europe

 

  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘They want to stop us because we do make a difference’

    Giada NegriAs part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experiences of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks about the situation in Europe with Giada Negri, research and advocacy officer at the European Civic Forum (ECF). The ECF is a network of civil society organisations working on citizenship education, human rights advocacy and the promotion of democracy.

     

    What kind of work does the European Civic Forum do?

    The European Civic Forum (ECF) is a European network that includes over a hundred civil society organisations (CSOs) from all across the European Union and the Balkans. It began in 2005 as an informal network and became official in 2007. This happened at a crucial moment because the Constitutional Treaty – the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe – had just been thrown out as a result of popular votes. It was time to discuss serious issues related to democracy, issues that were transversal to civil society across countries, and the ECF thought it could provide a space for these debates to take place.

    More recently we started working on civic space, as our members and partners began to notice an increased pressure on civil society. The tipping point was the approval of the Anti-Foreign NGO Law in Hungary in 2017. About one-and-a-half years ago the ECF created a platform for civic space, Civic Space Watch, to collect resources, analyses, updates and articles on the state of civic space and civic freedoms in Europe, and to fuel civil society reaction to restrictions. We want civil society to be able to request and receive solidarity across borders, so if there is an attack in one country there is a shared understanding of what is happening and a quick collective reaction against it.

    What would you say are the main current threats against civic space in Europe?

    To understand these threats we have to take step back and look at what CSOs and social movements have been doing over several years – denouncing a system that has proven socially, environmentally and politically unsustainable and filling in the gaps in many areas and in different ways, whether by providing services and proposing practical solutions or by keeping the powerful accountable and keeping on the agenda the values and principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Civic space, the space to call out the powerful and to express dissent, has been restricted in an attempt to maintain a system that is not working for all anymore. We see rising illiberalism and the tendency to securitise public discourse and public space at the same time as social policies shrink. The underlying factor is a neoliberal vision of the world that views society as just a collection of individuals put together, and that does not recognise the importance of the value of social justice and the responsibility of public policies to deliver for everybody and to include everybody in the discussion.

    The specific challenges that civil society face are very diverse and differ among countries, as do the main actors that are targeted. But we are seeing some trends emerge across the European continent, so it is important to put them on the European agenda and raise them with European Union (EU) institutions. While some instances of restriction in countries such as Hungary and Poland are being very well covered by the media, other countries are experiencing attacks that are not being sufficiently discussed, such as violent policing and censorship in France or Spain.

    In other countries challenges are more subtle and tend to be ignored. For instance, in February 2019 a German Court ruled that the German branch of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Citizens’ Action (ATTAC) should have its public benefit status withdrawn due to its activities being ‘political’. This raises the worry that organisations promoting causes like tax justice might become afraid to speak up against the powerful and denounce policies that don’t work or that work to the benefit of few people because their financial capacity and therefore their continued existence could be at stake.

    Clearly civic space is not being restricted equally for everybody: specific groups are being targeted. Which groups are the most targeted in Europe?

    On the Civic Space Watch we see that those most affected by the introduction or tightening of civic space restrictions have been environmental organisations, groups providing solidarity to migrants and those fighting for inclusion, social sustainability, the rule of law and sexual and reproductive rights. All of these have found themselves at the centre of controversies because they point out systemic failures and injustices. Which issues are the more controversial, and therefore which groups find themselves under the most pressure, varies between countries. But whatever those issues are, the groups working on them and denouncing failures of the system are the most under pressure.

    Do all of these restrictions originate from the state, or are others imposing them as well?

    The state authorities and agencies, at all levels, are still the main actors responsible for civic space restrictions. But we are definitely seeing non-state actors threatening civic space as well. In several countries we have reported non-state groups, including private companies, taking action against the freedom of expression or the freedom of peaceful assembly. More research is needed about these because this is an emerging threat in many contexts – we have had cases reported in France, Portugal, the United Kingdom and so on. Additionally, we are also seeing anti-rights groups that are gaining confidence to act against the rights of certain people.

    European society is becoming increasingly polarised around many issues, which is making it easier for these groups to gain a support that would previously have been thought impossible. They promote a view of rights that creates competition between vulnerable groups or is exclusive of some groups on grounds of identity, culture or sexual orientation. They have become really good at exploiting the fears and anxieties of their audiences, which in turn are the result of policies that have brought competition of all against all into our societies. They are being able to use human rights language and human rights tools, which is also new.

    In Romania, for instance, anti-rights groups gathered thousands of signatures to call a referendum to try to ban same-sex marriage. They used the tools of participatory democracy to try to change the Constitution, which did not specify the gender of the people in a marriage. Although a lot of resources were spent to promote it, this referendum failed. But in the process, anti-rights groups targeted LGBTQI people and activists and there was a rise in hate crime. In contexts like this, I fear for democracy. The fact that these groups are using democratic tools may be used as an excuse for governments to start withdrawing these democratic tools; however, I am convinced that less democracy can’t ever be the answer to these issues.

    Certain extremist groups – specifically neo-fascist ones – are using very confrontational tactics, such as physical attacks against the police, activists, vulnerable groups and CSOs. Thanks to their confrontational strategies they are gaining space in the media, which gives them an audience. European countries have legislation against these kinds of groups, but the authorities are failing to call them out, prosecute them and outlaw them, which confers some legitimacy on them. Around certain issues, such as migration, these groups are increasingly present in the public sphere. As governments also pick up the topic and treat migration as a problem in much the same way, they legitimise anti-migrant groups to the same extent that they criminalise the civil society groups that work to provide support to migrants.

    There is already a lot of knowledge about these extremist groups in individual countries, although less about conservative groups that are not necessarily extremist. But we need to learn more about how they are interconnected, because they clearly are. Connections happen at all levels, from top to bottom. At the highest political level, right-wing populist leaders restricting civic space and targeting marginalised groups are connecting, cooperating and learning from one another. In a highly symbolic gesture, in May 2019 Italy’s far-right Minister of Interior at the time, Matteo Salvini, met with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, where fences had been built to stop the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers coming north through the Balkans. The measures that Salvini proposes are very similar to Orbán’s, and they wanted to show to the world a unified front against migration.

    Anti-rights groups are also connected at the grassroots level. A clear example of this was the World Congress of Families that gathered in March 2019 in Verona, Italy. It was a massive gathering of activists from around the world, united by their rejection of sexual and reproductive rights and their vocal hate for LGBTQI people. But in this case the opposition was also strong and brought activists from all across Europe.

    How is progressive civil society responding to anti-rights groups? And what else should it do to respond more effectively?

    Solidarity is key. Civil society mobilisation in support of threatened groups provides a lot of the psychological strength needed to keep going, and has also brought important, tangible successes. In May 2018 Ireland celebrated a historic referendum that legalised abortion, and civil society mobilised around the right of women to choose not only in Ireland itself but also in other countries, as a way of saying, ‘We stand with you in solidarity, we are united for the same cause, an attack against one of us is an attack against us all’. In Poland, when the government tried to push through even more restrictive legislation of abortion, even though the law that is in place is already among the strictest in the world, civil society repeatedly mobilised. Women protested massively in 2016, in 2017, and keep doing so, not only in Poland but everywhere in Europe. So far, they have been very successful in stopping restrictive legislation.

    I think all rights are connected – economic, political, social, cultural and environmental rights – so if one of them is taken away, the whole universality of rights shrinks as well. Civil society has learned that we must react not just when those rights that we fight for are being threatened, or when it is political or civil rights that are under pressure, but every time any right is under threat. And we should not only point out when democratic mechanisms don’t work; democracy should not merely function, but it should function for everyone, so we should keep pointing out when that is not happening.

    It is also really important that we start telling the stories of our victories, because we are really good at pointing out when there are problems and sometimes it’s just necessary to acknowledge to ourselves, ‘hey, we did that’. We need to celebrate our victories because they are victories for everybody, and also because it boosts our confidence and gives us the strength to keep fighting. That is why the campaign that we started in 2018 around the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that we are carrying out again this year and, we hope, in the years to come, takes the form of a celebration of all the work that civil society has done, trying to show the real, amazing impact of what we do, and the fact that everything would be quite different without us, because of all the human rights victories that would not have happened.

    I think I sometimes made that mistake when I started studying civic space and looking into civic space restrictions: when focusing so much on the restrictions, I lost sight of the fact that those restrictions were being introduced in reaction to our successes. We were being restrained precisely because we were winning, and someone resented it. They want to stop us because we do make a difference.

    Get in touch with the European Civic Forum through itswebsite andFacebook page, andfollow@ForCivicEU and@GiadaNegri on Twitter.

     

  • ‘Dutch citizens feel a major disconnect from politics’

    The special theme of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report will be ‘reimagining democracy’. The report will explore how citizens and civil society organisations are working to build more participatory forms of democracy, and how civil society is responding to the citizen anger and sense of disconnection that is driving more extremist and polarised politics in many countries. Ahead of publication, we’ll be interviewing civil society activists and leaders in countries experiencing these trends. Here, CIVICUS speaks to René Rouwette, Director of Kompass, a civil rights organisationin the Netherlands. Kompass seeks to make human rights accessible to all and strives for ordinary people to exercise as much influence on laws and policies as large companies. It brings people together around projects on racism, refugees and ethnic profiling, among other issues.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in the Netherlands?

    The Netherlands scores very high on the international Democracy Index. Still, I am concerned about specific developments affecting democracy in the Netherlands. Many Dutch people do not feel represented in Dutch politics. Citizens feel a major disconnect from politics, especially towards the European Union as well as at the national level. Political parties are losing members and are increasingly unable to recruit new ones, and many people who are still involved are actively seeking a political job rather than trying to challenge their parties, and change their country or the world. As local newspapers are disappearing, there is hardly any awareness about local politics either.

    Many unhappy voters have turned to the right and the extreme right. And at least one such extreme right-wing party, the Freedom Party, is highly undemocratic. Its leader, Geert Wilders, is actually the party’s only formal member, which means he is the only one who can make decisions regarding the topics the political organisation will tackle and the positions it will take. This is a true anomaly among Dutch political parties.

    The political landscape is polarising.  After years of consensus politics, the left and right in the Netherlands are increasingly apart. People are locked up in echo chambers, so they resist any information that does not conform to their beliefs and show very little interest in finding common ground. Parties at the centre of the political spectrum are struggling, and are increasingly accommodating language from the extremes, and especially from the extreme right. The landscape is highly fragmented. A record number of 81 contenders, many of them single-issue parties, registered to compete in the national elections that took place in March 2017. Thirteen of those parties made it to Parliament, making it very hard to reach consensus.

    A major issue of current democratic tension in the Netherlands is focused on referendums. Over the past few years, referendums were introduced at the local and national levels. Almost all votes so far have resulted in wins for anti-establishment forces. In the first national referendum that took place the Netherlands, in April 2016, two-thirds of voters rejected the European Union accession treaty with Ukraine. As a result, the ruling coalition decided to put an end to referendum opportunities at the national level. People are now angry about the government’s unwillingness to follow up on the referendum results as well as about the decision to suspend referendums.   

    1. Has the practice of democracy in the country changed (for better or worse) over the past few years?

    More than with democracy, I think that the problem in the Netherlands is with human rights. 

    When talking about human rights in our country, you always have to start by saying that the Netherlands is not China, and that we are doing better than Rwanda and Uganda. There is a general feeling that human rights are something for other countries to be concerned with and it all comes down to issues of such as the death penalty and torture. But that is not what Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues meant when they drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights are about many other things as well, including housing, schooling, education - a minimum standard for basic rights, in every country. 

    The Dutch mind-set towards human rights is actually very contradictory, as Dutch people also tend to be pioneers and innovators. I think it is very un-Dutch to consider the human rights status quo as good enough, and to settle for an increasing mediocrity. While holding firm to the feeling that human rights are an issue for other countries, it is worth noting that Rwanda is now scoring better in terms of women’s equality and Uganda now scores better in terms of human rights education than the Netherlands. While the Netherlands is actively involved in bringing human rights to other countries, Dutch school kids score very low in terms of their knowledge of human rights.

