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  • LATVIA: ‘Faced with hatred, we focus on delivering a human rights message’

    Kaspars ZalitisAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Kaspars Zālītis about the challenges faced by LGBTI people in Latvia, and the actions undertaken by civil society to broaden civic space for sexual minorities and therefore to make democracy truly inclusive. Kaspars is the director ofMozaika - Association of LGBT and their friends, currently the only LGBTI rights civil society organisation (CSO) in Latvia. Established in 2006, Mozaika promotes gender equality and anti-discrimination; raises awareness of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions of identity;promotes an understanding of diverse family models and their legal recognition; and advocates for the harmonisation ofLatvian laws with international standards.

    1. What is the current situation of LGBTI rights in Latvia?

    On the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map, which measures each country’s respect for LGBTI rights, Latvia ranks 40th within Europe, and last of all European Union (EU) member countries. In turn, the CIVICUS Monitor has reported several restrictions of civic space in Latvia. CSOs working on controversial topics are being targeted, and civil society has found it increasingly difficult to gain access to policy-makers. Mozaika has tried to lobby politicians and policy-makers for years, but they often prefer to meet in private rather than attract any attention that can lead to attacks from right-wing activists and politicians.

    The political climate is hostile for sexual diversity and for diversity as a whole. ‘Moral upbringing’ amendments introduced into the Education Law in 2015 - which mandate schools to promote ‘family values’ and marriage as part of education - have been implemented through the publication of guidelines that have caused fear among teachers of negative reactions if they touch on any LGBTI issues, and sexual and reproductive rights issues more generally. In 2016, a schoolteacher whose students had requested her to start a Gay-Straight Alliance was asked to refrain from doing so, and another teacher faced calls that he should close all his social media accounts so that students wouldn’t see his ‘LGBT-friendly’ attitudes - in other words, he was asked to hide his sexual orientation. Legislators bashed him on social media and insinuated that he was ‘recruiting’ children.

    In March 2018, parliament was quick to dismiss a Cohabitation Bill that would have granted basic rights to non-married couples, including same-sex ones. It did so on the grounds that couples could access these rights by getting married, even though the Latvian Constitution prohibits same-sex marriage. The initiative had started three years earlier through an online petition that gathered 10,000 signatures, which was why parliament had to consider it.

    2. What is the role of religious groups in this?

    Indeed. The Catholic Church has a lot of influence, and it is taking the lead in fighting the LGBTI community and pushing back against women’s rights. For instance, there has been a lot of disagreement over the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, and parliamentary debate on the issue has been postponed until after parliamentary elections are held in October 2018.

    Church leaders and many public officials oppose ratification of the Istanbul Convention because one of its non-discrimination clauses concerns sexual orientation and gender identity. The Catholic Archbishop is rallying against it and has gathered considerable support among political parties and parliamentarians. He has managed to convince them that ratification is part of the secret agenda of so-called ‘genderists’ – an expression that originated in Russia, a country with a very strong cultural influence in Latvia. Church officials, right-wing activists and politicians and anti-LGBTI and anti-abortion groups depict the Convention as contrary to Latvian traditional values and as being aimed at over-sexualising and ‘converting’ children. These arguments are gaining ground among the public.

    This rhetoric is not the exclusive preserve of the Catholic church: the Lutheran church, which is the largest Protestant church in Latvia, is also taking a lead in fighting us and the Istanbul Convention. This is quite strange, because Lutherans, prevalent in Nordic countries, tend to be more liberal. But in Latvia they even voted against having female priests, following the lead of the Catholic church. Additionally, new religious organisations with direct links with US evangelical groups are emerging. Some of their leaders have been trained in the USA and are quite good at influencing people.

    Although religious leaders and organisations don’t have a direct and institutionalised role in policy-making, given that the Latvian Constitution establishes a separation between church and state, in practice they have a lot of influence. Church-state separation notwithstanding, the state has a religious advisory council, as does the City Council. It is not uncommon for the Catholic Archbishop to meet with the ruling coalition’s leading party, and for the party’s leader to then say that he has ‘consulted’ with the Catholic church and has decided to vote in one way or another. You can see a direct link because all this happens in public.

    We, on the contrary, don’t have access to leading politicians because they are not willing to risk their reputations by meeting us in public. At the most, we can expect to have a private meeting here and there. This has a lot of impact on us, especially as we see the religious right rise all over Europe. Religious organisations and right-wing parties are increasingly organised and coordinated to fight against gender equality and LGBTI rights at the European level, and they are getting a major influx of resources from the USA. They have way more resources than we do, and their message also resonates better with the latent homophobia in Latvian society, which is becoming increasingly vocal. And after the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are emboldened. The latest developments in Hungary and Poland are also proof to them that they may be closer to winning.

    3. Has this discourse penetrated the media?

    Most definitely. Our media landscape is quite pluralistic, and the state channel and public broadcaster at least try to provide balanced coverage. But some media outlets are outright hostile towards LGBTI groups, and one of them, a Russian outlet with a major agenda against the rights of women, migrants, refugees and LGBTI people, is clearly leading a crusade against us.

    Vilification of women’s and LGBTI rights groups is also increasingly taking place online. We are now constantly harassed on Facebook. At some point we realised these were not the usual people who used to attack us and we did some research to find out where the attacks were coming from, and found links to evangelical churches.

    Since January 2018, Mozaika has reported over 200 posts that are openly homophobic to social media administrators, and most of them have been taken down and their authors temporarily or permanently blocked. This caused all Mozaika activists to be blocked from accessing certain groups and pages, and we have evidence that a number of secret Facebook and WhatsApp chat groups have been created to follow our activities.

    4. Can you tell us more about the significance of Pride in Latvia and the Baltic Pride that was recently held in the capital, Riga?

    Pride in Latvia is the most visible LGBTI event in the country. It draws widespread social and media attention to our cause, but it also attracts a large number of expressions of hatred and brings to the surface negative attitudes towards the LGBTI community. Pride in Latvia grew from 70 participants who faced 3,000 protesters in 2005, to 5,000 participants at EuroPride 2015, which was held in Riga, and 8,000 in the recent Baltic Pride. In between, it was banned by Riga City Council three times.

    Mozaika applied for permission to hold Baltic Pride in February 2018. Latvian laws state that applications must be submitted no earlier than four months prior to the event and that if there is more than one application for an event to be held at the same time, priority will be given to the first applicant. Mozaika’s representative arrived at Riga City Council an hour before opening to make sure that Baltic Pride was the first applicant, and just seconds after he entered the building Antiglobalists, an anti-rights organisation, arrived to submit another request for an event that would take place at the exact same time and venue, but under the name “Promotion of paedophilia, zoophilia, necrophilia and other perversions.” They wanted to make the statement that if ‘homosexuals’ can promote their ‘perversions’, then they should also be allowed to promote any other perversion they could think of.

    Since it became known in late 2017 that Riga would host Baltic Pride, both Mozaika and Baltic Pride became targets. The leader of the Latvian Green Party-Riga Unit started a //medium.com/@juriskaza/latvian-science-fund-head-asks-to-ban-riga-pride-event-87173b6e2cbe">personal campaign against so-called ‘genderists’. He insisted that Baltic Pride should be banned and set up a Facebook page to ‘inspire’ activists for ‘traditional values’. Starting in January, Baltic Pride organisers received over a hundred personal attacks, warnings or threats. We were insulted, called sick and branded perverts on our Facebook pages on a daily basis. Hate campaigns were launched to convey the idea that Pride is a ‘sex festival’. Countless posts were made showing rainbows and guns, to create fear among potential participants and the LGBTI community and dissuade them from attending. Antiglobalists, Tautas tiesību kustība (National Rights Movement) and activists inspired by right-wing politicians also constantly posted statements to encourage others to stand against Baltic Pride. Sometimes they provided details about our activities, forcing us to restrict them to registered participants to ensure safety. We also had to take unprecedented security measures for Pride events.

    Fortunately, we could find common ground and work closely with the police. Counter-protesters attack and humiliate the police, but we treat them with respect. No public official or security officer supporting us would ever say so publicly, but we have been able to work together behind closed doors. In the end, Baltic Pride was a great success. We would have considered it a success if 2,000 people had attended, but over 8,000 did. There were no major incidents, although at some point eggs and smoke bombs were thrown at participants.

    5. How do you counter the anti-rights message?

    We focus on delivering a human rights message. We never blame the church or call anyone by name - we don’t talk about them. We counter argument with argument, and fiction with facts. If they say that perverts will march, we state the fact that 70 per cent of those ‘perverts’ are straight people with children. Against arguments that ‘naked people’ will march, we simply say we don’t know what Pride they are referring to because we have never had people marching naked in Latvia. When we are called perverts, we thank them for their opinion but insist that we want to have a conversation within a human rights framework. That is, we don’t want to limit anyone’s rights and we want to be able to exercise ours. Compromising and always staying within the confines of a positive message may be personally difficult for many activists, but that is what we are going for, no matter what we hear. We might explode afterwards, but while we meet we listen and stay calm.

    I always meet the Catholic Archbishop at state visits or embassy receptions and we have polite exchanges. I’ve told him I’m non-believer but I know that the message of Jesus is all about love and respect and I don’t see that coming from him – that’s when he leaves the conversation. Within Mozaika there are also religious people, and we have invited churches to have an open and public dialogue, but so far, they have always refused.

    6. What is civil society in Latvia doing to overcome these challenges?

    Civil society uses all the available mechanisms to highlight rights violations in the international arena, including at the EU level, and to try and influence decision-makers and politicians. However, our Minister of Justice, who is openly homophobic and transphobic, ‘does not see’ any restrictions. While we were organising our Pride event, the government was putting a lot of effort into organising celebrations for the centennial of the Latvian state, and often blamed critical CSOs for shaming the country abroad as such an important date approached.

    In this context, Mozaika planned several actions, including a social media campaign (‘I support freedom’) in which public personalities publicly expressed their support for LGBTI rights, and human rights more generally, and demanded that our government ensure that Baltic Pride could take place safely. We aimed to bring in people who are not typically seen as supporters of human rights and LGBTI rights, and then amplify their voices as allies of the LGBTI community. Ultimately, what we wanted to show is that the LGBTI community and its supporters were a lot more numerous and diverse than the handful of activists and the few hundred people who normally show up to our events. We also undertook efforts targeted at international organisations and foreign governments and activists. We asked them to encourage people to participate in Baltic Pride and demand that the authorities guarantee their safety.

    Of course, we continue to monitor, document and report online and offline abuses against LGBTI people, activists and organisations. We take down hate comments and instruct the community to report any attacks that they experience on social media to us so we can work to take down the posts. If prominent hate expressions get out there, we try to respond to them with a counter-message. But we have limited resources, so sometimes we leave them for liberal commentators to deal with, and we focus on using social media to counter the most blatant expressions of hatred, particularly if someone is attacked physically.

    Finally, we are trying to place LGBTI issues and broader diversity issues on the agenda of the campaign for the upcoming October 2018 parliamentary election. We are promoting public debate on these issues, presenting political parties with examples of the rights restrictions that LGBTI people face on a daily basis and asking them to provide policy solutions to create a safe environment for LGBTI people and other minorities. We will consider it a success if three or four political parties include LGBTI issues or other diversity issues on their agenda.

    7. What are your needs and what can donors do to help?

    The one thing we have wanted to do for a long time is a long-term communications campaign – not the kind that individual CSOs put together on their own, but a broader one coordinated by various CSO leaders and activists who provide the substance and set the tone, and that is executed and managed by a professional communications team. The problem is that all CSOs live from project to project and are barely sustainable. Mozaika is able to function thanks to the work of volunteers. So what we need most is resources to ensure sustainability. This includes building capacity, but this has to be done on the basis of the expertise that we already have. We have attended countless training events and seminars, and are tired of going to international meetings just to be told ‘this is the right way to do it’. We need customised approaches to find practical solutions to our specific problems. There is a lot for us to learn from France, Germany, or the USA, but lessons must be customised and they should come alongside the resources to ensure sustainability.

    Civic space in Latvia is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Mozaika through their Facebook page or follow @lgbt_mozaika and @KasparZ on Twitter and Instagram.

     

  • LES GROUPES ANTI-DROITS DE L'HOMME: "Ils ne pensent pas que les droits de l'homme sont universels ou ils ne considèrent pas toutes les personnes comme des êtres humains égaux "

    gordan bosanacDans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants de la société civile, des dirigeants et des experts sur leur expérience des réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits humains. CIVICUS parle de la montée de l'extrémisme des groupes d'extrême droite et du fondamentalisme religieux en Europe de l'Est avec Gordan Bosanac, co-auteur d'une étude de cas sur l'Europe de l'Est pour le rapport du Global Philanthropy Project: « Conservatisme religieux sur la scène mondiale : Menaces et défis pour les droits LGBTI ».

     

    Vous avez travaillé sur diverses questions, du racisme et de la xénophobie au conservatisme religieux et aux droits LGBTQI. Pensez-vous que la montée du nationalisme et attaques contre les droits des migrants et les droits sexuels et reproductifs font tous partie de la même tendance ?

    Tout cela fait indéniablement partie du même phénomène. La grande majorité des organisations qui se mobilisent contre les droits des femmes rejettent également les personnes LGBTQI et les migrants et réfugiés. Ils font tous partie du même mouvement mondial qui rejette les idées démocratiques libérales, et ils se mobilisent tous contre les minorités ou les groupes vulnérables.

