.
Anton Antonenko, vice president of the DiXi Group:
The Eastern Partnership Forums provide an opportunity to compare notes and communicate once more with colleagues working in the same direction as our organisation – for instance, on monitoring the implementation of Ukraine’s commitments to the Energy Community, which is a part of the Association Agreement. So for us it is important to be aware of in what direction our partners from other countries, including Georgia and Moldova, are moving, what they are doing, and what projects they are implementing. And last but not least, the Forum is an attempt to unite organisations from different countries working in the energy sector around a common project. We try to think about what interesting things we can do together.
The topic of energy is always in a privileged position at the Forum. The “Energy Security and Climate Change” group is made up of energy experts working side-by-side with experts on the environment. That is another challenge: to combine the pursuit of energy security with protection of the environment.
I associate the dialogue among civil society organisations at the Forum with the signing of the Association Agreement. After all, the agreement calls for the cooperation of NGOs in different countries and in different fields to work toward helping their countries become a part of Europe. The practical benefits of the forum are the contacts, communication with people, and the ability to raise your eyes and see the world around. Each of us has many projects, but together we can look beyond their limits.
More information about EaP Civil Society Forum: http://www.eap-csf.eu