    At the same time, human rights have increasingly become an issue of political contestation. Political parties right and centre have openly criticised human rights and human rights treaties. They have even fought the Dutch constitution on this. The new government, established after the latest elections, is now investigating how to get rid of refugee treaties. A coalition of Dutch civil society organisations (CSOs) has recently concluded that in the past five years the human rights situation in the Netherlands has deteriorated. The victims of this deterioration have been not only refugees and Muslims living in the Netherlands, but also ordinary Dutch citizens. Human rights are about rights for all; the power of human rights is that they are all important. There are no left-wing human rights and right-wing human rights. Let us stick to that.   

    1. In which ways have the recent elections altered the political and ideological landscape? Has the political conversation deteriorated as a result of the challenge posed by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party?

    There is a major international misconception that the extreme right lost the Dutch elections. This is wishful thinking. In reality, Geert Wilders’ party increased its presence in the Dutch Parliament, from 12 to 20 seats. Moreover, a new extreme right-wing party, the Eurosceptic and nationalistic Forum for Democracy, also won two seats in the Dutch Parliament. Leftist parties have become very small in comparison to their past selves.

    At the same time, parties at the centre have increasingly accommodated language from the extreme right, so the public conversation has definitely changed for the worse. Even in the left, among social democrats, there are voices calling for ignoring refugees’ basic rights. The Christian-Democratic Party is obsessed with winning back political power, and references to exclusion have therefore become vital to their political strategy. It is going to be hard – not to say impossible – for these parties to return to their traditional positions and, in fact, to their core ideologies. But of course that there are still some good people with a heart for human rights within those parties, and we should work with them to make things better.

    1. What is progressive civil society doing, and what should it do, to resist the rise of authoritarian, isolationist populism?

    The major current challenge for Dutch civil society is to bridge differences and to start working together. In the past, many CSOs have focused on competition rather than cooperation, and on their own cause rather than the general cause. I have a feeling that this is changing, and that is for the best. CSOs can all contribute to a cause from their own experience and skills, as long as we share an agenda. An interesting trend in Dutch civil society, as well as at the international level, is that new CSOs tend not to focus exclusively on themes anymore, but rather on specific skills and assets. As a civil rights organisation, for instance, Kompass focuses on using lobbying experience and techniques to advance human rights. There is another new organisation in our country that focuses on litigation. We need to cut internal discussions short, and start working on outreach. 

    It is important to note that CSOs are setting the agenda again: that civil society is being able to frame issues rather than just respond to issues put forward by other actors. We have some things to learn from the (extreme) right, who have managed to communicate a clear message through their own media, as well as through the mainstream media. It is important for us to take a position, and not appear as indifferent.

    At the same time, it is important to avoid taking a high moral ground. Actively seeking polarisation will bring us nowhere. The election result was clear, and the fact that so many people abandoned progressive and left-wing parties needs serious consideration. Parties that criticise human rights treaties like the Geneva Conventions and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights now have a majority in Parliament; it is important to take stock of this. Polarisation might be useful to bring together very leftist or progressive groups, but it will alienate many others, even those in the centre. It is important to find a common ground: to persuade rather than accommodate or win discussions.

    What we can learn from commercial lobbying is how to build political support among parties that do not necessarily agree. In the past, some CSOs were of the opinion that they had a role in raising problems, but that it was politicians’ job to come up with a solution. That approach just does not work in the current political setting and climate. We do not need to create moral upheavals, but to propose concrete solutions and actions. The reason why companies are spending such enormous amounts of money on lobbying is that it works. We need to learn from what they are doing.

    • Civic space in the Netherlands was recently downgraded from ‘open’ to ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that rates the conditions for civil society in every country in the world. This downgrade was influenced by increasing infringements of protest and expression rights and a rise in hate-inducing and harmful speech during the election.
    • Get in touch with Kompass through theirwebsite orFacebook page, or follow @KompassNL on Twitter

     

  • ‘People have power, even if they don’t usually feel like they do’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society 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 in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson of the Abortion Rights Campaign, in the aftermath of the historic vote that repealed the eighth amendment of Ireland’s Constitution. Passed in 1983, this constitutional amendment recognised equal rights to life to an ‘unborn’ and a pregnant woman, banning abortion under any circumstances.

    See also our interview with Ivana Bacik, Irish Senator and campaigner for abortion rights.

    1. The vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment of the Irish Constitution exceeded 66 per cent. Did you see it coming?

    We had lots of surprises – we certainly never saw 66 per cent coming. We thought it would be hard win, slightly over 50, 55 per cent at the most. We also thought that the people who were not really engaged would just stay home and not make what they surely considered a tough choice. But with close to 70 per cent, turnout was the third highest ever for a referendum.

    Just so it is clear, it wasn’t our choice to go to a referendum, and I would never recommend it if it can be avoided. It is really tough, and while we won, it was a hard win, as people had to expose themselves and their stories. It was also expensive. But it was the only way to do this, as the amendment was in the Constitution.

    2. What was the state of public opinion when the process started?

    It is not easy to put a date to the beginning of the process. For my organisation, the Abortion Rights Campaign, it began in 2012. We started work in reaction to two major incidents around abortion rights that took place in Ireland in 2012. In the summer of that year, Youth Defence, a very militant anti-choice organisation, put up billboards all around Dublin, saying that abortion hurt women, stigmatising women who had had abortions, and saying lots of things that weren’t true. The protests that took place in reaction to this campaign were the biggest pro-choice demonstrations in a long time. This time, we were also organising online, on Facebook and Twitter, and this made it easier to get information out, so the protests were quite large. The first March for Choice, held in September 2012, gathered a couple of thousand people, which was no small feat at the time. It was the biggest in about a decade.

    A month later, Savita Halappanavar died. Savita was pregnant and died because she was refused an abortion. She had been told she was going to have a miscarriage and there was a risk of infection but, according to the law, doctors were not allowed to intervene until her life was at imminent risk. This was a real wake-up call and put us under the global spotlight. Soon afterwards, in January 2013, the Abortion Rights Campaign began its work.

    But none of this happened out of the blue; it was the result of decades of activism. And of course, the Abortion Rights Campaign was just one among many groups rallying for repeal. But Savita’s death was a turning point: many young people started their journey when it happened. From then on, the Marches for Choice got bigger and bigger every year and at some point, we figured out that we had to call a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and push for political change. We had been agitating for a while, marching in the streets and getting bigger and stronger, and in the meantime, other terrible things that happened strengthened the view that change was necessary, including a horrific court case involving a young brain-dead woman kept on life support against her family’s wishes because she was 16 weeks pregnant.

    3. How did you manage to shift public opinion towards repeal?

    In early 2016 Amnesty International commissioned a poll that showed overwhelming support for change, with a breakdown of where people stood regarding different causes for legal abortion, including incest, rape, risk to the woman’s health and foetal abnormality. A little under 40 per cent were in favour of allowing women to access abortion as they choose, while about 40 per cent were in favour of allowing it only under very restrictive circumstances. Going in, we estimated we were looking at a maximum of 45 per cent of support.

    So we started with a strong, solid base of 40-plus per cent, and we knew the other side had a solid 10 to 20 per cent. There were lots of people, another 40 per cent, who were in doubt, unsure of where they stood. These were the people who could tip the scale, so we had to go talk to them. The common thinking is that people who are unsure will stick to the status quo because that’s what they know. But we knew that when people get the facts, when they get to listen to the evidence, they tend to come to a more pro-choice position. We knew this because that is exactly what happened to each of us, personally: we heard about the issue, thought about it, said ‘well, actually that’s really unfair, let’s work on it’. That’s also what we saw happen at the Citizen’s Assembly and again at the Joint Parliamentary Committee. We saw this time and again and knew it was just a matter of letting people have these conversations. We knew there was a big swathe of people that needed to be persuaded one way or the other, so this was a big part of our strategy: to encourage conversation and bring the tools so they could take place.

    As activism grew and marches got bigger, we figured out a couple of things. One was that there was an increasing sentiment for change: no matter how you felt about abortion, there was a growing sense that the status quo was not helping women. Our abortion policies had drawn criticism from international human rights bodies. This just couldn’t go on – so at some point we needed to start talking to politicians to make sure they understood that they couldn’t brush the issue under the carpet anymore.

    So we decided to make abortion a red-line issue in the 2016 general elections – that is, a key issue that politicians would be asked about daily as they knocked on our doors to ask for our votes. And we gave people the language to talk to their politicians about the issue. We knew that if they encountered the issue once and again when they were canvassing, they would pay attention. We did this in a number of ways: we had civic engagement training sessions where we would give people information about how referendums work, how the law works, what it says about the issue, what we can do and what our position regarding free, safe and legal abortion is. And it worked! We succeeded in forcing the issue into the agenda.

    The other thing we realised is that, if and when this came to a referendum, it couldn’t just be a Dublin-based campaign – we had to go national. So we worked very hard to set up regional groups in every county around Ireland. By the time the referendum came, there was a pro-choice group in every county. And those groups went on to form canvassing groups that would hold their own events and talk to their politicians.

    4. What role did the media play in the process? How did you work with both traditional and social media?

    From my perspective, a key takeaway from the process is that it is vital to use social media to create a space so people can have a nuanced discussion about these issues.

    With traditional media, our hands were tied, because when it comes to controversial issues, they are required to provide ‘balanced coverage’. According to a 1995 Supreme Court ruling, it is unconstitutional for the government to spend taxpayers’ money to provide arguments for only one side in a referendum. As a result, any broadcaster that receives state funding must allocate equal airtime to both sides. So, if you talk on TV about how you had an abortion, or you say you are pro-choice, the opposite view has to be given space as well. Even if someone was telling their actual story of needing an abortion and having to travel to the UK, saying exactly what had happened to them, rather than preaching about right or wrong, there would be someone who would be called in to ‘balance’ that. And the rule was interpreted very broadly, so it applied not just during the referendum campaign but also for years before that. It was very stifling.

    In other words, traditional media were a massive block to people’s education. You normally look to the media to educate yourself on an issue, but it is not educational to constantly pitch ideas against each other, especially on an issue as complex and nuanced as abortion can be. So we had to bypass the mainstream media to get to the people. Fortunately, we exist in the time of social media, and we put a lot of effort into it and gave people the language and the nuance to talk about these things. We were used to hearing discussions about the morality of abortion where it was either right or wrong: there was no middle ground for people who were not that comfortable with it but thought the status quo was bad, and there was no room to talk about it.

    We advocate for free, safe and legal abortion for anyone who wants or needs one, no questions asked, because we know it’s the gold standard and believe that women having choice and control over their own lives is a good thing. But we didn’t want to impose this on people. Rather we wanted to give people the language to talk about it, allowing them to ask more questions, to find out what they were ready to accept and how far they were ready to go. This really worked. There has been so much discussion about the dark web, bots, trolls and possible interference with the campaign – but there were hundreds of pro-choice Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles set by hundreds of pro-choice individuals, and we had tools to protect the space we had created where these discussions were taking place. For instance, a group of volunteers created Repeal Shield, which was basically a public list of bots and troll accounts. When a user flagged an account by messaging @repeal_shield, a volunteer would investigate, and if the account met the criteria of being a bot or troll, it would be added to the list. As a result, people could keep having a conversation without interference.

    One big takeaway from this is that people have power. They usually don’t feel like they do, but what they do matters. Someone clicking ‘like’ on your page because they really like it means so much more than paid advertising. People don’t realise that, but when it comes to something that needs to be shared by many people or otherwise won’t be visible at all, this gives everyone a bit of power. Of course, there’s a lot more to activism than clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook post, but every little thing adds up.

    We are always told that there we are an echo chamber, that we only talk with people who already think alike, but it turned out that we weren’t doing this at all. We got 66 per cent of the vote. That was not an echo chamber. That was reality.

    Traditional media and politicians were slower to catch up to this, so we carved our own way. I am not saying this is the way to go for every activist group around the world. For one, Ireland has very good internet coverage, most people have access to it, and we have high user rates of Twitter and Instagram. This is not the case everywhere. But we used the tools we had, and it worked for us.