    Il s'agit d'un ensemble très hétérogène de groupes et d'organisations. Leur dénominateur commun est ce contre quoi ils luttent : la démocratie libérale. Les groupes néonazis, misogynes, anti-LGBTQI et anti-migrants ont des objectifs différents, mais ils partagent le même programme et y collaborent. Beaucoup de ces groupes se réunissent au Congrès mondial des familles, où vous trouverez beaucoup de discours de haine contre la communauté LGBTQI, contre les femmes et contre les migrants. Ils partagent la même philosophie.

    Pour moi, ces groupes sont exactement l'inverse du mouvement des droits de l'homme, où certaines organisations se concentrent sur les droits des femmes, d'autres sur les droits des LGBTQI, d'autres encore sur les migrants ou les peuples indigènes, ou sur les droits sociaux, culturels ou environnementaux, mais nous avons tous une philosophie fondée sur une vision positive des droits humains. Nous faisons tous partie du mouvement des droits de la personne. C'est exactement le contraire pour eux : ils partagent tous une vision négative des droits de l'homme, ils ne pensent pas qu'ils sont universels, ou ils ne considèrent pas tous les gens comme des êtres humains égaux. Quoi qu'il en soit, ils se mobilisent contre les droits de l'homme.

    Quand et pourquoi des groupes fondamentalistes chrétiens sont-ils apparus en Europe de l'Est ?

    L'une de mes collègues dit que ces groupes existent depuis longtemps. Elle enquête actuellement sur la troisième génération de ces groupes et affirme qu'ils ont vu le jour dans les années 1970, lorsqu'ils se sont mobilisés pour la première fois autour des idées néonazies et contre les droits des femmes. Le tournant le plus récent en Europe de l'Est s'est produit au début des années 2010. Dans de nombreux cas, il s'agit d'une réaction contre les débats politiques nationaux sur les LGBTQI et les droits reproductifs. La Croatie, d'où je viens, était l'une des exceptions en ce sens que ces groupes ne se sont pas mobilisés en réaction aux avancées politiques des groupes de défense des droits des femmes et des LGBTQI, mais plutôt par anticipation et à titre de mesure préventive contre les processus qui progressaient au niveau international, et en particulier contre le mariage homosexuel.

    L'expérience croate s'est déroulée en trois phases. A partir des années 1990, un mouvement anti-avortement s'est développé, dirigé par des prêtres catholiques charismatiques. Après la chute du communisme, l'avortement a été présenté comme étant contraire à la foi religieuse, aux valeurs familiales et à l'identité nationale. L'Église catholique a créé des " centres familiaux " qui offrent des services de soutien aux familles. Depuis le début des années 2000, des organisations indépendantes de la société civile (OSC) formées par des citoyens religieux " concernés " sont apparues. Leur naissance est liée à l'introduction de l'éducation sexuelle dans les programmes scolaires publics. Une troisième phase a commencé vers 2010, avec la montée en puissance d'OSC fondamentalistes liées au niveau national et international, indépendantes de la structure de l'Eglise. Par exemple, les nouveaux groupes avaient des liens avec les mouvements polonais ultraconservateurs "Tradition, Famille, Propriété" et "Ordo Iuris". L'Église catholique est restée à l'arrière-plan et le rôle des porte-paroles anti-droits a été relégué aux citoyens religieux " concernés ".

    En Croatie, les fondamentalistes ont fait bon usage des référendums nationaux organisés à l'initiative des citoyens. En 2013, ils ont rejeté l'égalité en matière de mariage, en grande partie grâce à des lois électorales qui n'exigent pas une participation électorale minimale aux référendums nationaux; la faible participation d'environ 38 %, suffisant à permettre un changement constitutionnel. En revanche, des référendums similaires ont échoué en Roumanie et en Slovaquie grâce à l'exigence d'une participation minimale de 50 %.

    Les groupes de défense des droits de l'homme semblent avoir fait beaucoup de progrès en Europe de l'Est depuis le début des années 2010. Pourquoi ?

    Nous avons commencé à suivre de près ces groupes en Croatie au moment du référendum, et ce que nous avons vu, c'est que leur progression a été liée à la redéfinition de leurs stratégies. Ils étaient démodés, peu attrayants pour leurs publics potentiels et peu habiles dans l'utilisation des instruments de la démocratie directe. A partir de 2010, ils ont changé de stratégie. Le mouvement de lutte contre les droits de l'homme a connu un renouveau rapide, et ses nouveaux dirigeants étaient très jeunes, éloquents et conscients du potentiel des instruments démocratiques. Dans leurs apparitions publiques, ils ont commencé à minimiser la religion, passant du symbolisme religieux à des visuels contemporains, colorés et joyeux. Ils ont commencé à organiser des mobilisations de masse telles que les marches contre l'avortement "Walk for Life", ainsi que des actions de rue à petite échelle, comme la prière contre l'avortement devant les hôpitaux ou la mise en scène de performances. Ironiquement, ils ont appris en observant de près ce que les OSC progressistes en matière de droits de la personne avaient fait : tout ce qu'elles faisaient avec succès, ils l'ont copié. Ils ont également relancé et amélioré les méthodes traditionnelles de pétition, en allant en ligne avec des plateformes telles que CitizenGo.

    Sur le plan international, les groupes de lutte contre les droits ont commencé à prendre forme au milieu des années 1990 en réaction à la quatrième Conférence mondiale des Nations Unies sur les femmes, tenue en 1995 à Beijing. C'est alors qu'un consensus s'est formé autour des droits des femmes en tant que droits humains, et que le genre est apparu à l'ordre du jour. Les groupes religieux se sont sentis vaincus à Pékin. Beaucoup d'universitaires qui ont étudié ce processus ont conclu que l'Église catholique était alors irritée parce qu'elle avait perdu une grande bataille. Ils ont subi plusieurs défaites dans les années qui ont suivi, ce qui les a rendus encore plus furieux. En 2004, la candidature de Rocco Buttiglione, candidat italien à la Commission européenne, a été retirée sous la pression du Parlement européen en raison de ses positions sexistes et homophobes. Les fondamentalistes chrétiens ont également été furieux lorsque des discussions animées ont eu lieu sur la possibilité que les "racines chrétiennes" de l'Europe soient mentionnées dans la Constitution européenne. Tout cela a mis le Vatican très en colère. Il y a eu quelques moments symboliques qui les ont rendus furieux et les ont poussés à lutter plus fermement contre les idées libérales.

    En réaction à cela, ils se sont modernisés, ce qui leur a permis d'avoir des liens de plus en plus étroits avec des groupes évangéliques fondamentalistes basés aux États-Unis, ayant une longue expérience dans l'élaboration de politiques à l'intérieur et en dehors des États-Unis.

    Pensez-vous qu'il s'agit surtout d'un processus du sommet vers la base, ou ces groupes ont-ils véritablement atteint la base ?

    En Europe de l'Est, il s'agit surtout d'un processus descendant, peut-être lié au fait que la plupart de ces groupes sont catholiques chrétiens, et non évangéliques. Ces idées viennent de très haut. Elles sont produites et diffusées par le Vatican depuis des décennies. Ces groupes ne sont pas spontanés et sont très bien organisés. Leurs stratégies ne se sont pas répandues par imitation, mais plutôt parce qu'elles sont toutes dictées par le sommet.

    Cela ne veut pas dire qu'ils n'ont pas pu faire appel aux citoyens ; au contraire, ils l'ont fait avec beaucoup de succès, encore plus que les groupes anti-droits humains. C'est parce qu'ils utilisent un langage très simple et jouent sur les peurs et les insécurités des gens. Ils construisent leur popularité sur les préjugés et les craintes des autres qui sont différents. La peur semble être un moyen facile de mobiliser les gens, mais les gens de gauche ne veulent pas l'utiliser parce qu'ils estiment qu'il n'est pas juste de manipuler les gens. Les groupes de défense des droits, par contre, n'ont aucun problème à faire peur aux gens. Lorsqu'ils sont apparus pour la première fois en Croatie, ces groupes ont obtenu un énorme soutien parce qu'ils ont suscité la peur et se sont ensuite présentés comme les protecteurs et les sauveurs des citoyens contre ce monstre fictif qu'ils avaient créé.

    Quelles sont les principales stratégies que ces groupes ont utilisées pour se développer ?

    Premièrement, ils partagent un discours unifié qui s'articule autour du rejet de ce qu'ils appellent "l'idéologie du genre", qui n'est qu'un signifiant vide pour désigner toute menace qu'ils perçoivent dans un contexte particulier. Ils se déclarent les protecteurs de la famille et de l'ordre naturel et utilisent des stratégies de diffamation et un discours pseudo-scientifique contre les droits des femmes et des personnes LGBTQI. Une rhétorique nationaliste est également omniprésente dans les pays d'Europe de l'Est.

    Deuxièmement, ils ont coopté le discours sur les droits de l'homme et adopté les pratiques d'organisation civique du mouvement des droits de l'homme. Ils profitent non seulement de l'accès direct aux citoyens qui vont à l'église, mais ils mobilisent aussi la base à travers des conférences, des formations, des camps de jeunes et les réseaux sociaux. Ils bénéficient également d'un financement suffisant pour emmener les gens en bus aux rassemblements importants comme les marches « Walk for Life », payer les dépenses de nombreux bénévoles et couvrir le coût de la publicité dispendieuse.

    Troisièmement, ils ont utilisé avec succès des mécanismes référendaires à l'initiative des citoyens. En Croatie et en Slovénie, ils ont recueilli le nombre requis de signatures pour lancer des référendums nationaux contre le mariage homosexuel, qu'ils ont remportés. En Roumanie et en Slovaquie, à leur tour, ils ont réussi à recueillir les signatures mais n'ont pas réussi à satisfaire à l'exigence minimale de participation. Le taux de participation à tous ces référendums a varié de 20 % en Roumanie à 38 % en Croatie, ce qui montre que les fondamentalistes ne bénéficient d'aucun soutien majoritaire, mais qu'ils utilisent toujours intelligemment les mécanismes démocratiques pour faire avancer leur programme.

    Quatrièmement, ils ont recours aux poursuites judiciaires à la fois pour influencer et modifier la législation et pour arrêter les militants des droits humains et les journalistes qui critiquent leur travail. Afin de les faire taire, ils les poursuivent en justice pour diffamation et 'discours de haine contre les chrétiens'. Bien que ces affaires soient généralement rejetées, elles les aident à se positionner en tant que victimes en raison de leurs croyances religieuses.

    Cinquièmement, ils bénéficient non seulement d'une bonne couverture de leurs événements dans les médias grand public, mais ils ont aussi leurs propres médias, principalement des portails d'information en ligne, dans lesquels ils publient de fausses nouvelles qui diffament leurs adversaires, qu'ils diffusent ensuite sur les réseaux sociaux. Ils accueillent et couvrent également des événements conservateurs mettant en vedette des " experts internationaux " qui sont présentés comme les plus hautes autorités sur des questions telles que la sexualité et les droits de l'enfant.

    Sixièmement, ils s'appuient sur une collaboration transnationale à travers l'Europe et avec des groupes basés aux États-Unis.

    Septièmement, ils ciblent le système scolaire, par exemple avec des programmes extrascolaires destinés à influencer les enfants âgés de 4 à 14 ans, lorsqu'ils sont les plus vulnérables et les plus facilement convertibles.

    Enfin, ils travaillent non seulement par l'intermédiaire d'OSC, mais aussi de partis politiques. De cette façon, ils sont également présents aux élections et, dans certains cas, ils acquièrent un pouvoir significatif. C'est le cas du parti d'extrême droite polonais Droit et Justice, qui a pleinement intégré ces groupes dans ses activités. Dans d'autres cas, ils créent leur propre parti politique. C'est ce qui s'est passé en Croatie, où la principale OSC fondamentaliste, "Au nom de la famille", a créé un parti politique appelé "Project Homeland". Le cas de la Roumanie est particulièrement préoccupant à cet égard, car il montre comment les positions fondamentalistes chrétiennes sur les droits LGBTQI peuvent être intégrées dans l'ensemble du spectre politique et religieux.

    En d'autres termes, ces groupes sont présents dans divers espaces, pas seulement au sein de la société civile. Et ils ciblent les principaux partis conservateurs, notamment ceux qui sont membres du Parti populaire européen, le groupe de centre-droit du Parlement européen. Ils essaient de déplacer les partis de centre-droit et conservateurs vers l'extrême droite. C'est leur combat crucial parce que cela peut les mener au pouvoir. Il est de la responsabilité des partis conservateurs du monde entier de résister à ces attaques, et il est dans l'intérêt des groupes progressistes de les protéger également, car s'ils perdent, nous perdons tous.

    Pensez-vous qu'il y a quelque chose que la société civile progressiste puisse faire pour arrêter les groupes anti-droits ?

    Je ne suis pas très optimiste parce que nous les combattons depuis plusieurs années et c'est très difficile, d'autant plus que la mouvance mondiale est aussi en train de changer : il y a une tendance générale à droite qui semble très difficile à contrer.

    Cependant, il y a encore plusieurs choses à faire. La première chose à faire serait de faire la lumière sur ces groupes, de dire aux gens qui ils sont vraiment. Nous devons les exposer pour ce qu'ils sont- les fondamentalistes religieux, les néonazis et ainsi de suite - parce qu'ils cachent leur vrai visage. Selon le contexte local, ils ne sont parfois même pas fiers d'admettre qu'ils sont liés à l'Église. Une fois que ces liens sont mis en évidence, de nombreuses personnes deviennent méfiantes à leur égard. Il faudrait aussi espérer qu'il y ait du bon sens, que les circuits d'argent sale soient dévoilés et que les gens réagissent, ce qui arrive parfois, mais pas toujours.