    5. What other tactics did you use?

    We gave people the language and an understanding of the political process, and that didn’t happen on social media; it happened on the ground. We would talk to people and they would bring the issue to their doorsteps. The Abortion Rights Campaign is a grassroots organisation, and what we did best was give people those tools so that they could then use them themselves. For years we had stalls every second week so people would come, have a chat, get information, take a leaflet. We had monthly meetings so people would learn about the organisation and how they could join, and sometimes we had somebody bring in a different perspective, such as a migrant or somebody from Direct Provision, a terrible institution for asylum seekers. We also developed training activities for marginalised groups about abortion in a wider reproductive context.

    Other groups would lobby politicians. We are now probably going to do so, but at the time the grassroots campaign was our main concern. We also did advocacy at both the national and international levels, including submissions to various United Nations bodies. And we maintained links with Irish groups in other countries, because the Irish diaspora is very focused on this issue. We also had connections with other organisations that didn’t have a direct pro-choice mandate but might support a repeal stance, such as migrants’ rights groups, disability groups and others.

    Beyond women’s rights organisations, we got the support of international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, which meant a lot because everyone knows who they are, as well as some migrants’ rights organisations. An awful lot of the charity organisations in Ireland would have a nun or a priest on their board, so they would not take a stand on this issue. But a lot did, and we got a lot of support. More than a hundred organisations eventually signed up.

    And of course, we sold t-shirts, repeal jumpers, so we gave people visibility. People became visibly pro-choice. You knew somebody was on your side when you saw them. You felt supported on a decision that maybe once you took and never told anybody about. Now you knew there was a visible crowd of people who supported you.

    6. What was the tone of the debate?

    A lot of it was about the moralities of abortion. Many people would say ‘I believe that life begins at conception; I believe you are taking a human life’ – and that’s okay, it’s people’s beliefs. But there were also lots of arguments that were brought in that were disprovable, greatly exaggerated, or not responding to the reality of what people were going through. Abortion is a contentious issue and there are indeed conversations to be had around disabilities and the like. But people were saying things like: ‘99 per cent of the people who get a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome will abort’. And may be true in certain contexts, but not necessarily here. And in any case, that says more about our attitudes towards people with disabilities than it does about abortion.

    While some of it was about people’s deeply held beliefs, there were also lies, exaggerations and a deliberate misuse of stats. Some really nasty stuff happened: a huge amount of graphic images were used and are still out there. I absolutely do not think that every ‘no’ voter is a terrible person - people have their beliefs and their struggles - but I do think the anti-choice campaign made it quite nasty. It never got as bad as we had expected, but it was still hard.

    7. For things to happen, changing the Constitution seems to be just a first - big - step. What work remains to be done, and what will be the role of the Abortion Rights Campaign?

    When the eighth amendment was repealed, legislation about abortion had already been put on the table. It wasn’t fully spelled out, but it provided broad strokes of legislation coming from the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Parliamentary Committee. As a result, people knew going in what they were voting for: 12-week access with no restrictions as to reason, and longer if a woman’s life or health is in danger or in case of severe foetal abnormalities. There are discussions about mandatory wait periods and this kind of thing, and we are not that happy about those, but part of our work is to have discussions about that.

    The legislation will be debated in the autumn and we expect it to be brought forward at the beginning of 2019. In the meantime, our job is to keep the pressure on to make sure that the legislation includes the right language and that people who continue to travel or take pills are taken care of. The Abortion Rights Campaign has a broader mandate. We have a mandate to seek the establishment of free, safe and legal abortion, but we also have a longer-term mandate aimed at de-stigmatising abortion. We’ve taken huge steps towards that because we’ve had this national conversation and it’s not possible to avoid the issue any more, but we still have a long way to go.

    It’s been more than a month since the referendum, and we are already strategising about what we want and how we see our role moving forward, in forcing legislation through and making sure people don’t fall through the cracks. Are people still having to travel to the UK? What improvements can be made? We need to make sure our legislation is good enough, that it allows people to get access. All along, part of the ban on abortion was also a ban on information about abortion, and most of all about how to get one. You were basically left to your own devices to go sort yourself out in the UK, and there were rogue pregnancy agencies giving terrible advice and purposefully delaying women seeking abortions. So a big part of what will come in the future will be making sure that doctors can actually take care of their patients. We take it that conscientious objection is going to come into play and need to make sure that it does not undo any of the good that we have achieved.

    Civic space in Ireland is rated as ‘open’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Abortion Rights Campaign through itswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@freesafelegal on Twitter.

     

  • “Sustainable Lifestyles” Conference

    In this 2 day highly interactive conference, the EU Sustainable Lifestyles Roadmap and Action Plan to 2050 will be presented for the first time. This conference is focused on actions for more sustainable living across Europe. It presents a unique opportunity for policy-makers, business, innovators, designers, civil society, citizens, and researchers to accelerate current work and activate new ideas within the Sustainable Lifestyles Roadmap Framework. For any questions, send an email to sonia[at]anped.org.

    Read More at Spread Sustainable Lifestyles 2050

     

  • Alarm bells ring as EU governments take aim at funding to ‘Political’ NGOs

    By Cathal Gilbert, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS and Giada Negri, Research and Advocacy Officer with the European Civic Forum

    Increasingly, public figures across Europe are twisting the meaning of “political activity” by claiming that NGOs overstep the mark when they campaign publicly for social or policy change: that they somehow encroach on territory reserved exclusively for political parties.

    Read on: Diplomatic Courier 

     

     

  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘Protesting once is not enough; we need to fight back every single day’

    Asia LeofreddiFollowing our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks about civil society protests against the World Congress of Families held in Verona, Italy, with Asia Leofreddi, a PhD Candidate at the Antonio Papisca Human Rights Centre of the University of Padua and a journalist with Confronti, a think tank and magazine dedicated to the study of the relationships between religion, politics and society.Based on the values of memory, hospitality, solidarity and pluralism, Confronti promotes dialogue among Christians of different denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and lay people interested in the world of faiths, with the aim of breaking down misunderstandings and fundamentalism and helping to build an intercultural democratic society.

    How would you characterise the World Congress of Families?

    The World Congress of Families (WCF) is the biggest ‘pro-family’ gathering in the world. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQI+ advocacy group and political lobbying organisation in the USA, has defined it as “the largest and most influential organization involved in anti-LGBT policies worldwide.” It was established by an American and a Russian in Moscow in 1997, and today it gathers together many associations, religious groups, scholars and political activists based in various countries, primarily belonging to Christian denominations. Among them, the Russian branch is particularly strong and acts with the open support of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

    The WCF’s pro-family agenda translates into support for the traditional family model and reflects a highly conservative view of gender roles. Accordingly, the WCF opposes abortion, surrogate motherhood, same-sex marriage and any progress towards equality in sexual and reproductive rights. Their gathering is organised by the International Organization for the Family (IOF) which is active at many other levels. At the international level, beyond organising international conferences, it tries to influence international institutions, such as the UN, in order to promote a conservative and restrictive interpretation of human rights, in particular of Article 16 of the Universal Declaration. In domestic politics, its member organisations link with or operate as interest groups infiltrating parties and academic institutions, lobbying officials and using democratic means such as referendums and mobilisations to advance their claims in national public spheres.

    Not coincidentally, over the past decade Brazil, Russia, the USA and several European countries have witnessed the rise of anti-gender and pro-family discourse, promoted by far-right parties, as well as the introduction, and sometimes also the approval and implementation, of morally conservative policies put forward by representatives of their national governments. In 2013, for instance, the Russian Duma unanimously approved a Law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values (popularly known as the ‘anti-gay law’). In Croatia a referendum was held that same year, promoted by an organisation called U ime obitelji (‘In the name of the family’) and aiming to establish a constitutional prohibition against same sex-marriage. It won with 67 per cent of the vote. In 2018 the right-wing governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia decided not to ratify the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which they viewed as a threat to the traditional family structure. And in 2019 the Council of Verona approved Motion 434, described as ‘an initiative to prevent abortion and promote motherhood’, put forward by a representative of the far-right League Party, and declared Verona a ‘pro-life city’. All the organisations and political representatives involved in all these processes are somehow connected to the WCF, which shows that over the past decades the ‘family’ label has started to play a key role in the creation of new geopolitical alliances that were not even thought to be possible a short while ago.

    Who were the main groups involved in protesting against the WCF in Verona?

    The main protests held in Verona during the meeting of the WCF in March 2019 were led by the local branch of the transnational feminist movement Non Una di Meno (‘Not one woman less’). They organised a three-day mobilisation called Verona Città Transfemminista (Transfeminist City Verona) that encompassed a variety of events spread throughout the city. These events looked like a real counter-congress, complete with panels, shows and speakers coming from every part of the world.

    Additionally, another forum took place at the Academy of Agriculture, Letters and Sciences, a historic building in the city centre, on 30 March. This encounter was organised by the International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network and the Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics (Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti) in collaboration with Rebel Network and other national and international organisations. This event gathered more than 30 speakers representing the transnational struggle of civil society for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights.

    Some Italian politicians also decided to show their opposition to the WCF, and several female representatives of the opposition Democratic Party organised a public meeting in the K2 Theatre of Verona on the same day.

    As all these events show, during those days Verona became a political laboratory in which two opposed views of society were on display. The small city became the battlefield of a global struggle. On the one hand, there was the reactionary and illiberal activism of the WCF, and on the other, the open and inclusive activism of national and international progressive movements and people who autonomously decided to participate in the protests.

    However, what was most surprising was the great participation of Italian civil society. The demonstration held on 30 March was the biggest Verona had ever seen: more than 100,000 people took to the streets of the city to side with women’s right to choose.

    What motivated all these groups and citizens to protest?

    For civil society groups, the main binding factor was the WCF. Mobilised groups focused their activism on defending sexual and reproductive rights, strongly jeopardised by the narratives promoted and political strategies used by Congress participants.

    Meanwhile Italian citizens took to the streets mostly in reaction against the strong support that the WCF received from an important sector of the Italian government at the time. Indeed, three then-ministers took part in the Congress – Matteo Salvini, then-Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Lorenzo Fontana, Minister of the Family and Marco Bussetti, Minister of Education – and both the governor of the Veneto region and the mayor of Verona gave official sponsorship to the gathering. A majority of Italians viewed the institutional promotion of a gathering detrimental to civil rights as a political action against our Constitution.

    What was the impact of the protests?

    This was the first time the WCF had to face such a huge protest. As soon it was announced that the 13th edition of the WCF would take place in Italy – a founding member of the European Union with a strong civil society and a deep attachment to a set of rights gained through many years of struggle – analysts started watching the events with great interest. However, I don’t think anyone expected such a big reaction – not even our politicians attending the Congress.

    At the national level, the protests achieved good results. For instance, they forced Matteo Salvini to publicly proclaim that Law 194 – the Italian law recognising abortion rights – would not be not touched and forced League Senator Simone Pillon to postpone a draft bill that had been widely criticised as not defending women from domestic violence. They also provided the opportunity for representative Laura Boldrini to pass a law against revenge porn, which until then had been strongly opposed by the parliamentary majority. Additionally, the days of the Congress were a great opportunity to unmask the strong connections that a section of our government, and particularly the League Party, which was in coalition government at that time, has with the global far right, despite their rhetoric on national sovereignty, and with some domestic far-right forces such as Forza Nuova, an extreme-right nationalist party, members of which were accredited to the Congress.

    At the international level, the WCF in Verona offered an opportunity for participating opposition movements to forge new transnational alliances and reflect on the construction of common narratives and strategies. It was then that groups that until then had focused on their own national, and sometimes provincial, contexts realised how important it was to act globally. The presence of foreign experts and activists helped Italian movements to understand better the strategies of ultra-conservative groups and their ability to function simultaneously at different levels.