    Le rôle principal devrait être joué par les croyants qui refusent d'accepter l'utilisation abusive de la religion à des fins extrémistes. Les croyants sont les porte-paroles les plus authentiques contre le fondamentalisme et leur voix peut être beaucoup plus forte que celle des laïcs mobilisés ou de l'opposition politique. Toutefois, l'absence de tels groupes au niveau local, en raison des pressions exercées par les autorités religieuses locales, peut être un problème. Le pape François a sérieusement affaibli les groupes fondamentalistes et il est un excellent exemple de la manière dont les chefs religieux peuvent combattre l'extrémisme religieux et le fondamentalisme.

    Il est également productif d'utiliser l'humour contre eux. Ils ne savent pas vraiment plaisanter ; les situations sarcastiques et humoristiques les déconcertent. Cela peut susciter des soupçons chez de nombreuses personnes. Mais nous devons veiller à ne pas en faire des victimes, car ce sont des experts en matière d'auto-victimisation et ils sauront comment s'en servir contre nous.

    Enfin, permettez-moi de le redire parce que c'est fondamental. Cela peut sembler contre-intuitif, mais il est très important de donner aux partis conservateurs du monde entier les moyens de tenir bon et de résister aux tentatives de détournement d'extrême droite. Les progressistes doivent protéger les partis conservateurs contre les attaques d'extrémistes, sinon ils deviendront des véhicules de l'extrême droite pour accéder au pouvoir, et il sera alors trop tard.

    L'espace civique en Croatie est classé comme " rétréci " par le Monitor CIVICUS.

    Suivez @GordanBosanac sur Twitter.

     

  • MIGRANTS’ RIGHTS: ‘Europe instrumentalises human suffering to deter migration’

    CIVICUS speaks about the situation of migrants and refugees in Greece with Maya Thomas-Davis, an Advocacy and Communications Officer at the Legal Centre Lesvos AMKE, a Greek civil society organisation that provides free legal information and assistance to migrants who arrive by sea to Lesvos, where the Centre is based. The Legal Centre also documents violations of migrants’ rights, advocates for safe and legal migration routes and engages in advocacy and strategic litigation to hold the Greek government, member states of the European Union (EU) and European institutions accountable for their treatment of migrants.

    Maya Thomas Davis

    Photo: Legal Centre Lesvos @Instagram

    What kind of work does the Legal Centre Lesvos do, and how have you managed under the pandemic?

    The Legal Centre Lesvos (LCL) is a civil non-profit legal and political organisation based on principles of solidarity, not charity. Since August 2016, it has provided access to legal information, assistance and representation to migrants arriving by sea on the Greek island of Lesvos. LCL also works towards collective justice and structural change as part of movements resisting Europe’s border imperialism on many fronts, including through advocacy and strategic litigation. LCL was founded following the March 2016 EU-Turkey statement, an agreement of questionable legality through which the European Union turned people seeking freedom, safety and dignity into commodities and bargaining chips: agreeing to pay 6 billion euros to Erdogan’s authoritarian regime in exchange for Turkey acting as a border guard to fortress Europe. This ‘deal’ transformed the island of Lesvos into a site of indefinite imprisonment for migrants. LCL provides access to legal information and assistance in solidarity with migrants trapped here, without losing sight of the fact that migration to Europe is intimately connected with the continent’s imperialist past and present and the interests of global capitalism; that the brutal violations witnessed here are always political choices; and that the people most affected are the most important political actors in challenging and resisting this.

    LCL has an open-door policy, meaning that nobody is turned away or refused legal information or assistance because their case is not ‘strong’ enough, or is unsuitable for strategic litigation. We maintain this position because we believe that, as a bare minimum, everyone has the right to understand the legal framework they are subject to, particularly in the context of asylum law, where consequences can be a matter of life or death.

    To facilitate access to information, prior to the introduction of COVID-19 restrictions LCL had been running regular group information sessions about asylum procedures, in multiple languages. This is certainly one aspect of our work where the pandemic has created difficulties. In Lesvos lockdown measures have been in place since March 2020, varying in degrees of intensity. Group information sessions have been impossible due to limitations on office capacity mandated by restrictions. We have managed to keep the open-door policy in place with strict appointment schedules, with many of us working from home at least some of the time, and we are trying to continue to facilitate broader access to information through other means, such as through updates in multiple languages on our website and social media.

    How did the situation of migrants and refugees evolve in 2020 as a result of the pandemic? 

    The Greek state’s unlawful suspension of the right to asylum on 1 March 2020 and its violent border fortification – with the EU praising Greece as Europe’s ‘shield’ and The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, providing increased material support – coincided with the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe. Although the EU has been perpetrating violence against migrants at its borders for many years, including through pushbacks, it seems Greek and EU officials believed the pandemic would provide the perfect cover to escalate their attack on migrants in the Aegean, with complete impunity.

    Since March 2020, the official number of arrivals by sea to Greece has drastically dropped by a reported 85 per cent as compared to 2019. In the same timeframe, numerous reports and investigations have revealed a systematic practice of collective expulsions on the part of Greek authorities, carried out through a consistent modus operandi, with Frontex’s documented complicity. In every account shared with LCL by pushback survivors, Greek authorities have summarily expelled migrants from Greek territory without registering arrival or facilitating access to asylum procedures. Whether in the middle of the sea or following a landing on an Aegean island, Greek authorities forcibly transfer migrants towards Turkish waters before abandoning them at sea on motorless, unseaworthy dinghies or life rafts, with absolute disregard for whether they live or die. Despite numerous reports, statements, investigations and denunciations of this ongoing attack against migrants, pushbacks at the Aegean Sea border continue with impunity, functioning as an unofficial implementation of the EU-Turkey deal’s objectives while the Turkish border remains officially closed.

    Meanwhile in Lesvos, pandemic-related restrictions have only compounded the situation of police violence, discrimination and effective mass detention for migrants. COVID-19-related restrictions, including curfews and the requirement to carry a justification for movement, have been applied in an unjustifiably discriminatory manner. Recently, on 15 February 2021, for example, the curfew for the general population of Lesvos was lifted from 6pm to 9pm, yet for migrants living in the camp a separate regime of restrictions remains in place: people are subject to a more stringent curfew starting at 5pm and only one family member can leave the camp once a week except for medical or legal appointments. Even with written justification, permission to leave the camp is often arbitrarily denied. The police disproportionately target racialised people in checking documents and justifications for movement as well as in imposing fines.

    Meanwhile changes in the operations of the Regional Asylum Office and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Lesvos, which had been conducting remote interviews with applicants for international protection, have led to further procedural violations. These include obstacles in access to legal aid at first instance and to file appeals within deadlines due to pandemic-related movement restrictions and restricted access to EASO offices; failure to ensure the requisite confidentiality of interviews due to remote interviews via telephone or video being held in inadequate facilities; and inability to comprehensively present grounds for applications due to practical and technical disruptions of asylum interviews.

    As for the sanitary situation, the state has systematically failed to evacuate individuals at risk from overcrowded, unsanitary camps in Lesvos, where distancing measures are impossible. Like the previous Moria camp, which burned down in September 2020, the new reception and identification centre in Mavrovouni/Karatepe – widely known as ‘Moria 2.0’ – is not fit for human habitation. As if conditions of inadequate shelter, healthcare, privacy, food, electricity, running water, hot showers, toilets and other hygiene facilities were not bad enough, since 1926 and until its hasty transformation into a camp in September 2020, the site of Moria 2.0 had been a military firing range, and the Greek government has admitted that a high concentration of lead has been found in samples taken from the site. Lead poisoning causes organ damage, cancer and developmental harm in foetuses and children. There is no level of lead exposure known to be without harmful effects. In such conditions, the Greek state’s failure to transfer people who are disproportionately exposed to danger and death in the inhumane conditions of Moria 2.0 to appropriate living conditions amounts to an attack on migrants’ lives.

    Which would you say are main rights violations that migrants and refugees face in Lesvos?

    That hundreds of people have been, and continue to be, forcibly transferred then abandoned in the middle of the sea by Greek authorities without means to call for rescue, on unseaworthy, motorless dinghies and life rafts, constitutes a spectacular form of state violence against migrants. Beyond rights violations, LCL’s position is that the constituent elements of the consistent modus operandi of collective expulsions in the Aegean, along with the widespread and systematic nature of this attack, amount to crimes against humanity. The practice of systematic pushbacks with impunity reveals the extent to which fortress Europe treats migrants’ lives as disposable, in a manner that has historically accompanied the commission of atrocity crimes.

    The same disregard for migrants’ lives is inherent in the conditions in camps and detention centres people are forced to endure in Lesvos, which are violations of the right to freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment and torture, the rights to liberty and security, to private and family life, to effective remedy, to freedom from discrimination and to life. It is inherent in people being forced to wait in limbo for years, cut off from family, friends, community and purpose, without being able to move forwards or backwards. It is inherent in the EU increasingly prioritising and funding mass effective detention of migrants, through ‘hotspot’ systems, accelerated border procedures, forcible deportations, border militarisation and border externalisation through deals of questionable legality with third countries and by making aid and other financial packages conditional on border fortification.

    While the violence of pushbacks in the Aegean is scandalous and should be treated as such, it is by no means an aberration from the logic of Europe’s border regime, which instrumentalises human suffering for the purpose of deterring migration, at any cost. Even if due process and reception standards mandated by the Common European Asylum System were complied with in Lesvos, many people would still be excluded, and the system would remain violent and fundamentally insufficient to secure the conditions of human flourishing that everyone deserves. For this reason, while the LCL will continue to document, denounce and seek redress for the systematic rights violations in Lesvos, we are conscious that we must simultaneously organise for systemic change: Europe’s human rights framework cannot fail people it was never designed to protect.

    What is your position regarding refugee protests over living conditions in camps and blockages of asylum requests?

    LCL has always acted and organised in solidarity with migrant-led resistance. Over the years this has taken many forms, including protests, hunger strikes, collective publications, assemblies and occupations. The state has responded with attempts to collectively punish organised resistance by migrants in Lesvos. A case in point is that of the Moria 35 a few years ago. But there are many more recent examples of this. Of course, such resistance can be understood as an exercise of human rights such as the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and as a legal organisation, this is always one way of viewing and supporting this kind of action. However, in Lesvos – where rights are systematically violated with complete impunity, where conditions of misery are deliberately imposed, where the situation always seems to get progressively worse just when it already seemed as bad as could be imagined – organised resistance is also in many ways often the only remaining option.

    What kind of support would you need from international civil society to continue doing your work?

    Over the past year, the Greek state brought in new legislation on the registration of civil society organisations, introducing onerous, complex registration and certification requirements that present unnecessary, disproportionate barriers for organisations working in solidarity with migrants in Greece. This will certainly make the work of LCL harder as, of course, it is designed to. The Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe has already expressed its concerns on these new requirements, and further challenges to these measures would be a welcome form of support from international civil society.

    In general, international support and solidarity is needed in the struggle against the increasingly hostile environment for migrants and those working in solidarity with migrants in Greece. Far-right disinformation campaigns making allegations of criminality against migrants and migrant solidarity organisations are increasingly reflected in Greek state practice, such as in the Greek police’s identification of four human rights and migrant solidarity groups in an investigation that accuses them of espionage, forming and membership of a criminal organisation; the Greek state’s systematic prosecution of migrants for facilitation of illegal entry/exit; its perverse decision to prosecute the father of a six-year-old child who tragically drowned in a shipwreck near Samos in November 2020 for endangering his son’s life; and its decision to bring criminal charges against a woman who set herself on fire in desperation in Moria 2.0 in February 2021. Such measures to frame migrants and those who act in solidarity with them as criminals and threats to the nation is a deliberate and effective tactic to obscure the fact that it is states that possess the monopoly on violence and to distract from their systematic violations of migrants’ rights. 

    More broadly, it is clear from the legislative proposals contained in the ‘new’ EU migration and asylum pact that the EU will attempt to roll out the model that has been tested in the laboratory of Lesvos and the other Greek ‘hotspot’ islands, across Europe’s external borders – including detention on arrival; accelerated border procedures in detention based on nationality and asylum recognition rates; deportation sponsorship as a form of ‘solidarity’ between member states; and expanded use of migrants’ personal and biometric data. A new ‘controlled’ camp is set to be constructed in Lesvos this year, in a location that is a known forest fire danger zone and is intentionally remote. Internationalist solidarity will always be our best weapon to organise resistance from below to all these measures.

    Civic space in Greece is rated ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Legal Centre Lesvos through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@lesboslegal on Twitter and@legalcentrelesvos on Instagram

     

  • MIGRATION: ‘The way our countries are treating refugees –this isn't the Europe we want’

    SeaWatchCIVICUS speaks to Giorgia Linardi, spokesperson for Sea-Watch in Italy, and Julian Pahlke, chairperson of Jugend Rettet (‘Youth Rescues’) and former crew member of the Iuventa ship. Sea-Watch and Jugend Rettet both conduct civil search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Central Mediterranean, a route by which migrants and refugees seek to enter Europe. In the face of an ongoing humanitarian crisis, they provide emergency relief, push for rescue operations by European institutions and stand up for legal escape routes and the removal of the root causes of migration and flight.