    While we in Italy have always been confronted with the conservative positions of the Vatican and its influence on politics and civil society regarding sexual and reproductive rights, the WCF in Verona made it clear that we are facing a process of modernisation and professionalisation of ultra-conservative activism. As Kristina Stoeckl, an Austrian scholar, has widely demonstrated in her project on postsecular conflicts, these actors now enter public debate with their religious claims and turn them mainstream. They present them in a non-religious language, translating them into the language of human rights or natural law. They disseminate them with by using tactics and strategies typical of progressive mobilisations and campaigns. During the WCF held in Verona, Italian progressive movements became aware of the dimension of the phenomenon that they face as well as the fact that far from being limited to a national context, the politicisation of religion and pro-family rhetoric are actually part of a much broader political project.

    These successes, however, by no means turned the Verona edition of the WCF into a failure. They clearly showed they were not be ready to deal with countries with a strong civil society capable of mobilising discourses and resources at their same level. Still, about 10,000 people took part in their ‘family march’ on 31 March. They were far fewer than those who took to the streets to participate in the feminist and progressive mobilisation off the previous day, but they were still many. Moreover, I think the success of the WCF is measured more by what happens inside the Congress than what happens outside. In the WCF in Verona there were many representatives of governments from all over the world – far more than in previous years – which offered them a great opportunity to strengthen their networks.

    I don’t mean to diminish the results achieved by progressive movements in Verona, but to emphasise that protesting once is not enough. We need to remember to fight back every single day. We need to be aware that our opponents remain active even when they disappear from the scene. Ours is a battle of public opinion, which must be informed on a daily basis.

    What more could civil society be doing to push back against anti-rights groups such as the WCF, and what support does it need to be able to respond?

    First, the days in Verona demonstrated the importance of a vigilant and united civil society. On the way forward, it is important for progressive actors to develop better knowledge of these transnational networks and gain the ability not only to react but also to move proactively against ultra-conservative political projects on a daily basis. It is worth noting that the WCF has existed since 1997, and around the mid-2000s it started to become a political actor, capable of influencing national discourse and policies in several countries, from Russia to Central and Eastern Europe up to the USA. Moreover, for quite a long time some of its members have been involved in UN negotiations, playing a wider role in the international human rights debate. However, most Italian groups working on women’s and LGBTQI+ rights only became aware of its existence when it was announced that the Congress would take place in Verona.

    Second, it is important to move beyond a reductionist interpretation of these movements as simply anti-gender and of this phenomenon as a mere ‘conservative backlash’ against progressive and emancipatory movements. Defining ultra-conservative claims in culturally binary terms (past vs future, intolerance vs tolerance, religion vs secularism, traditional family vs sexual freedom) does not help grasp the complexity of their project and their strong contextual adaptability, nor prevent them from taking further actions.

    Indeed, their anti-gender claims often intersect with other issues including the right to homeschooling, concerns such as human ecology, demography, Christianophobia, political stances such as nationalism, the defence of national sovereignty and a more general critique of the Western liberal political and economic order and its supranational institutions. All these concepts help them build a more comprehensive and systematic ideology, mobilising forces in various countries and strengthening their political alliances.

    But binary oppositions overlook these groups’ capacity to function in a variety of contexts. For instance, although they support a conservative view of gender roles, several ultra-conservative political parties have female leaders – just think of Alice Weidel (Alternative für Deutschland, Germany), Marine Le Pen (Rassemblement national, France), Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d'Italia) and Pauline Hanson (One Nation, Australia). Others have women among their leadership, as seen with Barbara Pas (Vlaams Belang, Belgium) and Magdalena Martullo-Blocher (Swiss People's Party). On top of that, once in power, many of them promote social policies that advance women’s interests, such as a monthly income for every child born or more general welfare measures. Of course, these policies only favour heterosexual families, but still, they allow many families – and many women – to get the support they need.

    Even regarding LGBTQI+ rights, they are able to contextualise their stances. While Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro says that he would prefer a dead son than a gay one, Alice Weidel is an out lesbian who lives with her partner and her two children. Similarly, prioritising the fight against radical Islam and foreign powers, during her latest electoral campaign the ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen recognised the acceptance of homosexuality as part of French values.

    Third, the media have a key role in opposing these movements. It is very important to do research and disseminate information, explaining for example that many of the populist forces we see emerging in our countries are part of larger networks. It is no coincidence that Italy’s Salvini publicly kisses the crucifix, Brazil’s Bolsonaro made the legalisation of homeschooling one of his key priorities for his first 100 days in office, and Donald Trump is the first US president to attend his country’s most important national anti-abortion march. They are all part of a specific structure of power and the media have the responsibility to unmask their political and economic links.

    Finally, I believe that the rise of these ultra-fundamentalist movements is the consequence of a broader crisis, which has also led to the success of several illiberal leaders in various parts of the world. Progressive movements need to be aware of this so as to rethink some key concepts of their strategy, assess whether they are still connected with the broader society and, if they are not, start addressing this issue. As masterfully expressed by Eszter Kováts, “We need to recognise the problematic nature of emancipatory discourse as it stands today: just because a particular criticism is coming from the Right of the political spectrum does not necessarily render our positions beyond critique. And then we need to ask the painful question: ‘how did we get here’, and what does the current popularity of the Right have to do with the unfulfilled promises and problematic developments of emancipatory movements. Of the very same movements that seem to have failed to address the real nature of inequalities and everyday material struggles of people.”

    Get in touch with Confronti through its website and Facebook page, or follow @Confronti_CNT on Twitter.

     

  • ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS: ‘They don’t think human rights are universal, or they don’t view all people as equally human’

    gordan bosanac

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks about the rise of far-right extremism and religious fundamentalism in Eastern Europe with Gordan Bosanac, co-author of a case study on Eastern Europe for the Global Philanthropy Project’sreport ‘Religious Conservatism on the Global Stage: Threats and Challenges for LGBTI rights.’

      

    You have worked on a variety of issues, from racism and xenophobia to religious conservatism and LGBTQI rights. Do you think the rise of nationalism and attacks against migrants’ rights and sexual and reproductive rights are all part of the same trend?

    These are all definitely part of the same phenomenon. The vast majority of the organisations that mobilise against women’s rights also reject LGBTQI people and migrants and refugees. They are all part of the same global movement that rejects liberal-democratic ideas, and they all mobilise against minorities or vulnerable groups.

    They are a very heterogeneous set of groups and organisations. Their common denominator is what they fight against: liberal democracy. Neo-Nazi, anti-women, anti-LGBTQI and anti-migrant rights groups have different targets, but they share an agenda and collaborate towards that agenda. Many of these groups come together at the World Congress of Families, where you will find lots of hate speech against the LGBTQI community, against women and against migrants. They share the same philosophy.

    To me, these groups are the exact reverse of the human rights movement, where some organisations focus on women’s rights, others on LGBTQI rights, still others on migrants or indigenous peoples, or social, cultural, or environmental rights, but we all have a philosophy founded on a positive view of human rights. We are all part of the human rights movement. It is the exact opposite for them: they all share a negative view of human rights, they don’t think they are universal, or they don’t view all people as equally human. Either way, they mobilise against human rights.

    When and why did Christian fundamentalist groups emerge in Eastern Europe?

    A colleague of mine says that these groups have been around for a long time. She’s currently investigating the third generation of such groups and says they originated in the 1970s, when they first mobilised around neo-Nazi ideas and against women’s rights. The most recent turning point in Eastern Europe happened in the early 2010s. In many cases it has been a reaction against national policy debates on LGBTQI and reproductive rights. Croatia, where I come from, was one of the exceptions in the sense that these groups did not mobilise in reaction to policy gains by women’s and LGBTQI rights groups, but rather in anticipation and as a preventive measure against processes that were advancing internationally, specifically against same-sex marriage.

    The Croatian experience has played out in three phases. Beginning in the 1990s, an anti-abortion movement developed, led by charismatic Catholic priests. Following the fall of Communism, abortion was presented as being against religious faith, family values and national identity. The Catholic Church set up so-called ‘family centres’ that provided support services to families. Since the early 2000s, independent civil society organisations (CSOs) formed by ‘concerned’ religious citizens emerged. What triggered them was the introduction of sexuality education in the public-school curriculum. A third phase started around 2010, with the rise in nationally and internationally-connected fundamentalist CSOs, independent from the Church structure. For instance, the new groups had links with ultraconservative Polish movements – Tradition, Family, Property and Ordo Iuris. The Catholic Church remained in the background and the role of anti-rights spokespersons was relegated to ‘concerned’ religious citizens.

    Fundamentalists in Croatia made good use of citizen-initiated national referenda. In 2013, they voted down marriage equality, in large part thanks to voting laws that do not require a minimum voter turnout in national referendums, as a result of which a low turnout of roughly 38 per cent sufficed to enable constitutional change. In contrast, similar referendums in Romania and Slovakia failed thanks to the requirement of a minimum 50 per cent turnout.

    Anti-rights groups seem to have made a lot of progress in Eastern Europe since the early 2010s. Why is that?

    We started closely monitoring these groups in Croatia around the time of the referendum, and what we saw is that their rise was linked to the redefinition of their strategies. They used to be old fashioned, not very attractive to their potential audiences and not very savvy in the use of the instruments of direct democracy. From 2010 onwards they changed their strategies. The anti-rights movement underwent a rapid renewal, and its new leaders were very young, eloquent and aware of the potential of democratic instruments. In their public appearances, they started downplaying religion, moving from religious symbolism to contemporary, colourful and joyous visuals. They started organising mass mobilisations such as the anti-abortion Walk for Life marches, as well as small-scale street actions, such as praying against abortion outside hospitals or staging performances. Ironically, they learned by watching closely what progressive human rights CSOs had been doing: whatever they were doing successfully, they would just copy. They also revived and upgraded traditional petition methods, going online with platforms such as CitizenGo.

    Internationally, anti-rights groups started taking shape in the mid-1990s in reaction to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women, held in 1995 in Beijing. It was then that a consensus formed around women’s rights as human rights, and when gender first came on the agenda. Religious groups felt defeated in Beijing. Many academics who studied this process concluded that it was then that the Catholic Church got angry because they lost a big battle. They underwent several defeats in the years that followed, which enraged them further. In 2004, the candidacy of Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian nominee for the European Commission, was withdrawn under pressure from the European Parliament because of his anti-gender and homophobic positions. Christian fundamentalists were also enraged when heated discussions took place regarding the possibility of Europe’s ‘Christian roots’ being mentioned in the European Constitution. All of this made the Vatican very angry. There were quite a few symbolic moments that made them angry and pushed them to fight more strongly against liberal ideas.

    In reaction against this, they modernised, and it helped them to have increasingly tight connections to US-based fundamentalist evangelical groups, which had a long experience in shaping policies both within and outside the USA.

    Do you think this is mostly a top-down process, or have these groups reached deeply at the grassroots level?

    In Eastern Europe it is mostly a top-down process, possibly related to the fact that for the most part these groups are Christian Catholic, not evangelical. These ideas come from very high up. They have been produced and disseminated by the Vatican for decades. They are not spontaneous and are very well organised. Their strategies have not spread by imitation but rather because they are all dictated from the top.

    This does not mean that they have not been able to appeal to citizens; on the contrary, they have done so very successfully, even more so than human rights groups. That is because they use very simple language and play on people’s fears and insecurities. They build their popularity upon prejudice and fears of others who are different. Fear seems to be an easy way to mobilise people, but people on the left don’t want to use it because they feel that it is not fair to manipulate people. Anti-rights groups, on the other hand, don’t have any problem with scaring people. When they first appeared in Croatia, these groups gained huge support because they stirred fear and then presented themselves as the protectors and saviours of people against the fictional monster that they had created.

    What are the main strategies that these groups have used in order to grow?

    First, they share a unified discourse that is built around the rejection of what they call ‘gender ideology’, which is nothing but an empty signifier to designate whatever threat they perceive in any particular context. They declare themselves the protectors of the family and the natural order and use defamation strategies and a pseudo-scientific discourse against women’s and LGBTQI people’s rights. A nationalistic rhetoric is also omnipresent in Eastern European countries.

    Second, they have co-opted human rights discourse and adopted the practices of civic organising of the human rights movement. They not only profit from direct access to church-going citizens, but they also mobilise the grassroots through lectures, training, youth camps and social networks. They also benefit from sufficient funding to bus people to central rallies such as the Walk for Life marches, pay the expenses of numerous volunteers and cover the cost of expensive advertising.

    Third, they have successfully used citizen-initiated referendum mechanisms. In Croatia and Slovenia, they collected the required number of signatures to initiate national referenda against same-sex marriage, which they won. In Romania and Slovakia, in turn, they succeeded in collecting the signatures but failed to meet the minimum participation requirement. Voter turnout in all these referenda ranged from 20 per cent in Romania to 38 per cent in Croatia, which shows that fundamentalists do not enjoy majority support anywhere, but they are still cleverly using democratic mechanisms to advance their agenda.

    Fourth, they use litigation both to influence and change legislation and to stop human rights activists and journalists who are critical of their work. In order to silence them, they sue them for libel and ‘hate speech against Christians’. Although these cases are generally dismissed, they help them position themselves as victims due to their religious beliefs.

    Fifth, they not only get good coverage of their events on mainstream media but they also have their own media, mostly online news portals, in which they publish fake news that defames their opponents, which they then disseminate on social media. They also host and cover conservative events that feature ‘international experts’ who are presented as the highest authorities on issues such as sexuality and children’s rights.

    Sixth, they rely on transnational collaboration across Europe and with US-based groups.

    Seventh, they target the school system, for instance with after-school programmes intended to influence children between the ages of four and 14, when they are most susceptible and easily converted.

    Last but not least, they work not only through CSOs but also political parties. In this way, they are also present in elections, and in some cases, they gain significant power. Such is the case of the far-right Polish Law and Justice Party, which fully integrated these groups into its activities. In other cases, they establish their own political parties. This happened in Croatia, where the main fundamentalist CSO, In the Name of the Family, established a political party called Project Homeland. The case of Romania is most concerning in this regard, as it shows how Christian fundamentalist positions on LGBTQI rights can be mainstreamed across the political and religious spectrum.

    In other words, these groups are present in various spaces, not just within civil society. And they are targeting mainstream conservative parties, and notably those that are members of the European People’s Party, the European Parliament’s centre-right grouping. They are trying to move centre-right and conservative parties towards the far right. This is their crucial fight because it can take them to power. It’s the responsibility of conservative parties around the world to resist these attacks, and it is in the interest of progressive groups to protect them as well because if they lose, we all lose.

    Do you think there is anything that progressive civil society can do to stop anti-rights groups?

    I’m not very optimistic because we have been fighting them for several years and it’s really difficult, especially because the global tide is also changing: there is a general rightwards trend that seems very difficult to counter.

    However, there are several things that can still be done. The first thing would be to expose these groups, to tell people who they really are. We need to expose them for what they are – religious fundamentalists, neo-Nazis and so on – because they are hiding their true faces. Depending on the local context, sometimes they are not even proud to admit that they are connected to the Church. Once these connections are exposed, many people become suspicious towards them. We would also have to hope for some common sense and disclose all the dirty tracks of the money and hope that people will react, which sometimes happens, sometimes doesn’t.

    The main role should be played by believers who refuse to accept the misuse of religion for extremist purposes. Believers are the most authentic spokespeople against fundamentalism and their voices can be much stronger than the voices of mobilised secular people or political opposition. However, the lack of such groups at the local level, due to pressure from local religious authorities, can be a problem. Pope Francis has seriously weakened fundamentalist groups and he is a great example of how religious leaders can combat religious extremism and fundamentalism.

    It is also productive to use humour against them. They don’t really know how to joke; sarcastic, humorous situations make them feel at a loss. This has the potential to raise suspicions among many people. But we need to be careful not to make victims out of them because they are experts in self-victimisation and would know how to use this against us.

    Finally, let me say this again because it’s key. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s very important to empower conservative parties across the globe so they stand their ground and resist far-right hijacking attempts. Progressives need to protect conservative parties from extremist attacks, or they will become vehicles for the far-right to get to power, and then it will be too late.

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

    Follow @GordanBosanac on Twitter.inter

     

  • Catalonia: ‘It might take years to rebuild the political, social and emotional bridges that the pro-independence process has blown up’

    Catalonia’s independence movement hit the headlines in 2017, and Catalonia’s future remains undecided. CIVICUS speaks to Francesc Badia i Dalmases, editor of democraciaAbierta, openDemocracy’s Latin American section. openDemocracy is an independent media platform that seeks to challenge power and encourage democratic debate through reporting and analysis of social and political issues. With human rights as its central guiding focus, openDemocracy seeks to ask tough questions about freedom, justice and democracy. Its platform attracts over eight million visits per year.

     

  • CIVICUS at the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council

    The 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 18 June to 6 July 2018, will consider core civic space issues of freedom of association, assembly and expression. During this session, CIVICUS will be supporting advocacy missions on the grave human rights situations in Tanaznia, Ethiopia and Eritrea and Nicaragua, while also participating in reviews of citizen rights in Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the European Union. Additional areas to note:

    • The first week of the session will coincide with World Refugee Day (20 June)
    • Be the first session of the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Clement Voule
    • Process to renew and strengthen the Civic Space Resolution

    If you are in Geneva, please join us at the following events that CIVICUS is organising with partners:

    These events will be livestreamed on our CIVICUS Facebook Page and daily updates provided on Twitter.

     

  • Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe

    A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted  in early 2016  by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.

     

  • Coronavirus and European Civil Society

    By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

    European civil society is in a tug-of-war between restrictions, which may lead to the rise of a more fragile, authoritarian Europe, and resilience, which may suggest a more optimistic future in which civil society emerges stronger than before.

    A wave of civic resilience is sweeping across Europe. From online protests to symbolic messaging within the confines of physical distancing, activists are finding creative ways to fight back against perceived injustices amid restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The extent to which civil society can succeed in these efforts will determine what kind of Europe emerges from the pandemic.

    Read on Carnegie Europe

     

  • DISINFORMATION: ‘The fact that profit drives content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy’

    CIVICUS speaks with Rory Daniels about the 2019 elections in the UK and the dangers that disinformation poses to democracy.Rory is a student, activist and writer intent on promoting the voices of those left behind by governments and globalisation. In the 2017 general election, he stood as a 19-year-old parliamentarycandidate for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency of Llanelli. Since September 2019, he has been a member of Amnesty International's firstGlobal Youth Task Force.

    rory daniels

    What role would you say disinformation has played in the recent elections in the UK?

    As a candidate myself during the 2017 UK general election, I saw first-hand the role disinformation played throughout the campaign. Prominent newspapers often printed misleading headlines, biased websites attacked real journalists uncovering the truth and advertisements created by political parties lacked sources for statistics, featured heavily edited video footage and virtually never presented balanced arguments.

    Then the 2019 general election saw all this take place again, plus more. There were doctored videos, highly misleading websites and even signs of foreign interference. A doctored video came from the Conservative Party, which later admitted to editing a clip of a speech given by Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer. The video they released made it look like he had struggled to answer a question about exiting the European Union, while in fact he had answered the question. The same party then changed the name of one of its Twitter accounts to ‘FactcheckUK’. Twitter responded by warning the Conservatives that this effectively constituted an act of deception, as the account was not impartial as users may have been led to believe. Clearly not satisfied with deceiving videos and social media accounts, the Conservatives then bought ads on Google that appeared as the top result for anybody seeking the Labour Party’s manifesto. These criticised the proposals in a heavily biased fashion.

    The Labour Party also succumbed to disinformation. For example, their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, cited documents suggesting that the Conservatives would sell off large parts of the National Health Service to the USA in a post-Brexit trade agreement. It later transpired, however, that these documents were linked to a Russian disinformation campaign.

    Which platforms do you think are the most vulnerable to disinformation?

    It’s hard to say which platforms are more vulnerable to disinformation than others. In November 2019, I attended the World Forum for Democracy at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. The whole event revolved around the question of whether democracy is ‘in danger’ in the information age. It didn’t take long for me to see that vulnerabilities exist on any platform that possesses many users and is constrained by little regulation.

    In addition, with disinformation it’s often more about the content than the platform. For example, I remember reading a recent analysis conducted by BuzzFeed which found that during the final months of the 2016 US election campaign, fabricated news stories reached a greater online audience than actual news stories.

    What are the impacts of disinformation on democratic freedoms?

    All democracies depend upon facts, truth and scrutiny. Voters need reliable information in order to vote rationally – that is, to have good reason to vote for a certain politician or policy instead of others – to challenge their own worldview or preconceptions, and ultimately to hold power to account.

    In an age of disinformation, facts become indistinguishable from fiction, truth becomes impossible to discern among all the lies and scrutiny gets entangled in ideological polarisation. Where once there was the traditional media to keep the populace informed, now there is the internet – an unregulated mess of opinions, corporations and agendas.

    On the internet, the business model is simple: more clicks equal more revenue. This means that often, websites will only seek facts and the truth if they bring greater profits. If not, they may decide to prey on fear, stereotypes, insecurity, hatred and division. Authors know that readers achieve greater levels of satisfaction when they read opinions that confirm their worldview, rather than challenge it. This leads to greater polarisation, as empirical evidence is disregarded in favour of the ‘facts’ that confirm readers’ previously held views.

    We’ve already seen that if this occurs in a democracy, politics suffers. Voters develop apathy, because as they become overwhelmed by confusion and conflicting viewpoints, they switch off from political developments, while ‘establishment’ candidates lose out to populists who pedal quick solutions to complex problems. In short, rational, informed debate all but dies.

    What are the forces behind disinformation?

    Disinformation can be created by anybody at any time. State actors may intervene in foreign elections to tip the scales in their favour, while domestic activists may sow news stories that build support for far-right or populist actors. In other words, the ‘information war’ is fought from all sides.

    Since the creation of the internet, we’ve also seen what some people call the ‘democratisation of disinformation’ unfold. This means that anybody, whether in place A or with budget B, can create and share intentionally misleading content with ease. As a result, what only a few years ago was seen as a tool that was largely positive for democracy – the 2010 ‘Arab Spring’ came to be known as the ‘Facebook Revolution’ – is today perhaps its greatest threat.

    What is being done to combat disinformation, and what have the successes and challenges been so far?

    A few months ago, I spoke at UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy (MIL) conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. I did so because I believe that education can play an enormous role in addressing disinformation, and I also wanted to share some lessons I had learned from my 2017 parliamentary campaign. The conference was no doubt held in Sweden due to the country’s incredible push for MIL education in recent years, and after meeting many Swedish activists throughout the week, I can only applaud the valuable work they are doing in the field.

    I’m also looking to address some of the negative consequences of disinformation. For example, as a member of the Global Shapers, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, I’m part of a team of young activists planning a ‘Unity Day’ celebration to take place in London on 19 May 2020. Crucially, in a time of increasing division and hatred, this will see politicians, thought-leaders, community organisations and others come together to champion values and ideas that unite us. I urge you to visit the Unity Day website if you’re interested in pledging to take an action, no matter how big or small, that celebrates unity and combats division.

    Of course, trying to inform the debate about disinformation has not been easy. Still today, MIL education is woefully underprovided, sensible media regulations are too often labelled as censorship or attacks on free speech and social media platforms continue to constitute dangerous echo chambers.

    What more is needed to combat disinformation?

    Many of the causes of disinformation are structural by nature, and therefore I believe that many solutions must be too. We must finally recognise that the profit incentive driving content creation on the internet is dangerous to democracy and ultimately unsustainable, while tabloids that spew out sensationalist clickbait should be heavily regulated and severely fined if caught breaking the rules.

    In addition, I’m of the opinion that media and information literacy is by far the most cost-effective and sustainable strategy to countering disinformation and restoring our trust in democracy. MIL education should be offered far beyond schools, also targeting older generations who are less likely to identify disinformation and more likely to share it in the first place. Ultimately, readers must know how to spot and avoid disinformation, or else all the regulations and structural changes in the world will not solve the problem at hand.

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

    Get in touch with Rory throughLinkedIn if you’re interested in the regulation of big tech companies, London Global Shapers’ Unity Day or his work more generally.