    Photo: Sea-Watch.org

    When did you decide to organise to help migrants and refugees, and why?

    Julian Pahlke (JP): Jugend Rettet was founded in early 2016 by a couple of young people in Berlin. As young Europeans, we couldn’t let Europe become a mass grave. Ours is such a rich continent. Why would we leave less fortunate people to drown at sea? We might be geographically disconnected from the Mediterranean, but as Europeans we cannot be disconnected from the issue, because if you look at the way our countries are treating migrants and refugees, this is not the Europe we want.

     

  • New Paper: Regulating Political Activity of Civil Society -- A look at 4 EU countries

    A comparative analysis of regulation of civil society organisations’ ‘political activity’ and international funding in Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and Finland. Written by CIVICUS, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, with support from The Community Foundation for Ireland

    RegulatingPoliticalActivityOfCivilSociety650This paper provides a comparative assessment of how the “political activities” of civil society organisations are regulated in Ireland and three other European Union member states. This paper focuses particularly on organisations, such as human rights organisations, which carry out public advocacy activities and rely on international sources for a substantial portion of their funding.

    All four countries are rated as “open” by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform which tracks respect for civic space in 196 countries. These four  european countries are also well known for their strong promotion of civil society, human rights and democratic freedoms through their foreign policy and international development cooperation on programmes. 

    Following a brief outline of key international and regional norms, the paper outlines relevant aspects of domestic regulatory systems in Netherlands, Germany and Finland. A final section sets out what Ireland could learn from these examples, with a view to reforming its laws and policies governing “political activities” and foreign funding of civil society organisations.

    Download Paper

     

  • Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka

    Dear Mr. President

    We, 48 undersigned organizations from 24 countries, strongly condemn the continuing wave of detentions and harassment of peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights defenders, civil society activists, anarchists and opposition party members in Belarus.

     

  • POLAND: ‘People are more understanding and supportive of LGBTQI+ issues than politicians’

     

    Following our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences in facing anti-rights backlash and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about recently established ‘LGBT-free zones’ in Poland with Bart Staszewski, a young LGBTQI+ activist. Bart works as a freelance videographer for various civil society organisations and is a co-founder and board member of the Lublin Equality March Association (LEMA), an organisation that he defines as ‘an LGBTI NGO inside the LGBT-free zone’. For the past eight years, Bart has also taken part in the struggle for marriage equality led by theLove does not Exclude Association.

    Bart Staszewski

    Photo by Przemyslaw Stefaniak

    What challenges do the LGBTQI+ community and its organisations face in Poland?

    I think the main problem is homophobia, which is growing due to the regressive government at all levels, from the national level to the very local. Governments at these different levels are using the same hate speech that we have already seen in Russia, in exactly the same wording, for example accusing LGBTQI+ organisations of disseminating ‘homo-propaganda’. We are also facing growing homophobia on public TV, which disseminates what are basically ‘fake news’ stories about us. They have even used our Facebook posts against us. For instance, during the campaign for parliamentary elections in 2019, some of us were not so positive about a candidate who happened to be the only gay candidate and wrote about it on Facebook. Quotes from our Facebook posts were then used in a campaign against this candidate, to show that even gay activists opposed him.

    They also produced a documentary, ‘Invasion’, which stated that the Polish LGBTQI+ movement is sponsored by the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, who according to them is paying people to attend Pride events; this is why, according to them, so many people are attending our events. They filmed this thing by having people pose as volunteers with LGBTQI+ civil society organisations (CSOs) and bring a spy camera into Pride marches. According to Polish law, CSO volunteers have to get paid a small fee, somewhere between €5 and €8, when travelling outside the city. They used this to create a story that LGBTQI+ organisations are bribing people into attending Pride marches. They do this because while homophobia is on the rise, the LGBTQI+ movement is also growing, and our events are in fact getting the biggest turnout ever, so they are looking into new ways to defame us, including by saying that people are in it for the money.

    But it is not just the government and the state media. The LGBTQI+ movement is not as afraid of the government as we are of anti-rights organisations like Ordo Iuris, a right-wing legal foundation that offers legal assistance to municipalities that are curtailing LGBTQI+ rights. They are a think tank for anti-LGBTQI+ rights and anti-women’s rights policies, supporting reinforcing marriage laws as pertaining to the union of a man and a woman, total abortion bans and divorce bans. This group is quite well connected to the government; for instance, one of its prominent members was Poland’s Secretary of State under the previous right-wing government. They are also connected to Agenda Europe, a pan-European, Christian fundamentalist network that seeks to restore ‘natural order’ and that offers an umbrella for many right-wing organisations across Europe. They say they receive no funding from the government, but they are very well funded.

    They have people who teach in schools and universities and who are running a series of campaigns against us. All of their advocacy and campaigns have turned us into easy targets. Many activists, including myself, have received death threats for denouncing homophobia. Last year the police raided the home of a woman who had created rainbow marriage stickers, like it was such a big deal. I am getting used to the idea and getting ready for something like this to happen to me too. The government has unleashed this with its homophobic rhetoric but now does not take responsibility for its consequences.

    What are the so-called LGBT-free zones, and how are they impacting on the LGBTQI+ community?

    A third of Polish municipalities have adopted resolutions ‘against LGBT propaganda’ which are essentially unwelcoming of LGBTQI+ people and practices – although the way they put it, it is as if being an LGBTQI+ person was some ‘foreign ideology’. As a result, these municipalities have become so-called ‘LGBT-free zones’. Local governments in these municipalities have issued non-binding resolutions in which they pledge to refrain from taking any action to encourage tolerance of LGBTQI+ people. While they do not have material implications in practice, their symbolic effect is huge, as they stigmatise LGBTQI+ people in a way that legitimises further attacks against us.

    In other words, ‘LGBT-free zones’ are the formalisation of homophobia, the institutionalisation of prejudice. They confirm homophobes in their beliefs and encourage them to turn them into action. The hooligans who throw stones at us during Pride marches every year will now feel empowered because the law now tells them that they are ‘protecting Christian values against homo-propaganda and ideology’. Families that don't accept their LGBTQI+ kids will now feel more confident about their hateful decisions. Teachers will feel uncomfortable when teaching content on LGBTQI+ issues in schools, now that they know that local politicians are against it – and they are the ones who make decisions on school funding. Some teachers have even asked us if they are allowed to teach anything at all related to LGBTQI+ issues after the new policies were put in place.

    An increasing number of citizens are more confident than ever that homophobia is good and something to be proud of. The idea that is being disseminated is that there is something wrong with LGBTQI+ people and you’d better be careful around them. Homophobic billboards have gone up in major cities across Poland, accusing homosexuals of molesting kids, associating them with paedophilia.

    Can you tell us about your campaign to challenge ‘LGBT-free zones’?

    Last year, as local governments were declaring ‘LGBT-free zones’ one after the other, I started thinking about how else to call attention to this given that the media was definitely not interested in homophobia as a problem. Our first campaign was in Lubin, where we created a billboard campaign called ‘Love is Love’. While it received some attention, in the end nothing changed and more ‘LGBT-free zones’ were introduced. I thought we needed to try something new. I wondered what I could do to highlight this problem. Along with my boyfriend we came up with the idea to order signs to place in ‘LGBT-free zones’, but then thought that the signs would not be enough: we needed human stories behind them, we needed to show the real people behind this struggle and inside these zones.

    So I came up with another, very simple idea. I asked LGBTQI+ individuals that I knew in municipalities that had been declared ‘LGBT-free zones’ to participate in the project. It was key that the participants were from those areas, either still living there or – if we could not find any LGBTQI+ resident – that they had at least grown up there. I asked them if I could take a few photos of them with the signs, and honestly, I initially thought that this would be just an art project, something for an exhibition. I took the first photos of LGBTQI+ people standing behind the ‘LGBT-free zone’ signposts in December 2019. I asked photographers and art people to participate in the project, but nobody seemed to be interested; they told me that it was repetitive and ‘nothing new’. In December the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution to condemn Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones’ and also the Polish Ombudsman made declarations about it. It was already January 2020 and I felt that nobody was interested in my project so I just uploaded some photos to Facebook page, and then created a webpage, in the hope of triggering some debate in Poland. I never imagined it would lead to a worldwide response.

    Did you get any feedback from the people you photographed regarding the ways in which anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric and policies are affecting their lives?

    Initial reactions depended a lot on how much interest in politics people had. Some of them had not really thought about the amount of homophobia they had been coexisting with. One of my project’s participants, Kate, who was about 18 years old, first told me she did not feel anything had changed after her town had been declared an ‘LGBT-free zone’. But then I asked her how she felt in the small city that she lived in: could she hold hands with her girlfriend, go to a dance with her and dance together as a couple? And she said she could definitely not; she could not even imagine herself going out onto the street with her girlfriend. She was so deeply submerged in homophobia that she didn’t even notice it was happening.

    Homophobia can be invisible, but statistics do not lie. Many young people are committing suicide, and two-thirds of them are LGBTQI+ people. Many members of the LGBTQI+ community have suicidal thoughts and depression. Some people are being kicked out of their homes and families for being gay; their own parents view them as diseased. And all of this is happening in silence. The people behind the hate campaigns against us would never know about it. 

    Another person who joined my project later spoke to a foreign journalist that I put her in contact with, and just a week later she got death threats over Twitter and Facebook, because the name of the village she lives in appeared in the news report. Now people want to burn her house down. Such is the severity of hate.

    As the ‘LGBT-free zone’ campaign took off, several politicians from right-wing parties, as well as Ordo Iuris, appear to have notified the Prosecutor’s Office that by running it I have committed a criminal offence, but I have not yet received any official notification. For the time being, it seems that they are focused on preparing lawsuits against the Atlas of Hate, a map of anti-LGBTQI+ government resolutions in Poland put together by other LGBTQI+ activists.

    What kind of support from the international community and from civil society around the world do Polish LGBTQI+ activists need?

    Of course financial support is something that we always need, because right-wing CSOs are quite well funded, and we are not. But besides funding, we also need to put pressure on our government and the European Union (EU). European countries that have already enshrined LGBTQI+ rights and equality should support us loudly rather than quietly. This is the only thing that is working with this government. They are scared of the EU and of what other countries will say. So we need diplomacy where ambassadors tell the Polish government that they will lose funding if Poland carries on in this way. They need to constantly ask the Polish government about this and put pressure on them.

    We need a well-organised campaign. People can create petitions – I have seen quite a few, and it was a big surprise to me that many of them were launched by private individuals in France and Germany – but after one week, they are dead. In France, 10 CSOs sent a letter to President Macron to ask him to speak up loudly against ‘LGBT-free zones’ during his visit to Poland. But he didn’t say a word about ‘LGBT-free zones’ or the situation of LGBTQI+ people. Maybe he said something in private, but not in front of the media. We need big CSOs to do something about this.

    Fortunately, we are already growing in solidarity. Last year we had the biggest turnout at a Pride march in Poland. My association conducted a survey that showed that even when homophobia is at its highest in Poland, people are more supportive than ever and are marching for equality and in support of same-sex civil unions. Our biggest problem is with the politicians and not the citizens. People have the internet, they have HBO and Netflix, they are more understanding and supportive than politicians. Things are slowly changing for the best, and we need to make sure they keep going that way. But we need international support to do so, or we will end up like Hungary or like Russia in the hands of Vladimir Putin.

    Civic space in Poland is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Lublin Equality March Association through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@marszlublin and@BartStaszewski on Twitter.

     

     

  • POLAND: ‘The crisis of democracy and human rights will deepen’

    CIVICUS speaks with Małgorzata Szuleka about Poland’s recent presidential elections, held under the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ruling party’s use of anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric to mobilise its electorate. Małgorzata is a lawyer at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) Poland, one of the largest and oldest human rights organisations in Poland and the region. HFHR Poland represents victims of human rights abuses in court proceedings, conducts research and monitors human rights violations. Since 2015 it has actively monitored the increasing rule of law violations in Poland. It works with partners in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the European Union (EU) and the USA.

    Małgorzata Szuleka

    After rescheduling, the Polish elections were held in June and July 2020. What was civil society’s position on having an election during the COVID-19 pandemic?

    The elections were originally scheduled for May 2020 and organising them posed a huge legal problem because there was no legal mechanism to postpone them. The only way to reschedule them was to announce a state of emergency, as provided for by the constitution. No elections may be organised during a state of emergency or within the next 90 days of it ending. From a constitutional perspective, an official declaration that the country was experiencing an epidemic would give the government the prerogative to introduce the state of emergency. This would automatically extend the term of office of the president until after regular elections could be scheduled, once the epidemic was over. However, the government did not follow this process. The elections were rescheduled and the run-off vote between the two leading candidates was held on 12 July 2020 on very dubious legal grounds. However, this wasn’t questioned by neither the government majority, nor the opposition.

    Civil society organisations (CSOs) first pushed the government to organise the elections in a proper way, urging it to announce a state of emergency. Once this didn’t happen, CSOs tried to raise the issue of international monitoring, mainly in terms of fairness and financing of the campaign. The problem was that the election was expected to be free but not fair. Public media was biased towards the candidate supported by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, President Andrzej Duda, and extremely critical and unprofessional towards any opposition candidate. Even though no state of emergency had been declared, many fundamental rights such as the freedoms of assembly and access to information were limited. These were major concerns.