     

  • DROITS DES MIGRANTS : " Les discours haineux sont motivés par des relations de pouvoir inégales et des stéréotypes négatifs "

    martin pairet

    Dans le cadre de notre rapport thématique de 2019, nous interrogeons des militants, des dirigeants et des experts de la société civile sur la manière dont ils sont confrontés aux réactions hostiles de la part des groupes anti-droits. CIVICUS parle de la montée des discours haineux en Europe et des stratégies de la société civile pour y faire face avec Martin Pairet, responsable des Réseaux chez European Alternatives, une organisation transnationale de la société civile et un mouvement citoyen qui promeut la démocratie, l'égalité et la culture au-delà de l'Etat-nation.

     

    European Alternatives se concentre sur la promotion de la démocratie au-delà des frontières. Dans quelle mesure êtes-vous préoccupé par la montée du nationalisme autoritaire en Europe ?

    European Alternatives s'efforce de soutenir la démocratie à travers le continent, et notre analyse actuelle est que la démocratie n'est pas assez mature et que les droits fondamentaux nécessaires au fonctionnement de la démocratie ne sont pas respectés en Europe. Le processus de dégradation des pratiques et des institutions démocratiques s'est déroulé sur un certain nombre d'années, au moins une décennie, mais s'est particulièrement accéléré avec la crise de l'hospitalité que nous connaissons actuellement face à la migration. Cette crise de l'hospitalité est avant tout une crise des valeurs européennes. Nous défendons le principe de solidarité et la création de nouvelles formes de communauté transnationale, et nous voyons exactement le contraire - la normalisation des mouvements et partis anti-droits dont le discours est amplifié par les médias, et les réseaux sociaux en particulier. C'est ce qui se passe dans tous les pays d'Europe, et en particulier dans les pays où les hommes politiques ont beaucoup à gagner avec une politique anti-migrants, comme en France, en Allemagne et en Italie.

    Considérez-vous cette situation comme le résultat d'un déficit démocratique ou d'un non-respect des droits humains ?

    Je pense que c'est un peu des deux. Il existe en fait un profond déficit démocratique et, ces dernières années, on s'interroge de plus en plus sur la manière dont les décisions sont prises à tous les niveaux - local, national, européen et mondial. Les gens réclament une plus grande représentation et une participation significative dans les processus décisionnels, par le biais de mécanismes tels que les référendums organisés à l'initiative des citoyens. Il y a beaucoup d'autres exemples que nous avons vus ces dernières années en Europe, de personnes s'organisant pour combler les lacunes des institutions représentatives et s'impliquant dans la prise de décision, par exemple à travers des Assemblées de citoyens. Beaucoup de gens ont l'impression que leur voix n'est pas entendue et se sentent donc impuissants - ils ont le sentiment que quoi qu'ils fassent, ils ne pourront pas changer les choses et ne reprendront pas le contrôle de la politique, ce qui signifie qu'ils n'auront pas leur mot à dire sur les décisions qui affectent leur vie et qu'ils ne pourront contrôler leur avenir.

    En ce sens, la démocratie est assez faible, et les gens ont de moins en moins d'espoir que quelqu'un occupant un poste de décision puisse vraiment comprendre leurs problèmes et leurs craintes, auxquels le système ne prête pas attention et n'est pas en mesure de répondre. C'est à ce moment que le nationalisme, l'extrémisme et la haine commencent à augmenter et que les discours haineux deviennent attrayants. Et dans ce contexte, il devient très difficile d'entendre le discours sur les droits humains, parce que ce n'est pas nécessairement quelque chose à quoi les gens se réfèrent ou auquel ils se connectent toujours, car il est assez abstrait. Les organisations européennes de défense des droits humains ont travaillé dur pour faire face à la crise humanitaire, mais elles ont parfois sous-estimé le pouvoir des émotions, et de la peur en particulier, et ne se sont donc pas concentrées sur la manière de répondre à ces craintes, ce qui a été problématique.

    Dans votre analyse de la crise actuelle de l'hospitalité, vous vous concentrez sur les discours haineux. Comment définiriez-vous cela ?

    Le discours haineux est un phénomène complexe qui ne peut pas vraiment entrer dans une définition simple. En fait, il n'existe pas de définition internationalement acceptée du discours haineux, et chaque État membre de l'Union européenne (UE) a sa propre définition juridique. La définition utilisée par le Conseil de l'Europe inclut toutes les formes d'expression qui propagent ou amplifient la xénophobie et diverses formes de haine et d'intolérance. Le discours haineux va à l'encontre des droits humains, c'est donc une forme de discours anti-droits. C'est aussi un phénomène social qui a été amplifié par les réseaux sociaux dans le contexte de relations de pouvoir de plus en plus sociales également liées à la crise économique et financière et au fait que le pouvoir financier et économique est concentré dans quelques mains. Mais les stéréotypes jouent aussi un rôle important. Je dirais que les discours haineux sont motivés à la fois par des relations de pouvoir inégales et par des stéréotypes négatifs.

    Ces dernières années, la normalisation des discours haineux a contribué à la radicalisation des personnes et des groupes contre ceux considérés comme " l'autre " : les attaques contre les groupes marginalisés, notamment les femmes, les LGBTQI, les Roms, les migrants, les réfugiés et les communautés religieuses minoritaires, se sont répandues sur les réseaux sociaux et le discours de haine se transforme progressivement en violence effective. C'est pourquoi nous avons constaté une augmentation des crimes haineux.

    L'un des problèmes, et la raison pour laquelle il est important d'avoir une définition claire du discours haineux, est que, bien qu’il soit une forme de discours contre les droits, une tentative de le réglementer et de le supprimer peut mener à la violation d'autres droits, et particulièrement d'un droit fondamental, le droit à la liberté d'expression.

    Bien que les droits des femmes, des LGBTQI, des personnes de couleur et des peuples autochtones doivent être respectés, leur droit d'être traités équitablement et avec respect peut parfois entrer en conflit avec la liberté d'expression. Il est donc important de savoir où tracer la ligne et comment identifier ce qui relève de la liberté d'expression et ce qui constitue un discours de haine ; et ce qui peut être fait à ce sujet. Mais il s'agit d'un processus très dynamique et les définitions changent continuellement, en partie à cause de l'essor des nouvelles technologies. Au fur et à mesure que de nouvelles formes de communication voient le jour, nous devons nous demander si tel ou tel discours est un discours haineux. Où est la limite ? Certains commentaires ou communications visuelles que l'on retrouve sur les plateformes médiatiques constituent-ils un discours haineux ? La distinction entre ce qui est ironique et ce qui est sérieux peut être difficile à saisir en ligne.

    Où, en Europe, la situation est-elle la plus préoccupante ?

    Le problème prend des formes différentes selon les endroits. Un exemple concret de cette situation préoccupante est celui de l'Italie, où il y a eu une augmentation significative des crimes haineux entre 2017 et 2018. En raison de l'utilisation de différentes méthodes de collecte de données, il est difficile de savoir dans quelle mesure ceux-ci ont augmenté, mais il est évident qu'ils ont fortement augmenté lorsque l'extrême droite est arrivée au pouvoir.

    En Italie, les discours haineux ont ciblé spécifiquement les réfugiés et les personnes de couleur. Cécile Kyenge, membre italienne noire du Parlement européen, est victime d'agressions racistes depuis des années. Lorsqu'elle a été nommée la première ministre noire du gouvernement d'Italie en 2013, elle a reçu des insultes racistes de la part du parti d'extrême droite de la Ligue. En 2018, une fois que le leader du Parti de la Ligue, Matteo Salvini, est arrivé au pouvoir, ils ont porté plainte pour diffamation contre elle, pour avoir accusé le parti et ses dirigeants d'être racistes !

    Il est très révélateur qu'un crime haineux ait été commis le jour même où Matteo Salvini a été assermenté comme Vice-Premier Ministre, le 3 juin 2018. Un migrant malien de 29 ans a été abattu (en anglais) par un homme blanc qui passait en voiture et lui a tiré dessus avec un fusil. Il a été tué alors qu'il ramassait de la ferraille pour construire des cabanes, aux côtés de deux autres migrants qui ont également été blessés. Ils vivaient tous dans un village de tentes qui abrite des centaines de travailleurs agricoles mal payés. Il s'agissait clairement d'un exemple de discours haineux transformé en acte, puisque cela s'est produit quelques heures à peine après que Matteo Salvini eut averti (en anglais) que, maintenant qu'il était au pouvoir, "les bons moments pour les sans-papiers étaient terminés" et que "l'Italie ne saurait être le camp de réfugiés de l'Europe".

    Le fait que l'extrême-droite ait accédé au pouvoir ou non fait une différence, ce qui devient évident lorsque l'on compare l'Italie et l'Allemagne. Les discours haineux sont également en hausse en Allemagne, mais dans ce cas, une nouvelle loi (en anglais) a été adoptée à la fin de 2017 pour réglementer les discours haineux en ligne. Cette loi exige que les plateformes de réseaux sociaux éliminent rapidement les discours haineux, les " fausses nouvelles " et tout matériel illégal, et elle semble avoir été très efficace pour réduire les discours haineux en ligne. En revanche, l'Italie ne dispose pas d'un cadre juridique aussi solide et le contexte n'est pas non plus propice à une révision du cadre juridique. En résumé, la montée des discours haineux en Italie est le résultat du mélange d'un environnement politique régressif et de l'absence d'une législation forte.

    Dans les cas de la Hongrie et de la Pologne, les gouvernements ont également réagi vigoureusement contre les migrants. Ces exemples sont particulièrement intéressants parce qu'il n'y a parfois pas de migrants dans certaines parties du pays, surtout à la campagne, mais il peut quand même y avoir des politiques anti-migrants même dans des endroits où il y a très peu de migrants. Cela a beaucoup à voir avec qui est au pouvoir et quel discours est livré par les dirigeants et diffusé sur les réseaux sociaux. Et si les discours de haine peuvent cibler divers groupes particuliers, je pense que dans la situation actuelle en Europe, ils commencent toujours par les migrants et les réfugiés, puis s'étendent à d'autres groupes marginalisés. Nous l'avons vu avec le Brexit au Royaume-Uni : la campagne référendaire a été imprégnée d'un discours anti-migrant, mais divers groupes de personnes qui n'étaient pas des migrants ou des réfugiés ont été de plus en plus menacés par des approches d'exclusion, qui ont fini par viser quiconque était différent, avait une apparence ou un langage différents.

    Existe-t-il une législation au niveau européen pour lutter contre les discours de haine ?

    Il n'y a rien de spécifique contre les discours haineux, mais parce qu'ils constituent une violation de tout un ensemble de droits, il existe un large éventail de règles applicables, telles que la décision-cadre sur la lutte contre certaines formes et manifestations de racisme et de xénophobie au moyen du droit pénal. Il y a aussi l'Agence des droits fondamentaux, une agence financée par l'UE qui collecte et analyse des données et effectue des recherches sur les droits fondamentaux. Elle fournit une assistance et une expertise aux niveaux européen et national, notamment dans les domaines de la non-discrimination, du racisme, de l'intolérance et des crimes de haine. Enfin, il existe un Code de conduite pour la lutte contre les discours haineux illégaux en ligne que la Commission européenne a récemment approuvé avec Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter et YouTube, qui vise à permettre aux utilisateurs des réseaux sociaux de donner librement leur avis en ligne et sans crainte de subir des attaques motivées par des considérations de race, couleur, religion, origine nationale ou ethnique, orientation et identité sexuelles, handicap ou autre. Elle vise également à faire en sorte que les législations communautaires et nationales en matière de lutte contre le discours  haineux soient mieux appliquées dans l'environnement en ligne dans l'ensemble de l'UE. Mais le processus d'adaptation de la législation européenne est lent et long, et l'UE ne dispose pas toujours de mécanismes suffisants pour tenir les États membres responsables lorsqu'ils ne se conforment pas à la législation.

    Que peut faire la société civile pour contrer les discours haineux, à part faire pression pour obtenir des changements législatifs ?

    Il existe de nombreuses stratégies qui peuvent être utilisées pour contrer efficacement le discours haineux. Bien sûr, il est important de modifier la législation pour garantir qu'elle couvre toutes les formes de discrimination et de discours de haine, mais il est également important - et très difficile - de sensibiliser la population. La prise de conscience de leur droit à l'égalité de traitement doit tout d'abord se faire auprès des personnes visées par les discours de haine. Même parmi les citoyens européens, nombreux sont ceux qui ne connaissent pas exactement leurs droits. Il est donc important de partager l'information avec la société civile et d'encourager les groupes de la société civile à la partager davantage.

    Le rôle des autorités locales et des organismes publics tels que la police est également essentiel pour garantir le droit à l'égalité de traitement, et le fait qu'ils agissent ou non face aux discours de haine fait une différence. Il est donc important que la société civile travaille avec ces acteurs pour qu'ils puissent reconnaître les propos haineux et agir contre eux.

    En outre, la société civile peut faire mieux dans le domaine des stratégies de communication pour protéger les droits fondamentaux en général. Cela nécessiterait un investissement dans le renforcement des capacités, étant donné que les connaissances requises ne sont pas uniformément diffusées. Les acteurs de base n'ont pas nécessairement les moyens de faire ce genre de travail, mais c'est souvent ce genre de travail qui a le plus d'impact sur les groupes affectés, car il est essentiel pour les aider à atteindre ces groupes.

    Il faut beaucoup plus d'investissements pour contrer les groupes haineux en ligne, car le contenu en ligne peut avoir un impact bien au-delà du contexte pour lequel il a été formulé. Selon des études sur le discours antisémite, les gens ont tendance à se sentir menacés par ce qu'ils voient en ligne, quel que soit l'impact direct sur leur réalité, de sorte qu'il est clair qu'il faut investir davantage pour contrer cet effet.

    Comment European Alternatives travaille-t-elle pour contrer les discours haineux ?

    Nous nous efforçons de mettre en contact les groupes qui travaillent sur des questions similaires et de combler les lacunes en matière de capacités. Nous y sommes parvenus grâce à une série d'activités de formation sur la lutte contre les discours haineux et le radicalisme d'extrême droite en Europe centrale et orientale. Il est important de réunir des militants et des citoyens de différents pays, car il est très difficile pour les gens de comprendre qu'il ne s'agit pas de phénomènes isolés qui se produisent dans leurs communautés, mais plutôt que beaucoup de communautés vivent la même chose et qu'il existe une gamme de solutions qui ont été essayées dans divers contextes locaux pour y remédier. Il est très important que ces échanges se poursuivent, parce que nous avons vu qu'ils fonctionnent : nous voyons des organisations qui collaborent au-delà des frontières et échangent des expériences qu'elles peuvent adapter pour lutter contre le discours haineux dans leur propre contexte.

    Il est également essentiel d'investir autant que possible dans l'éducation civique et l'éducation aux droits humains. Nous le faisons par le biais d'un cours en ligne sur la lutte contre les discours haineux en Europe, qui est basé sur le dialogue en ligne maintenu avec nos partenaires. Les vidéos sont open source et sont disponibles sur notre chaîne YouTube. Nous avons une liste de lecture appelée " Countering Hate Speech" (Contrecarrer les discours haineux), pour qu'ils puissent être regardés en séquence. Le cours offre aux participants l'opportunité d'accéder à des contenus d'experts développés par European Alternatives et de mettre en avant leurs propres expériences, valeurs et perspectives tout en s'engageant avec leurs pairs à travers un échange virtuel. À la fin du cours, les participants apprennent même à planifier et à organiser une journée d'action contre le discours haineux.

    Grâce à ces activités, nous essayons d'atteindre un grand nombre de jeunes. Le dialogue entre les individus et entre les communautés est essentiel parce que sur les réseaux sociaux, il y a de moins en moins d'espaces où les gens peuvent avoir une vraie conversation dans un environnement sûr. Et le dialogue est tout à fait efficace pour sensibiliser et réfléchir à des stratégies collectives.

    Je pense que la raison pour laquelle nous continuons dans cette voie, c'est parce que nous pensons qu'il ne peut y avoir une démocratie qui fonctionne bien lorsque les gens ne sont pas respectés. Le respect de notre humanité commune est une condition préalable à toute réforme démocratique.

    Prenez contact avec European Alternatives via son site web et sa page Facebook, ou suivez @EuroAlter et @MartPirate sur Twitter.

     

  • GRÈCE : « Nous avons besoin d’un changement à la fois dans les récits et dans les politiques de migration »

    CIVICUS s’entretient sur la situation des migrants et des réfugiés en Grèce et sur le rôle de la société civile dans l’élaboration des politiques publiques avec Lefteris Papagiannakis, chargé de plaidoyer, de politique et de recherche àSolidarity Now (Solidarité Maintenant) et ancien adjoint au maire pour les affaires des migrants et des réfugiés du Conseil municipal d’Athènes. Solidarity Now est une organisation de la société civile (OSC) qui travaille avec des groupes vulnérables, et en particulier avec les communautés de migrants et de réfugiés en Grèce, pour s’assurer qu’ils soient traités avec dignité et aient accès à un avenir meilleur.

     

  • GREECE: ‘We need a change in narratives as well as in policies towards migration’

    CIVICUS speaks about the situation of migrants and refugees in Greece and the role of civil society in policymaking with Lefteris Papagiannakis, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Research atSolidarity Now and former Vice Mayor on Migrant and Refugee Affairs for the Municipality of Athens. Solidarity Now is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works with vulnerable groups, with a focus on migrants and refugee communities in Greece in order to help them achieve dignity and a better future.

     

  • HATE SPEECH: ‘The fact that this is how online platforms are supposed to work is a big part of the problem’

    Brandi Geurkink

    As part of our 2019thematic report, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about their experience of facing backlash by anti-rights groups. CIVICUS speaks with Brandi Geurkink, European campaigner at the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit corporation based on the conviction that the internet is a global public resource that must remain open and accessible to all. The Mozilla Foundation seeks to fuel a movement for a healthy internet by supporting a diverse group offellows working on key internet issues, connecting open internet leaders at events such asMozFest, publishing critical research in theInternet Health Report and rallying citizens aroundadvocacy issues that connect the wellbeing of the internet directly to everyday life.

    The regular internet user possibly identifies Mozilla with Firefox and doesn’t know that there is also a Mozilla Foundation. Can you tell us what the Mozilla Foundation is and what it does?

    I get this question asked a lot. When I told my family I was working for Mozilla, they said, ‘wait, you are not a software professional, what are you doing there?’ What makes Mozilla different from other software developers is that it is a non-profit tech company. Mozilla is the creator of Firefox, which is a web browser, but an open source one. It also has users’ privacy at its core. And all of Mozilla’s work is guided by the Mozilla Manifesto, which provides a set of principles for an open, accessible and safe internet, viewed as a global public resource.

    Profits that come from the Firefox browser are invested into the Mozilla Foundation, which is the Mozilla Corporation’s sole shareholder, and our mission is to build an open and healthy web. Mozilla creates and enables open-source technologies and communities that support the Manifesto’s principles; creates and delivers consumer products that represent the Manifesto’s principles; uses the Mozilla assets – intellectual property such as copyrights and trademarks, infrastructure, funds and reputation – to keep the internet an open platform; promotes models for creating economic value for the public benefit; and promotes the Mozilla Manifesto principles in public discourse and within the internet industry.

    Mozilla promotes an open and healthy web through a variety of activities. For instance, we have a fellowships programme to empower and connect leaders from the internet health movement. This programme supports people doing all sorts of things, from informing debates on how user rights and privacy should be respected online to creating technologies that will enable greater user agency. Mozilla also produces an annual report, the Internet Health Report, and mobilises people in defence of a healthy internet. A lot of this work takes the form of campaigning for corporate accountability; we seek to influence the way in which tech companies are thinking about privacy and user agency within their products and to mobilise consumers so that they demand better behaviour and more control over their online lives.

    How do you define a healthy internet?

    A healthy internet is a place where people can safely and freely communicate and participate. For this to happen, the internet must truly be a global public resource rather than something that’s owned by a few giant tech companies, who are then in control of who participates and how they do it. Some key components of a healthy web are openness, privacy and security. We place a lot of emphasis on digital inclusion, which determines who has access; web literacy, which determines who can succeed online; and decentralisation, which focuses on who controls the web – ideally, many rather than just a few.

    The internet is currently dominated by eight American and Chinese companies: Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Baidu, Facebook, Microsoft and Tencent. These companies and their subsidiaries dominate all layers of the digital world, from search engines, browsers and social media services to core infrastructure like undersea cables and cloud computing. They built their empires by selling our attention to advertisers, creating new online marketplaces and designing hardware and software that we now cannot do without. Their influence is growing in both our private lives and public spaces.

    What’s wrong about giant tech companies, and why it would be advisable to curb their power?

    A lot of the problems that we see online are not ‘tech’ problems per se – they’re sociopolitical problems that are amplified, and in some cases incentivised, to spread like wildfire and reach more people than ever before. When it comes to disinformation, for instance, a big part of the problem is the business models that guide the major social media platforms that we communicate on. The most successful tech companies have grown the way they have because they have monetised our personal data. They cash in on our attention in the form of ad revenue. When you think about how we use platforms designed for viral advertising as our primary method of social and political discourse – and increasingly our consumption of news – you can start to see why disinformation thrives on platforms like Facebook and Google.

    Another example of the ‘attention economy’ is YouTube, Google’s video platform, which recommends videos to users automatically, often leading us down ‘rabbit holes’ of increasingly more extreme content in order to keep us hooked and watching. When content recommendation algorithms are designed to maximise attention to drive profit, they end up fuelling radical beliefs and often spreading misinformation.

    What can be done about people using the internet to disseminate extremist ideas, hate speech and false information?

    I’m glad that you asked this because there is definitely a risk of censorship and regulation to fix this problem that actually results in violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. Worryingly, we’re seeing ‘fake news laws’ that use this problem as an excuse to limit freedom of speech and crack down on dissent, particularly in countries where civic space is shrinking and press freedom lacking. Mozilla fellow Renee di Resta puts this best when she says that freedom of reach is not the same as freedom of speech. Most of the big internet platforms have rules around what constitutes acceptable speech, which basically take the form of community guidelines. At the same time, platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter give people the ability to amplify their ideas to a huge number of people. This is the ‘freedom of reach’, and increasingly we’re seeing that used to spread ideas that are at odds with the values that underpin peaceful and democratic societies, like equality and human rights.

    I think that it’s important to acknowledge that the business models of major technology platforms create the perfect storm for the manipulation of users. Disinformation and hate speech are content designed to appeal to emotions such as fear, anger and even humour. Combine this with the ability to target specific profiles of people in order to manipulate their ideas, and this becomes the perfect place for this sort of ideas to take hold. Once purveyors of disinformation have gained enough of a following, they can comfortably move offline and mobilise these newly-formed communities, which is something we’re seeing more and more of. It’s this freedom of reach problem that platforms have yet to grapple with, maybe because it’s at odds with the very way that they make money. The challenge is to come up with ideas that improve the mechanisms to eliminate, on one hand, the likelihood of amplification of anti-rights ideas and hate speech, and on the other, the danger of censorship and discrimination against certain types of legitimate discourse.

    There has been a lot of controversy about how social media platforms are, or are not, dealing with misinformation. Do you think fact-checking is the way to go?

    Responsible reporting and factual information are crucial for people to make informed choices, including about who should govern them; that is why fighting misinformation with care for free speech is key. Among the things that can be done about misinformation it is worth mentioning the verification of advertisers, as well as improved monitoring tools to detect bots and check facts. These are things that if implemented correctly would have an impact on these issues, and not just during the time of elections.

    But the critical place where platforms are currently failing to live up to their commitments is around transparency. There must be greater transparency into how people use platforms like Facebook and Google to pay for ads that are intended to manipulate political discourse. At the same time, we must ensure that these companies are open about how content monitoring happens on platforms and that there are redress policies in place for people whose content has been wrongfully removed or deleted. Specific attention should be paid to the situation of fragile democracies, where disinformation can be more harmful because of the absence or limited presence of independent media.