    There was also the problem of the Supreme Court confirming the validity of the elections. On 12 July, President Duda was re-elected for a second term by a tight margin. He received 51 per cent of the vote while the opposition Civic Coalition contender received 49 per cent. Turnout was barely above 68 per cent, and more than 5,800 complaints were submitted regarding irregularities in the process. The Supreme Court ruled that 92 of those complaints were justified but had not influenced the final result, so it declared the results valid. Sadly, this decision completely ignored the problem of the constitutional and legal grounds for organising the elections in the first place.

    Were measures adopted to protect people during the campaign and voting process? Did the pandemic have any impact on turnout?

    The organisation of the campaign involved sanitary measures regarding social distancing and mask use. But these provisions were not fully respected on both sides. For campaigning purposes, the government loosened some restrictions; for example, even though face mask use was mandatory, pictures were published of the prime minister not wearing one in public. Also of concern was the fact that many public authorities engaged in political campaigning alongside President Duda. Public institutions were instrumentalised by ruling politicians. The government security centre, responsible for coordination and information in case of natural calamities or danger, sent out mass text messages on election day. Every voter received a message that said that people over 60 years old, pregnant women and people with disabilities could vote without waiting in line. This might have been used to mobilise the core electorate of the ruling party. This is just one example, but it could be an indication of the role played by official institutions to tilt the playing field in favour of the PiS party.

    Was media coverage during the election fair?

    Public media coverage was absolutely unfair. The rest of the coverage, mainly by private media, was relatively good; it definitely was not as bad as public media coverage, which was used for propaganda and enhanced President Duda’s campaign.

    One of elections complaints brought to the Supreme Court specifically referred to media coverage. It stated that public television supported the incumbent while systematically discrediting his rival, and that public institutions and officials repeatedly violated correct conduct by supporting only one of the candidates. But the problem with the entire institution of election complaints is that you need to prove not only that the alleged irregularity happened, but also that it had an impact on the election results. In presidential elections such as this one, this is very difficult to prove. Additionally, the electoral code doesn’t regulate the work of the media, so it’s hard to make the legal claim that the media should operate differently. And if you do, it is also difficult to prove that particular coverage of a particular candidate, or the lack of coverage, resulted in a particular election result. We can intuitively assume this, particularly in view of such tight results, but it is very difficult to create a solid legal case.

    What does President Duda’s re-election mean for democracy and human rights in Poland?

    It is a continuation of a very worrying trend. Out of all possible campaign issues, President Duda chose to focus on stoking homophobia. The campaign took place in a context of a years-long backsliding of the rule of law, in the middle of a crisis of relations between Poland and the EU, during a huge healthcare challenge and on the verge of an economic crisis that will affect everyone in Poland. But none of these issues were the focus of the political campaign and public discussion. President Duda mainly spoke about LGBTQI+ people posing a threat to our Christian traditional heritage, equating homosexuality with paedophilia. The issue was narrowed down to this divisive, outrageous and dehumanising narrative by the PiS party. It was a very pragmatic move from PiS spin doctors because it mobilised the very core of the electorate. All of a sudden LGBTQI+ groups and communities became the scapegoat for everything that is wrong in Poland. It is outrageous how much this issue was politicised and how it was used to dehumanise this minority group. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch.

    And the campaign was far from the end of it. President Duda is just a representative of the ruling PiS party, so he will say whatever he needs to keep them aligned. This is just a matter of calculation and internal power struggles. In June, the PiS party targeted LGBTQI+ people. In July, it targeted victims of domestic violence by starting discussion on withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention. In August, it proposed to register CSOs that are financed from abroad. Now I don’t know who is going to be their next enemy. It’s not only about being homophobic but rather about this governing majority always needing an enemy to confront or blame.

    We just entered a phase in which there will be no elections for the next three years so we can expect a huge consolidation of power and the government doing everything that it dreams of, such as creating pressure on CSOs, further polarising the media, targeting specific minority groups and escalating the conflict with the EU. We can expect all of this to happen over the next three years. The only thing that can stop them is pragmatic evaluation about whether this is needed at this time or whether there might be something more important to do. But I think the crisis of democracy and human rights in Poland will deepen.

    Civic space in Poland is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights-Poland through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@hfhrpl and@m_szuleka on Twitter.

     

  • POLAND: ‘We invented new forms of protest because we had to’

    CIVICUS speaks to Klementyna Suchanow, an activist, author and researcher based in Warsaw, Poland, about the recentannouncement by the Polish governmentthat it will begin the process to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women. Klementyna is one of the founders of thePolish Women’s Strikeand the International Women’s Strike. The Polish Women’s Strike is a grassroots feminist movement founded in 2016 to defend women’s rights against the government's plan to ban and criminalise abortion. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, the movement has remained united and active via a Facebook group and continues to mobilise for women’s rights in Poland.

    Klementyna Suchanow

    What has the situation of gender rights in Poland been over the past few years?

    We are under a conservative government and while I would never say it was paradise five years ago, the situation for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights has recently worsened. Every day you witness more verbal and physical attacks against marginalised groups. Divisions have been created along political lines and the main targets of aggression have been immigrants and LGBTQI+ people. During the campaign for 2019’s European Parliament election and this year’s presidential election the main focus has been on hate against LGBTQI+ people. The wave of hatred is very intense and dealing with it is a challenge. 

    The situation of women and women’s rights movements is slightly different. Our new strand of popular feminism is very inclusive and pragmatic. This is why so many young people have joined us in recent months. We see younger generations become more politicised and aware. So the women’s movement is in a very strong position. It is the only movement that has succeeded in forcing the government to take a step back from its idea to ban abortion in 2016, and then later around other issues. It looks like our anger scares them, but they still keep doing things to worsen our situation.

    In sum, women are experiencing setbacks in our legal situation but our power keeps growing. I am not sure if this is the case with the LGBTQI+ community, because they are a minority group and are more exposed. The situation of LGBTQI+ people is definitely getting worse on all fronts.

    Have there been further regressions on gender rights during the COVID-19 pandemic?

    Taking advantage of the pandemic, the government and other groups have made several attempts to roll back women’s sexual and reproductive rights. In May 2020, the Polish parliament proposed a bill that would remove the legal obligation for medical facilities to refer patients to other facilities if they refuse to provide abortion care based on their staff’s personal beliefs. Under current Polish law, a legal abortion can only be performed if the mother’s life is at risk, the pregnancy is a result of rape, or the foetus has a serious deformity. About 98 per cent of abortions fall under the latter category, but a bill was proposed in May to eliminate this clause. In June, new provisions in the Criminal Code imposed harsh prison sentences on those who support women by providing them with abortion care.

    The amendments to abortion laws during the pandemic came about through a civic project submitted by a fundamentalist organisation. We organised protests, which was a slightly crazy thing to do, because how do you protest during a pandemic when you are not allowed to gather? That is why we got creative: we invented new forms of protest because we had to. We staged ‘queueing protests’, standing two metres apart in a queue outside a shop close to the parliament building, to comply with lockdown regulations, while holding signs and umbrellas. This happened in several cities, not just in the capital, Warsaw. As we were not allowed to walk freely, we also organised ‘car protests’. We interrupted traffic and blocked Warsaw’s main square for about an hour.

    These protests were quite effective. The amendments did not proceed and are now ‘frozen’. They were sent to a parliamentary commission, but the commission is not working on them. They have been neither rejected nor approved. But this also means that they might come back suddenly at any point in the future, and we will have to deal with them again.

    From the very beginning this government has been clear that it does not support women’s rights and does not care about violence against women. Since the government came into power, funding to centres that help women has been cut and these centres have had to resort to crowdfunding or are surviving on private donations, because they have no access to state funding anymore. However, some progress has also taken place, as with a recently passed law, which was proposed by a leftist party, that empowers police officers to issue an order to forbid perpetrators of violence from entering the household of the victim for 14 days. This has helped immediately separate victims from perpetrators.

    On the other hand, over the past several months we have seen announcements from the authorities that they are thinking about pulling Poland out of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. In the beginning we didn’t take it too seriously. But it is always like this: first they test the waters to see how far they can go, and if they don’t find too much resistance they start pushing forward. During the presidential campaign and election, the topic was not raised, but only a week afterwards it became an issue. Many serious developments, such as arrests of activists, took place right after the election.

    Now the situation is becoming serious. Announcements have been made by several ministers and the president has approved the idea to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. There is also a lot of propaganda on state media to convince people that this Convention is about so-called ‘gender ideology’. However, surveys show that over 60 per cent of the population is against leaving the Convention compared to only 15 per cent who support the idea. Half of those who oppose leaving the Convention voted for the ruling party. It is weird that they are pushing this so far because it’s against the views of their own voters.

    As someone who was at the forefront of the2016 women’s strike in Poland, how do you feel about the current situation?

    We are so used to hearing bad news that we weren’t surprised with this latest announcement. The situation in Poland is such and so many bad things happen every day that you become immune to bad news.

    During the pandemic everything has been highly political. Instead of focusing on taking care of people’s health, everything became politicised. The presidential election was supposed to be held in May, and there was a lot of discussion about whether it should be held; it was finally postponed to late June. The ruling party knew that it was losing popularity because the health system is not efficient enough and the minister of health himself made huge money by supplying masks and medical equipment. This is why the ruling party pushed to have the election as soon as possible, before it lost too many votes. And instead of taking care of our safety and lives, the ruling party focused on its own political agendas. The attempts to ban abortion were very upsetting and disappointing because you expect more responsibility from your government at such a critical time.

    I knew people were tired of mobilising, so I was surprised to see so many come out to defend the Istanbul Convention, which became a national topic of discussion in the media and everywhere. A lot of positive energy has been created around this and is giving us the strength to try and stop it.

    We have been protesting for five years now. Protest has its own dynamics: you have to feel the moment and decide how to react; sometimes you give it a try and it doesn’t work out. It’s always an experiment. But right now, we feel that there is real energy and a momentum we need to ride on. There is a lot of interest from foreign media, and this topic has become the focus of attention. This is slightly strange because every time we tried to do something on violence against women in the past, it was very hard to get people to mobilise on the streets. There is something about violence that makes it difficult to translate feelings into street action. While many people experience it or know somebody who has been a victim, they don’t like to react to it. Many times in the past we failed when organising things on the topic of violence, but this time people took it up. We might now have a chance to defend the right to a life free from violence and make this a problem for the government.

    Do gender rights activists in Poland currently experience any restrictions on their right to organise, speak up and mobilise?

    I am a writer and artist, and as a result of my activism I am cut off from state grants. There are no state institutions that want to work with me right now because if my name shows up on their list, it becomes a problem for them. You could also be arrested or be taken to court by a right-wing legal foundation such as Ordo Iuris. Of course, there is also hate speech: the government uses your name and your image for propaganda on state media, and you can also be attacked by trolls on social media. Police can hurt you, as happened to me at one protest in 2018. This situation came about gradually, but at this point there is a wide range of forms of repression that you can experience. For the time being, however, I haven’t heard of feminist activists facing physical attacks from civilians.

    I am one of the activists who started taking direct action against the government, so there are a lot of things that I am being accused of. Ordo Iuris does not like me because I wrote a book exposing the international fundamentalist network that it is part of. I am on the list of their enemies, but so far, I have not been sued by them. They say they are working on their list of accusations against me, because there are so many. During our latest protest, members of Ordo Iuris approached a police officer and tried to convince him that I should be requested to show my identification. But the police in Warsaw know us, they know our faces, they knew that I had not done anything illegal during the protest and refused their request.

    In which ways can civil society hold accountable an increasingly authoritarian government such as Poland’s, and what support from international civil society does it need to do so?

    Regarding the Istanbul Convention, we are trying to convince the international community that European funds should be allocated bearing in mind the actual human rights compliance records of each member of the European Union (EU). A new instrument introduced in the EU established that funding should be linked to adherence to democratic principles and practices. We are trying to convince the Council of Europe, the source of the Istanbul Convention, to introduce similar measures towards the governments that are relinquishing their people’s rights. It’s all about linking funding to human rights compliance. Money is the only language governments will understand. Six Polish cities are currently not receiving European funds following their declaration of so-called ‘LGBTI-free zones’, which is considered an act against human rights. We would like to raise this question, together with Turkish women, who are facing a similar battle against their government’s initiative to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. You cannot be destroying human rights, like Hungary and Russia are doing, and still be treated by the Council of Europe like anyone else, as a partner in the conversation. So, this is a new approach that we are trying to make people understand.

    We want international civil society organisations to lobby local politicians so they become aware that the issues of human rights and funding need to be considered together. The Council of Europe also needs to understand this so we can set a precedent and in the future women here and in other countries will be protected. If we have an authoritarian government that does whatever it wants, even if citizens don’t agree, we need to have some protections from abroad. All we find in Poland is repression, so we need somebody from outside to be on our side and not leave us alone.

    Civic space in Poland israted as ‘narrowed’ bytheCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Polish Women’s Strike through itsFacebook page and follow@strajkkobiet and@KSuchanow on Twitter.

     

  • Polish government must stop violent crackdowns on protesters

     

    Przeczytaj oświadczenie w języku polskim

    Polish law enforcement and military, deployed today across the country, must refrain from using excessive force against protesters who have taken to the streets to express their discontent with the Polish government under the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party.  

     

  • POLOGNE : « La crise de la démocratie et des droits humains va s'aggraver »

    CIVICUS parle à Małgorzata Szuleka à propos de la récente élection présidentielle en Pologne, qui s'est tenue pendant la pandémie COVID-19, et sur l'utilisation par le parti au pouvoir de la rhétorique anti-LGBTQI+ pour mobiliser son électorat. Małgorzata est avocate à la Fondation Helsinki pour les droits humains (HFHR) - Pologne, l'une des plus grandes et des plus anciennes organisations de défense des droits humains en Pologne et dans la région. La HFHR Pologne représente les victimes de violations des droits humains dans les procédures judiciaires, mène des enquêtes et surveille les violations des droits humains. Depuis 2015, elle surveille activement les violations croissantes de l'État de droit en Pologne. Elle travaille avec des organisations partenaires en Europe de l'Est, en Asie centrale, dans l'Union européenne (UE) et aux États-Unis.

    Małgorzata Szuleka

    Après avoir été reprogrammées, les élections polonaises ont eu lieu en juin et juillet 2020. Quelle était la position de la société civile sur la tenue d'élections pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19 ?

    Les élections étaient initialement prévues pour mai 2020 et leur organisation posait un gros problème juridique car il n'y avait pas de mécanisme légal pour les reporter. La seule façon de les reporter était de déclarer l'état d'urgence, comme le prévoit la Constitution. Les élections ne peuvent pas être organisées pendant l'état d'urgence ou dans les 90 jours suivant sa fin. D'un point de vue constitutionnel, une déclaration officielle reconnaissant que le pays subissait une épidémie aurait donné au gouvernement la prérogative d'imposer l'état d'urgence. Cela aurait automatiquement prolongé le mandat du président jusqu'à ce que des élections régulières puissent être programmées, une fois l'épidémie terminée. Cependant, le gouvernement n'a pas suivi cette procédure. Les élections ont été reprogrammées et le second tour entre les deux principaux candidats a été reporté au 12 juillet 2020 sur la base d'arguments juridiques très douteux. Cependant, cela n'a été contesté ni par la majorité gouvernementale ni par l'opposition.

    Les organisations de la société civile (OSC) ont d'abord fait pression sur le gouvernement pour que les élections se déroulent correctement, l'exhortant à déclarer l'état d'urgence. Lorsque cela ne s'est pas produit, les OSC ont essayé de soulever la question du contrôle international, principalement en termes d'équité et de financement des campagnes. Le problème était qu’on s’attendait à ce que les élections soient libres mais non justes. Les médias publics ont fait preuve de partialité à l'égard du président Andrzej Duda, le candidat soutenu par le parti au pouvoir Droit et Justice (PiS), et se sont montrés extrêmement critiques et plutôt peu professionnels à l'égard de tout candidat de l'opposition. Bien que l'état d'urgence n'ait pas été déclaré, de nombreux droits fondamentaux, tels que la liberté de réunion et l'accès à l'information, se sont vus limités. Telles étaient les principales préoccupations.

    Il y avait aussi le problème de la Cour suprême qui confirmait la validité des élections. Le 12 juillet, le président Duda a été réélu pour un second mandat avec une faible marge. Il a obtenu 51 % des voix, tandis que son adversaire de l'opposition, la Coalition civique, en a obtenu 49 %. Le taux de participation a été légèrement supérieur à 68 % et plus de 5 800 plaintes pour irrégularités ont été déposées. La Cour suprême a jugé que 92 de ces plaintes étaient justifiées mais n'avaient aucune influence sur le résultat final, elle a donc déclaré les résultats valables. Malheureusement, cette décision a complètement négligé le problème des bases constitutionnelles et juridiques sur lesquelles ces élections avaient été convoquées.

    Des mesures ont-elles été prises pour protéger les gens pendant la campagne et le processus de vote ? La pandémie a-t-elle eu un impact sur la participation électorale ?

    L'organisation de la campagne a impliqué des mesures sanitaires en termes de distanciation sociale et d'utilisation de masques. Mais ces dispositions n'ont pas été pleinement respectées par les deux parties. Pour les besoins de la campagne, le gouvernement a assoupli certaines restrictions ; par exemple, bien que le port du masque facial soit obligatoire, des photographies ont été publiées dans lesquelles le premier ministre n'en portait pas en public. Le fait que de nombreux fonctionnaires aient participé à la campagne électorale aux côtés du président Duda est également préoccupant. Les institutions publiques ont été instrumentalisées par les hommes politiques du parti au pouvoir. Le centre de sécurité du gouvernement, responsable de la coordination et de l'information en cas d'urgence ou de catastrophe naturelle, a envoyé des SMS de masse le jour des élections. Chaque électeur a reçu un message disant que les personnes de plus de 60 ans, les femmes enceintes et les personnes handicapées pouvaient voter sans faire la queue. Cela aurait pu être utilisé pour mobiliser l'électorat du parti au pouvoir. Ce n'est qu'un exemple, mais il pourrait être révélateur du rôle joué par les institutions de l'État pour faire pencher la balance en faveur du parti PiS.

     

    La couverture médiatique pendant les élections a-t-elle été équitable ?

    La couverture médiatique publique était absolument injuste. Le reste de la couverture, principalement par les médias privés, a été assez bon ; il n'a certainement pas été aussi mauvais que les médias publics, qui ont été utilisés à des fins de propagande et ont renforcé la campagne du président Duda.

     

    L'une des plaintes électorales déposées auprès de la Cour suprême portait spécifiquement sur la couverture médiatique. Elle a déclaré que la télévision publique soutenait le président tout en discréditant systématiquement son rival, et que les institutions et les fonctionnaires publics ont violé à plusieurs reprises le code de conduite en soutenant un seul des candidats. Mais le problème avec le mécanisme de plaintes électorales est qu'il exige la preuve non seulement que l'irrégularité alléguée a eu lieu, mais aussi qu'elle a eu un impact sur les résultats des élections. Lors d'élections présidentielles comme celle-ci, c'est une chose très difficile à prouver. De plus, le code électoral ne réglemente pas le travail des médias, il est donc difficile de soutenir juridiquement que les médias devraient fonctionner différemment. Et si on y parvient, il est également difficile de prouver que la couverture (ou l'absence de couverture) reçue d'un média par un candidat particulier a abouti à un résultat électoral particulier. C'est une chose que nous pouvons intuitivement supposer, en particulier face à des résultats aussi serrés, mais il est très difficile de créer un argument juridique solide.

    Quelles sont les implications de la réélection du président Duda pour la démocratie et les droits humains en Pologne ?

    Elle représente la poursuite d'une tendance très inquiétante. Parmi tous les objets de campagne possibles, le président Duda a choisi d'alimenter l'homophobie. La campagne s'est déroulée dans le contexte d'un processus de longue date de recul de l'État de droit, au milieu d'une crise dans les relations entre la Pologne et l'UE, au cours d'un énorme défi sanitaire et au bord d'une crise économique qui touchera tous les Polonais. Mais aucune de ces questions n'a été au centre de la campagne électorale et du débat public. Le président Duda a surtout parlé des personnes LGBTQI+ qui représentent une menace pour notre héritage chrétien traditionnel, assimilant l'homosexualité à la pédophilie. La question s'est distillée dans le récit diviseur, scandaleux et déshumanisant du parti PiS. C'était un geste très pragmatique des astucieux propagandistes du PiS car il a mobilisé le noyau même de l'électorat. Soudain, les groupes et communautés LGBTQI+ sont devenus le bouc émissaire de tout ce qui ne va pas en Pologne. Il est scandaleux de constater à quel point cette question a été politisée et comment elle a été utilisée pour déshumaniser cette minorité. Ce fut un spectacle douloureux et déchirant.

    Et cela ne s'est pas terminé avec la campagne. Le président Duda n'est qu'un représentant du parti PiS, il dira donc tout ce qu'il faut pour le maintenir aligné. Ce n'est rien d'autre qu'une question de calcul et de lutte de pouvoir interne. En juin, le parti PiS a ciblé la population LGBTQI+. En juillet, elle a ciblé les victimes de violence domestique en lançant un débat sur le retrait de la Convention d'Istanbul. En août, il a proposé un système de registre pour les OSC qui reçoivent des fonds de l'étranger. Maintenant, je ne sais pas qui sera son prochain ennemi. Ce n'est pas seulement que la majorité actuelle au pouvoir est homophobe, mais aussi qu'elle a tout le temps besoin d'avoir un ennemi à affronter ou à blâmer.

    Nous venons d'entrer dans une phase où il n'y aura pas d'élections pendant trois ans, alors attendez-vous à une consolidation majeure du pouvoir qui permettra au gouvernement de faire ce qu'il veut : exercer plus de pression sur les OSC, polariser davantage les médias, attaquer les groupes minoritaires et intensifier le conflit avec l'UE, entre autres choses. On peut s'attendre à ce que tout cela se produise au cours des trois prochaines années. La seule chose qui pourrait les arrêter est l'évaluation pragmatique de la question de savoir si c'est quelque chose qui répond au besoin du moment ou s'il pourrait y avoir autre chose de plus important. Mais je crois que la crise de la démocratie et les droits humains en Pologne va s'aggraver.

    L'espace civique en Pologne est classé« rétréci »par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Contactez la Fondation Helsinki pour les droits humains - Pologne via sonsite web ou sa pageFacebook, et suivez@hfhrpl et@m_szuleka sur Twitter. 

     

  • POLOGNE : « Nous avons inventé de nouvelles formes de protestation parce que nous n’avions pas d’autre choix »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Klementyna Suchanow, activiste, auteure et chercheuse basée à Varsovie, en Pologne, au sujet de l‘annonce récente du gouvernement polonais d’entamer le processus de retrait de la Convention d’Istanbul sur la violence contre les femmes. Klementyna est l’une des fondatrices de laGrève des femmes polonaises et de la Grève internationale des femmes. La grève des femmes polonaises est un mouvement féministe de base fondé en 2016 pour défendre les droits des femmes contre l’initiative du gouvernement visant à interdire et à criminaliser l’avortement. Pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19, le mouvement est resté uni et actif grâce à un groupe Facebook et continue de se mobiliser pour les droits des femmes polonaises.

     

  • SERBIA: ‘The political crisis will deepen as a large number of people lack representation’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ivana Teofilović about the causes of recent protests and the government’s reaction to them, as well as about the elections held in Serbia under the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivana is public policy programme coordinator at Civic Initiatives, a Serbian citizens’ association aimed at strengthening civil society through civic education, the promotion of democractic values and practices and the creation of opportunities for people’s participation.

    Ivana Teofilovic

    Why did protests erupt in Serbia during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how did the government react?

    The immediate reason for the mass and spontaneous gathering of citizens in July 2020 was the announcement of the introduction of a new curfew, that is, another 72-hour ban on movement. After the president’s press conference ended, dissatisfied people began to gather in front of the National Assembly in the capital, Belgrade. Although the immediate reason was dissatisfaction with the management of the COVID-19 crisis, people also wanted to express their unhappiness about numerous other government measures and their impacts, and particularly with the conditions in which the recent parliamentary elections were held.

    In response, the security forces used unjustified force in dozens of cases and exceeded the powers entrusted to them by law. Their violent response to spontaneous peaceful assemblies was a gross violation of the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and an unwarranted threat to the physical integrity of a large number of protesters. The protests were marked by the use of a huge amount of teargas, which was indiscriminately thrown into the masses of peaceful demonstrators. As a result, many protesters had health issues for days afterwards. Apart from the fact that unjustifiably large quantities of teargas were used, the public's attention was captured by the fact that the teargas fired was past its expiry date.

    The media and citizens also reported and documented many cases of police brutality, including that of three young men who were sitting quietly on a bench and were repeatedly beaten by a gendarmerie officer with a baton. In another incident, a young man was knocked to the ground and hit with batons by 19 officers, even though two members of the Ombudsman’s Office were on duty near the scene, precisely to control the conduct of the police. Additional disturbances and acts of violence were perpetrated by a large number of individuals in civilian clothes. At the time it could not be determined whether they were police in civilian clothes, or members of parapolice forces or criminal groups, but many clues point to them being members of hooligan groups connected with the authorities and working on their orders.

    Media representatives also played a very important role in the protests. In this context, many media workers behaved professionally and reported objectively on the protests, often becoming victims of police brutality or attacks by members of hooligan groups infiltrated among protesters to incite rioting. According to the Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), as many as 28 journalists were attacked while covering protests, and 14 suffered bodily injuries, which in six cases required urgent medical attention. According to a statement issued by NUNS, the most seriously injured was Zikica Stevanovic, a reporter of the Beta news agency.

    However, media outlets that are close to the government either ignored or distorted the real picture of the protests by disseminating lies about who organised, funded and participated in them and by ignoring or denying cases of obvious police brutality. Journalists, analysts and civil society activists who publicly supported the protests and spoke critically about the government and the president were often the target of tabloid campaigns, and were smeared by the holders of high political office in an attempt to discredit their work.

    Bureaucratic measures were also used against them, for example through their inclusion on a list compiled by the Ministry of Finance’s Directorate for Prevention of Money Laundering, which required banks to look into all the financial transactions they made over the past year. The associations and individuals who were targeted published a joint statement with over 270 signatures to call on the authorities to urgently make public the reasons for any suspicion that these organisations and individuals were involved in money laundering or terrorist financing. They also made clear that these pressures would not deter them from fighting for a democratic and free Serbia.

    Violent police reaction, indiscriminate brutality, non-objective reporting and government retaliation further motivated people to protest. As a result, people took to the streets in even greater numbers in the following days. Protests also began to take place in several other Serbian cities besides Belgrade, including Kragujevac, Nis, Novi Sad and Smederevo.

    Has civil society experienced additional challenges to continue doing its work under the pandemic?

    Under the state of emergency imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also after the state of emergency was lifted, civil society organisations (CSOs) faced numerous difficulties that greatly hindered their work. During the first weeks of the state of emergency, some CSOs that provide services to vulnerable people were unable to perform their activities due to the ban on movement, a difficulty that was only gradually and partly overcome over time as special permits were issued to certain categories of people.

    Another challenge was posed by the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits, adopted in response to the economic impacts of the pandemic. This regulation did not extend exemption from value-added tax (VAT) to food, consumer goods and services donated to the non-profit and humanitarian sector to support socially vulnerable groups. For this reason, a group of CSOs sent the Ministry of Finance a proposal to extend the VAT exemption.

    The biggest challenge for CSOs was financial sustainability, which was especially endangered by the suspension of the competition for co-financing projects of public importance, both at the national and local levels. In addition, while the provisions of the Regulation on Fiscal Benefits and Direct Benefits were insufficiently clear when it came to CSOs, they unequivocally excluded informal citizens’ initiatives, and thus jeopardised their survival.

    In addition, the right to the freedom of expression was especially endangered during the pandemic. Challenges included restrictions faced by the press to attend and ask questions at Crisis Staff press conferences, the disregard of media representatives by officials in government bodies and institutions, and the persecution of media outlets that pointed to negative consequences during the pandemic. These restrictions opened up opportunities for the dissemination of unverified information. The lack of timely and factual information led to the further spread of panic and it became clear that in addition to the pandemic, Serbia also faced an ‘infodemic’.

    What are the views of civil society about the government response to the pandemic, including the conditions under whichthe recent elections were held?

    Despite the very unfavourable position they found themselves in, CSOs played a significant role during the COVID-19 crisis. CSOs had a significant role to play in correcting government failings, as they put forward numerous quality proposals for overcoming the crisis. In many situations it was CSOs, due to better training, that took over the roles of certain civil services. The general impression is that the state was not ready for the crisis, and therefore did not have enough capacity to provide a better response. 

    Due to its closed nature, the government used the need of urgency and efficiency as a pretext to bypass dialogue. In adopting some measures, there were frequent violations of laws and the constitution, and of people’s rights, particularly the right of journalists to do their work. Economic measures were not adopted in a timely and effective manner, which endangered many CSOs and their activists, ultimately having their greatest impact on people as users of CSO services.

    Regarding the parliamentary elections, which were held on 21 June after being postponed from their original date of 26 April, there is still an unanswered question regarding the government’s responsibility for conducting an election process under the pandemic. There is suspicion that the decision to hold the election was politically motivated and irresponsible. This was reinforced by the fact that in the weeks following the election, the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths drastically increased. It seems that the efforts made by some CSOs to create conditions for free and democratic elections have not yielded the desired results.

    What were the main issues that got in the way of a free and fair election?

    Beyond the pandemic, the major concern about the elections was that they were dominated by the ruling party, including through pressure on critical journalists and media outlets and control of mainstream media, which lack a diversity of opinions and balanced coverage and are used for campaign purposes.

    Media coverage during the election campaign was slightly more balanced than in previous elections, because the government wanted to prove that complaints from the public and the political opposition regarding poor election conditions and the captivity of the media were baseless. In principle, candidates were treated equally by public media, although public officials campaigning on a daily basis also received a lot of additional coverage. On top of this, members of the opposition who had decided to boycott the elections and therefore did not present candidates did not have room to present their arguments on national television.

    The unequal treatment of candidates was especially visible in national commercial television channels, which provided logistical support to the ruling party and its coalition partners. This problem was exacerbated by the passive stance adopted by the Electronic Media Regulatory Body (REM), which played an almost imperceptible role during the election campaign. In May 2020, REM changed its methodology of monitoring the media representation of political actors, counting every mention of a political option as proof of media representation. This led to the conclusion that the opposition Alliance for Serbia was the most represented party. But in reality, the Alliance for Serbia, which boycotted the elections, did not receive any media coverage on national television; rather it was the most frequent target of attacks by the ruling party and its allied media. In this area, another problem is the uneven normative framework: REM’s regulations relating to public media services are legally binding, but those relating to commercial broadcasters are drafted in the form of recommendations and have no binding effect, and there are no effective safeguards against violations.

    What are the implications of the election results for human rights and democracy in Serbia?

    The ruling Serbian Progressive Party, truly a right-wing party, won over 60 per cent of the vote, claiming approximately 190 seats in the 250-seat parliament. Their coalition partner, the Socialist Party of Serbia, came second with about 10 per cent of the vote, adding approximately 30 seats to the coalition. As a result, the National Assembly was left without opposition representatives, opening additional space for unlimited and legally unhindered exercise of power by the ruling party. The past four years are proof that the mere presence of the opposition in parliament is not a sufficient barrier to arbitrariness, as the government has perfected mechanisms to make parliamentary procedures meaningless and restrict the freedom of speech of opposition representatives. But some opposition legislators, through their initiatives, public appearances and proposals, managed to draw attention to numerous scandals and violations of the law by state officials.

    The protests that came after the elections seem to point towards further political polarisation and a deepening of the political crisis, as a large number of people lack representation and feel deprived of the right to elect their representatives without fear through free and democratic elections. The latest attempts to deal with civil society, journalists and prominent critical individuals by promoting investigations of money laundering or terrorist financing speak about deepening polarisation. The development of human rights requires coordination and cooperation of CSOs and state bodies as well as social consensus and political will, so this is certainly not contributing to an improvement of the human rights situation in Serbia. On the contrary, it is leading to an increasingly serious crisis, the aggravation of inequalities and injustices and more frequent protests.

    Civic space in Serbia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Civic Initiatives through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@gradjanske on Twitter.

     

  • SERBIE : « La crise politique va s’approfondir parce qu’une grande partie des citoyens n’est pas représentée »

    CIVICUS s’entretient avec Ivana Teofilović sur les causes des récentes manifestations et la réaction du gouvernement à celles-ci, ainsi que sur les élections tenues en Serbie pendant la pandémie de la COVID-19. Ivana est coordinatrice du programme de politique publique à Civic Initiatives, une association de citoyens serbes qui vise à renforcer la société civile par l’éducation civique, la promotion des valeurs et des pratiques démocratiques et la création d’opportunités de participation citoyenne.

     

  • SLOVÉNIE : « Le gouvernement a profité de la pandémie pour limiter les manifestations »

    CIVICUS parle du récent glissement vers la droite en Slovénie avec Brankica Petković, chercheuse et chef de projet à l’Institut pour la paix de Ljubljana. Fondé en 1991, l’Institut pour la paix - Institut d’études sociales et politiques contemporaines - est un centre de recherche indépendant et à but non lucratif qui utilise la recherche et la défense des droits pour promouvoir les principes et les pratiques d’une société ouverte, la pensée critique, l’égalité, la responsabilité, la solidarité, les droits humains et l’État de droit. Il travaille en collaboration avec d’autres organisations et avec des citoyens aux niveaux local, régional et international.

     

  • SPAIN: ‘Democratic rules are being used to promote an anti-rights ideology’

    CIVICUS speaks about the recent election in Spain with Núria Valls, president of the Ibero-American League of Civil Society Organisations (Liga Iberoamericana), a platform that brings together 29 civil society organisations from 17 Ibero-American countries, specialising in human, social and community development. Legally incorporated in Spain, the Ibero-American League has worked on childhood, youth, education and labour issues from a human rights perspective for 20 years, by providing advice to governments, monitoring and evaluating programmes and building networks and doing public policy advocacy at the local, domestic and international levels.

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    What were the causes of the political instability that required Spain to hold two elections in 2019?

    The widespread rejection of the political system that was established following the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s led to a significant deterioration of the two traditional parties: the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP). These political parties were very used to bipartisanship and ruling with the support of large majorities. When other parties appeared on stage, pacts and coalitions became necessary, which until then had only been a feature of local politics. It became necessary to include more minority parties and nationalist parties from the country’s periphery, which does not always pay electorally.

    In addition, the political conflict in Catalonia had radicalised the positions of parties present at the state level, which entered into a sort of competition to show who was the most Spanish. Even leftist parties do not dare to speak in recognition of Spain’s national plurality because the media, and particularly those from the capital, Madrid, criticise them aggressively.

    In the first elections of 2019, held in May, the PSOE felt uncomfortable when negotiating with the leftist and independent parties that had supported the motion of censure leading to the replacement of the conservative government led by the PP. On top of this, the personal ambitions of the leaders of both the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, the left-wing coalition formed in 2016 by the Podemos political movement and several other political forces, made a pact impossible at that time.

    The PSOE misread the polls and believed that a second election would give them the majority, and therefore the possibility of governing alone. But ahead of the November elections, people were angry because, as they saw it, due to their leaders’ personal egos parties had not done their job, and instead had made us waste time and money. All of this further deepened dissatisfaction with politics.

    Would you say that the extreme right party Vox benefited from this?

    Vox was one of the parties that benefited the most from the second election. It doubled its number of votes and became the third most represented party, with 52 seats, right behind the two major parties.

    Traditionally in Spain it was considered that there was no extreme right because the PP encompassed the entire right wing. But Vox emerged with great force and with a Francoist, aggressive anti-human rights discourse, presenting itself as the guarantor of the unity of Spain against separatism. In fact, the way the situation in Catalonia has been handled has been a breeding ground for the acceptance of increasingly right-wing discourse, justified in the need to preserve the unity of Spain.

    Another electoral result worth mentioning is that of Ciudadanos, a seemingly liberal party, which not long ago thought it would soon be in government, but which practically disappeared given its meagre results. Ciudadanos had focused its discourse on territorial conflict and on the unity of Spain. Voters who prioritised this issue preferred Vox, which has a more radical stance.

    Despite the good results obtained by Vox, however, it was the left that won the elections and this time they worked fast. In just 24 hours a pact between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos was forged, which had previously been impossible to achieve. Citizens found it hard to understand why what a few months ago had been impossible was now possible. But what is important is that the formation of a government was prioritised against the feeling of instability and paralysis that has prevailed in recent years. Faced with this broad pact among leftist parties, the right wing reacted with a very aggressive discourse, strongly rooted in the Francoist tradition.

    Finally, due to the abstention of Catalan pro-independence parties, it was possible to form a government. Governing will not be easy, but it promises to be a very interesting experience, which offers the possibility of creating change. It will be a very broad government, with 22 ministerial portfolios, notably characterised by gender parity.

    How would you characterise Vox as a political force and ideological trend?

    Vox is a far-right party that does not hide its xenophobic anti-human rights discourse. It prioritises two major issues: the unity and centralisation of Spain, and the elimination of gender policies.

    This is a worrying phenomenon that is not only happening in Spain. Extreme right parties arise in times of citizen frustration in the face of economic and social inequalities in a globalised world. There is an international movement – which spans Brazil, France, Italy, Norway, the USA and many other countries – that focuses on stigmatising and criminalising migration and so-called ‘gender ideology’. The support for these speeches by some religious congregations should also be analysed.

    These parties use democracy’s rules to promote an anti-human rights ideology. It is paradoxical that democracy, which was born under the values ​​of participation and respect for rights, is currently being used to strengthen and foster an ideology that is totally opposed to those values.

    How did this right turn take place just a few years after so many people had taken part in protests for economic and social justice?

    An element of this turn has to do with the anger that a section of the population feels toward politics. Corruption of political parties has had a great impact on society, as people think that politicians are in politics only to enrich themselves. There is no idea of politics in the broader sense as linked to the common good.

    In particular, there is a bloc of young people who see a very difficult future for themselves. They have very low expectations and view a vote for Vox is an anti-system choice. This is the vote of those who think that migration will deprive them of jobs and state resources, and that gender policies are an exaggeration. Vox is very apt at using social media with direct messages often based on falsehoods but that are reaching the population.

    The territorial conflict between Spain and Catalonia has also functioned as a catalyst for this anger. The message of ‘we’ll go after them (‘A por ellos’) used to despatch police units from the rest of Spain towards Catalonia to try to prevent the referendum on 1 October 2017, later reinforced by a message from the King, aroused an anti-Catalan sentiment. The right bloc, and especially Vox, appropriated the defence of the monarchy against republican leftist parties.

    How is this process being experienced by civil society? Do you think that the space for civil society is being degraded in Spain?

    Organised civil society was caught a little off guard. On the one hand, we did not believe that electoral support for Vox would be so strong, and on the other hand, we had a debate about whether we should respond to them, and therefore give them more media coverage, or whether it was best to ignore them. The second option prevailed, among political parties as well. And the strategy of ignoring them contributed to the increase in votes for Vox. There was nobody left to respond to their expressions bluntly and with clear arguments.

    Now civil society debate revolves around the need to defend human rights clearly and forcefully and respond to any expression that hurts or stigmatises any population group.

    In the territories where it is governing together with the PP and Ciudadanos, such as Andalusia, Madrid and Murcia, one of Vox's first actions has been to press for the end of aid to organisations working with women or vulnerable groups.

    We are experiencing a risk of regression in freedoms and therefore it is necessary for us to work in a more united way than ever as civil society. A clear communication strategy must be developed to reach all people. Often we in civil society remain locked in our own spheres and find it hard to take our message beyond our circles.

    Another strategy used by the right wing, and especially by Vox and the PP, is to use the justice system to settle political disagreements. Much of the judiciary in Spain is still very ideological, since many conservative judges remain as heirs of the Franco regime. As a result, sentences have abounded against the freedom of expression on social media, including censorship of songs. And many people have also been convicted for protesting publicly, especially in Catalonia.

    How has the situation in Catalonia evolved since the 2017 referendum?

    The referendum of 1 October 2017 was an act of empowerment by a section of the Catalan population that participated very actively, with a collective sentiment of civil disobedience, to achieve a better future against a state that did all it could to prevent it from happening. The violent state repression unleashed during the referendum and afterwards increased the collective feeling of a big section of the population in favour of independence, and especially in favour of the right to decide through elections.

    After the referendum, repression against Catalan pro-independence groups increased, and the state put all its police and judicial machinery in motion. In addition, it launched article 155 of the Constitution, which provides the state with a coercive mechanism to bind the autonomous communities that breach constitutional or legal obligations or seriously undermine Spain’s ‘general interest’. Article 155 suspended the autonomy of Catalonia from 27 October 2017 until 2 June 2018, when new regional elections were held. It amounted to almost a year of political, financial and administrative paralysis in Catalonia.

    Previously, on 16 October 2017, the leaders of the two most representative Catalan pro-independence groups, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sánchez, had been imprisoned for mediating in a spontaneous and peaceful demonstration in front of a building of the Generalitat, the Catalan government, where the police were conducting a search. They were imprisoned preventively, with no possibility of release before their trial.

    Following these arrests, judicial repression against the government of Catalonia increased, culminating in the detention of the vice president and five government ministers plus the president of the parliament of Catalonia, all of whom were placed in pre-trial detention. For his part, the president of the Generalitat went into exile in Belgium along with four more ministers, and two other politicians went into exile in Switzerland. The government of Spain made statements affirming that it had decapitated the pro-independence movement.

    This entire judicial and repressive process further complicated the political situation in Catalonia. The ruling issued on 14 October 2019, which sentenced independence leaders to prison terms of between nine and 13 years, amounting to a total of 100 years, caused new street protests to break out.

    Unlike all previous pro-independence demonstrations since 2012, the latest protests caused many riots and faced police repression. In addition, young people were the protagonists and adopted a more radical attitude towards repression. In that context, the anonymous Democratic Tsunami movement emerged. Inspired by the Hong Kong protests, this movement uses social media to call for large peaceful mobilisations in various locations, such as the border or the airport. The police have tried to discover who is behind this movement, but it really is just an instance of collective empowerment by pro-independence civil society.

    At present, following the latest Spanish elections in which the PSOE and Unidas Podemos required the abstention of the pro-independence party Republican Left of Catalonia to be able to form a government, the picture has changed. The government has pledged to initiate a dialogue with the government of Catalonia and to bring any agreements reached through dialogue to a citizen vote. This will not be easy because right-wing parties, using any judicial remedy at their disposal, are trying to boycott the process. An effort must be made to find a solution for the situation of pro-independence prisoners that facilitates a peaceful and political way out and allows a process of real dialogue to begin.

    Civic space in Spain is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with La Liga Iberoamericana through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@LigaIberoamOSC on Twitter.

     

     

  • Suenan las alarmas mientras los gobiernos de la UE plantean financiar las ONG "políticas"

    Por Cathal Gilbert, Responsable del equipo de investigación sobre el espacio cívico de CIVICUS y por Giada Negri, Responsable de investigación e incidencia en el Foro Cívico Europeo

    Cada vez aparecen más figuras públicas por toda Europa que tergiversan el significado de la "actividad política". Afirman que las ONG se pasan de la raya cuando hacen campaña pública a favor de un cambio social o político, consideran que de alguna manera invaden un territorio reservado exclusivamente a los partidos políticos.

    Artículo disponible en inglés en: Diplomatic Courier 

     

     

  • SWEDEN: ‘Swedish civil society needs to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis’

    Anna Carin HallAs part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. Following Sweden’s September election, CIVICUS speaks to Anna-Carin Hall, press officer at Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman), a Swedish civil society foundation that seeks to strengthenthe role of women in conflict regions by collaborating with women’s organisations and supporting their work to promote women’s rights and peace. Its advocacy focuses on six thematic areas: safe meeting places, the empowerment of women’s rights defenders, increasing women’s power, women’s participation in peace processes, power over one’s body and security for all.

    Sweden’s September election saw support fall for the established centre-left and centre-right parties and rise for the far-right Sweden Democrats. What factors lie behind this result, and what broader trends do you think it points to?

    First, I must emphasise that my answers reflect my own personal opinions rather than those of the organisation I work for. Kvinna till Kvinna is a politically and ideologically independent organisation and has only taken one single standpoint regarding the elections – against what we see as the Sweden Democrats’ anti-feminist policy.

    That said, the drop in support for social democratic parties, for example, is an ongoing trend all over Europe, and not just in Sweden, so one answer could be that this global trend towards a more traditional, nationalist and authoritarian climate finally got hold of Sweden, too.

    Part of the explanation is, as always, fear of globalisation, as traditional jobs move out of Sweden as a result of cost-efficiency thinking, and a large influx of migrants over a short time span, particularly in 2015, create a heavy pressure on the Swedish welfare system, including education and health services, as well as housing shortages.

    Before the election there was also public discussion about the gap between urban and rural areas in Sweden, and around health services shutting down in remote areas. Support for the Sweden Democrats is more common in regions with low education, low income and high unemployment.

    Nevertheless, the Swedish economy is still very strong, and Swedes are in no way suffering economically because of heavy immigration. But large migration centres set up in the countryside have altered the makeup of the population very quickly, causing tension in these places. Additionally, long-term studies in Sweden have shown that for many decades public opinion has been less pro-immigrant than the policies of the dominant parties, and the Sweden Democrats are now being able to capitalise on this.

    Apart from the economy, insecurity issues have also been used to stir anti-immigrant sentiment. A rising level of spectacular shootings among criminal gangs in some immigrant-dominated suburbs has attracted the attention of both Swedish and international media – one of those events was even mentioned by US President Donald Trump, who incorrectly implied that it had been a terrorist attack – and alt-right websites have used these politically a lot.

    Longer term, do you expect support for far-right causes to continue rise, or do you think it has peaked?

    There are different views on this. Some analysts say that the Sweden Democrats have become popular because the other parties in parliament have tried to shut them out. As a result, the Sweden Democrats and their supporters have been able to play the role of victims and claim that the political elite does not care for the views of the common people. Some therefore argue that the Sweden Democrats should be included in the government, and refer to the case of Finland, where Sannfinnlandarna, a nationalist party, reached the government and showed themselves unfit to govern, as a result of which support for them rapidly dropped. This is suggested as one potentially easy way to get the Sweden Democrats off the agenda.

    Several analysts have predicted that the Sweden Democrats will rise a bit more in the next election and will then start to lose popularity. The explanation for this would be that the right turn in the Western world will eventually fade out - but this is really just an assumption, with not much in terms of facts to support it.

    Are these trends indicative of rising currents of xenophobia and racism? If so, how have the more mainstream political parties responded to these and how have they impacted on rights-oriented civil society?

    There is a discussion in Swedish media right now regarding whether support for the Sweden Democrats is driven mainly by xenophobia and racism. Some opinion-makers claim this is the case, but there are surveys pointing towards the fact that Swedes think that the problem is failed integration, rather than immigration itself. Swedish society hasn´t been able to provide immigrant groups with proper education in Swedish, guidance about the Swedish community, decent jobs and so on.

    The change in the political climate manifests itself in, for example, more outspoken discussion of the costs of immigration and its impact on the Swedish welfare system. We can also see a more vivid discussion around cultural or traditional behaviour, such as honour crimes, with some claiming that for too long Sweden has not taken a strong stand against this and avoided several conflictive issues around immigration and integration that were considered culturally sensitive.

    The normalisation of the Sweden Democrats, a party that originated in the Neo-Nazi movement of the 1970s and 1980s, has also led to a louder alt-right Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden, which though still low in numbers, gets a lot of media attention. Several alt-right media outlets are spreading fake news about crime rates among immigrants. Alt-right groups are also making threats, spreading hatred and running smear campaigns in social media. This climate may very well lead to self-censorship among pro-immigration, feminist and LGBTQI groups.

    Mainstream parties have responded to all of this by moving towards a more moderate immigration policy and placing higher demands on immigrants – for instance, by introducing new requirements that they must meet in order to receive social aid and subsidies. Rights-oriented civil society groups are still trying to raise their voices in favour of a generous immigration policy based on humanitarian values, but they aren’t getting much attention these days.

    How is civil society working to combat xenophobia, racism and right-wing populism in Sweden, and what else could it do to build support for human rights and social justice?

    Open racism and xenophobia are in no way tolerated by the vast majority of Swedes, and several local rallies have been staged against racism and the Neo-Nazi movement both before and after the elections. Rights-oriented civil society has prepared for a long time to counter these trends, but stills needs the support of large groups of everyday people to have an impact on official discourse and the public conversation.

    Swedes take great pride in their open society and will likely defend the free press, the freedom of speech and gender equality, among other values. Threats and hatred against immigrants, journalists, feminists and LGBTQI activists get much attention in the media and several political actions have been organised to prevent them from happening. So, if a right-wing government forms with silent or open parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats, we will likely see a lot of strong reactions from the political and cultural establishment as well as from civil society.

    In the long run, Swedish civil society needs to work to defend democracy at the grassroots level on a daily basis, and maybe it also needs to go to the barricades to build opinion and change what could turn out to be a dangerous course of history.

    Civic space in Sweden is rated as ‘open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Kvinna till Kvinna through its website and Facebook page or follow@Kvinna_t_Kvinna on Twitter.

     

  • UNITED KINGDOM: ‘The government is set on hiding from accountability and scrutiny’

    CIVICUS speaks to Sam Grant, Head of Policy and Campaigns for Liberty, a UK civil society organisation, about the introduction of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and its impacts on the right to protest. Founded in 1934 in response to brutal police attempts to stop peaceful protests, Liberty is the UK’s largest civil liberties organisation, with more than 10,500 members and supporters, campaigning for everyone in the UK to be treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

    Sam Grant Interview

    What prompted the UK government to introduce the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill? What are civil society’s major concerns about it?

    The current government is set on hiding from accountability and scrutiny wherever it can, whether that’s by making it harder for people seeking justice to take them to court, sidelining elected parliamentarians through secondary legislation or introducing voter ID laws. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is another iteration of this attempt by the government to shield itself from being held accountable, this time by making it harder for people to protest.

    Civil society has three main concerns with this bill. Firstly, it represents a crackdown on protest rights. It gives the police greater powers to dictate where, when and how people can protest, it ramps up sentencing and will funnel protesters into the criminal justice system. The cumulative effect of these measures – which target the tools that make protest rights meaningful – constitute an attack on a fundamental building block of our democracy.

    Secondly, Liberty and, more generally, UK civil society sees this Bill as an outright attack on the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller nomadic way of life in the UK. The impact these new powers will have on an already marginalised community in this country could be catastrophic.

    Finally, Liberty is raising the alarm about the impact on over-policed communities who will be exposed to profiling and disproportionate police powers through the expansion of stop-and-search powers and data-sharing agreements between the police and public bodies.

    The bill has already passed through the House of Commons and will start moving through the House of Lords in early September 2021. If the Lords make any amendments, these will need to be approved by the House of Commons in a so-called ping-pong process, until agreement is reached. If it becomes law, this bill will dramatically reshape protest rights in this country, tipping the balance of power further in favour of the government and the police and vastly impacting on marginalised and over-policed communities such as Gypsy and Traveller communities and people of colour.

    What is civil society doing to try to prevent the passing of the bill?

    The breadth of the coalition working against the bill is growing every day, ranging from environmental, human rights, racial justice and criminal justice groups to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community groups.

    A total of 245 organisations joined together to condemn the bill, over 700 academics called for it to be dropped, three United Nations Special Rapporteurs and Europe’s top human rights official warned it threatened our rights and over 600,000 people signed a petition to call for it to be scrapped.

    Organisations continue to work together to show the disastrous impact this bill will have and the importance of our protest rights.

    What are civil society’s other concerns about restrictions to civil liberties in the UK?

    We are worried about other restrictions because this bill is part of a wider trend of this government trying to evade accountability and attack our rights. Going hand in hand with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are attempts to restrict judicial review, which would make it harder to challenge government actions in court, plans to weaken the Human Rights Act, which is our central human rights piece of legislation, and plans to bring in a voter ID, which could prevent millions of people from marginalised communities voting.

    How have UK authorities responded to recent protests?

    We are seeing an increasingly hostile atmosphere for protest rights in the UK. In recent years, the police have targeted some protesters with facial recognition surveillance technology. People belonging to certain protest groups, including environmental rights groups such as Extinction Rebellion, have been considered extremists and added to counter-terror lists. People arrested at protests have faced the possibility of hugely disproportionate prison sentences that go far beyond fair consequences for their actions.

    During the pandemic, police forces have wrongly claimed that COVID-19 regulations placed a blanket ban on all protests and have arrested and fined hundreds of people for demonstrating against injustice. They have even arrested legal observers who act as independent witnesses to police behaviour at protests to help ensure people’s rights are respected.

    What can international civil society do to support civil society in the UK?

    It is always important to share solidarity where possible. International civil society can support us by raising concerns through appropriate avenues and speaking up about the impact this bill could have even beyond the UK. We’ll be working closely with CIVICUS to identify these opportunities.

    Civic space in the United Kingdom is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Liberty through its website or its Facebookor Instagram pages, and follow @libertyhq on Twitter.

     

     

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