    There have been election campaigns plagued by disinformation tactics in many different places, from India to Brazil. In response to public pressure, Facebook expressed a commitment to provide better transparency around how their platform is used for political advertisement so that sophisticated disinformation campaigns can be detected and understood and ultimately prevented. But the transparency tools that the company has released are largely insufficient. This has been repeatedly verified by independent researchers. There is a big disconnect between what companies say in public regarding what they intend to do or have done to prevent disinformation and the actual tools they put out there to do the job. I think Facebook should focus on creating tools that can actually get the job done.

    And besides what the companies running the social media platforms are or are not doing, there have been independent initiatives that seem to have worked. A tactic that disinformation campaigns use is the repurposing of content, for instance using a photo that was taken in a different place and time or sharing an old article out of context to spread the rumour that something new has just happened when it’s actually something else entirely that has been reported five years ago. In response to this, The Guardian came up with a brilliant solution: when someone shares on Twitter or Facebook an article of theirs that’s over 12 months old a yellow sign will automatically appear on the shared image stating that the article is over 12 months old. The notice also appears when you click on the article. This initiative was a proactive move from The Guardian to empower people to think more critically about what they are seeing. We need many more initiatives like this.

    Are disinformation campaigns also plaguing European politics in the ways that we’ve seen in the USA and Brazil?

    Most definitely, which is why in the lead up to the 2019 European elections four leading internet companies – Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla – signed the European Commission’s Code of Practice on Disinformation pledging to take specific steps to prevent disinformation from manipulating citizens of the European Union. This was basically a voluntary code of conduct, and what we saw when monitoring its implementation ahead of the European elections was that the platforms did not deliver what they promised to the European Commission in terms of detecting and acting against disinformation.

    Fortunately, ahead of the European Parliamentary elections we didn’t see election interference and political propaganda on the scale that has happened in the Philippines, for example, which is an excellent case study if you want to learn about disinformation tactics that were used very successfully. But we still have a big problem with ‘culture war debates’ that create an atmosphere of confusion, opening rifts and undermining trust in democratic processes and traditional institutions. Social media platforms have still not delivered on transparency commitments that are desperately needed to better understand what is happening.

    Civil society identified a case in Poland where pro-government Facebook accounts posed as elderly people or pensioners to spread government propaganda. Before the European elections and following an independent investigation, Facebook took down 77 pages and 230 fake accounts from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK, which had been followed by an estimated 32 million people and generated 67 million interactions over the previous three months alone. These were mostly part of far-right disinformation networks. Among other things, they had spread a video that was seen by 10 million people, supposedly showing migrants in Italy destroying a police car, which was actually from an old movie, and a fake story about migrant taxi drivers raping white women in Poland. A UK-based disinformation network that was uncovered in March 2019 was dedicated to disseminating fake information on topics such as immigration, LGBTQI rights and religious beliefs.

    Of course this is happening all the time, and not only during elections, although elections are moments of particular visibility when a lot more than usual is at stake, so there seems to be a spike in the use of misinformation tactics around elections. This also tends to happen around other, particularly stressful situations, for example a terror attack or more generally any current event that draws people’s attention.

    Why do online dynamics favour the amplification of specific kinds of messages – i.e. messages of hate instead of a narrative of human rights?

    Internet platforms are designed to amplify certain types of content that are created to appeal to deep emotions, because their aim is to keep you on the platform as long as possible and make you want to share that content with friends who will also be retained as long as possible on the platform. The higher the numbers of people online and the longer they stay, the higher the number of ads that will be delivered, and the higher the ad revenue will be. What will naturally happen once these platforms are up and running is that people will develop content with a political purpose, and the dynamics around this content will be exactly the same.

    Some will say that users doing this are abusing internet platforms. I disagree: I think people doing this are using those platforms exactly how they were designed to be used, but for the purpose of spreading an extremist political discourse, and the fact that this is how platforms are supposed to work is indeed a big part of the problem. It does make a difference whether someone is trying to make money from users’ posts or the platform is just a space for people to exchange ideas. We need to understand that if we are not paying for the product, then we are the product. If nobody were trying to make money out of our online interactions, there would be a higher chance of online interactions being more similar to interactions happening anywhere else, with people exchanging ideas more naturally rather than trying to catch each other’s attention by trying to elicit the strongest possible reactions.

    Does it make sense for us to keep trying to use the internet to have reasonable and civilised political conversations, or is it not going to happen?

    I love the internet, and so I think it’s not an entirely hopeless situation. The fact that the attention economy, combined with the growing power of a handful of tech companies, drives the way that we use the internet is really problematic, but at the same time there is a lot of work being done to think through how alternative business models for the internet could look, and increasingly regulators and internet users are realising that the current model is really broken. A fundamental question worth asking is whether it is possible to balance a desire to maximise ad revenue, and therefore people’s time spent on social media, and social responsibility. I think that companies as big as Google or Facebook have a duty to invest in social responsibility even if it has a negative impact on their revenue or it requires a level of transparency and accountability that frightens them. Responsibility implies, among other things, getting people’s consent to use their data to determine what they see online, and provide users’ insights into when and how you’re making choices about what they see.

    You may wonder, ‘why would they do that?’. Well, it’s interesting. The CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, recently published a blog post saying that the spread of harmful content on YouTube is more of a revenue risk for the company because it damages their reputation. I think that there is an element of reputational damage, but the much bigger risk that these companies face is policy-makers cracking down on these platforms and their ability to continue operating as usual without greater accountability. For instance, the European code of practice on disinformation was self-regulatory; we have seen at least in this case that the platforms that committed to the Code didn’t deliver tools that were sufficient to provide greater political ad transparency, and they are still not held accountable for this. Does this example mean that policy-makers will be under greater pressure to regulate the online space by mandating transparency instead of requesting it? These are the sort of conversations that should define new approaches to dealing with harmful content online in order to make sure it remains a positive force in our lives.

    Get in touch with the Mozilla Foundation through itswebsite, andfollow@mozilla and@bgeurkink on Twitter.

     

  • ITALIE : « Le mouvement des Sardines cherche à susciter la confiance en soi dans le camp progressiste »

    CIVICUS s'entretient avec Andrea Garreffa, l'un des fondateurs du mouvement des Sardines (Movimento delle Sardine), un mouvement politique populaire qui a débuté en novembre 2019 à Bologne, en Italie, pour protester contre la rhétorique haineuse du leader populiste de droite Matteo Salvini.

    Andrea Garreffa

    Qu'est-ce qui vous a inspiré pour démarrer ce mouvement ?

    Le 26 janvier 2020, il y avait des élections régionales en Émilie-Romagne, notre région d'origine - et quand je dis la nôtre, je veux dire la mienne et celle des autres co-fondateurs du mouvement, Mattia Santori, Roberto Morotti et Giulia Trappoloni. À cette époque, il y avait une grande vague d’extrême droite, représentée par la Ligue et son leader, Matteo Salvini. Il y avait des signes très effrayants en rapport avec la situation politique générale en Italie, dont le manque de respect envers la survivante de l’Holocauste Liliana Segre, déportée à Auschwitz et seule survivante de toute sa famille. À partir des années 1990, Segre a commencé à parler publiquement de son expérience et en 2018, elle a été nommée sénatrice à vie. Elle a reçu tellement d’insultes et de menaces sur les réseaux sociaux qu’en novembre 2019, elle a été placée sous protection policière. La situation était terrifiante ; je n’ai pas honte d’admettre que je pleurais en lisant les nouvelles de ces épisodes dans le journal.

    Comment s'est organisée la première manifestation des Sardines ?

    À l’approche des élections, mes amis et moi avons commencé à réfléchir à un moyen de nous exprimer et d’avertir la Ligue que le match n’était pas encore terminé. Nous voulions que cela soit très clair, tant pour les partis d’extrême droite que pour tous les citoyens qui recherchaient un stimulant pour se responsabiliser. La Ligue venait de gagner en Ombrie et s’était également annoncée comme vainqueur en Émilie-Romagne ; elle comptait sur cette victoire pour déstabiliser le gouvernement de coalition et revenir au pouvoir. Nous voulions faire quelque chose pour freiner ce processus. Nous avons commencé à y réfléchir le 6 ou 7 novembre 2019, juste une semaine avant que Matteo Salvini, avec Lucia Borgonzoni, la candidate de la Ligue à la présidence du gouvernement régional, commencent leur campagne avec un événement au stade de Bologne. Nous étions très conscients que la dernière fois que Salvini était venu à Bologne, il avait dit que la Piazza Maggiore, la place principale de la ville, pouvait accueillir jusqu'à 100 000 personnes, en indiquant implicitement que c’était le nombre de personnes qui avaient assisté à son événement, ce qui est physiquement impossible, puisque la capacité maximale de la place est d’environ 30 000 personnes entassées. D’une certaine manière, nous voulions également attirer l’attention sur les informations diffusées par les médias et nous assurer qu’ils ne pouvaient pas tricher.

    Bref, notre idée était d’organiser une démonstration de type flashmob sur la Piazza Maggiore de Bologne, le jour même où Salvini faisait son acte. Nous l’avons appelé « 6 000 sardines contre Salvini » car notre objectif était de rassembler environ 6 000 personnes et notre tactique était de montrer que nous étions nombreux ; nous avons donc utilisé l’image de foules entassées comme des sardines sur un banc de sable. Dans les quelques jours que nous avons eus pour nous organiser, nous avons établi le récit principal et préparé des modèles personnalisables afin que chaque participant ait la liberté de s’exprimer et d’utiliser sa créativité. Le nôtre était un message que tout le monde pouvait comprendre, et les actions requises étaient des choses que n’importe qui pouvait faire. Nous voulions nous débarrasser de tous les sentiments négatifs liés aux partis politiques existants, donc l’initiative était inclusive dès le départ. Elle n’était liée à aucun parti, mais ouverte à quiconque partageait les valeurs fondamentales de l’antifascisme et de l’antiracisme.

    Nous avons envoyé une invitation, non seulement via Facebook, mais aussi, et surtout, en descendant dans la rue pour distribuer des dépliants et parler aux gens, afin que les gens puissent comprendre que l’événement était réel et que cela allait vraiment arriver. Nous avons été surpris de voir que deux jours seulement après le lancement de la campagne sur Facebook, nous distribuions des dépliants et les gens nous disaient qu’ils étaient déjà au courant de l’événement. Le bouche à oreille fonctionnait incroyablement bien ; à mon avis, cela reflétait un besoin très fort pour les gens de faire quelque chose pour que Matteo Salvini ne gagne pas à Bologne et en Émilie-Romagne. Les gens ont compris à quel point ce choix était important. Au cours de l'été, Salvini avait déstabilisé le gouvernement national en se « montrant » à Milano Marittima et en exigeant des pieni poteri - pleins pouvoirs, une expression que Mussolini utilisait d’habitude. Les citoyens ne pouvaient pas risquer qu’un tel spectacle se reproduise et ont vraiment ressenti l’appel à l’action lorsque la propagande d'extrême droite a commencé à diffuser des messages tels que « Liberiamo l’Emilia-Romagna » (Libérons l’Émilie-Romagne), comme si les gens avaient oublié leurs cours d’histoire : la région n’avait pas besoin d’être libérée car cela s’était déjà produit à la fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Les gens ont estimé que leur intelligence n’était pas respectée et nous nous sommes levés pour la rendre visible et tangible. Les gens sont moins stupides que ce que les personnes au pouvoir ont tendance à penser.

    Comment saviez-vous que les gens y assisteraient ?

    Nous n’avions aucune idée. Dans la nuit du 14 novembre, nous nous sommes retrouvés entourés d’une foule incroyable - les médias ont rapporté qu’il y avait 15 000 personnes - et nous ne pouvions pas le croire.

    Nous nous attendions à ce que quelques personnes soient présentes ; nous avons commencé à croire au succès de l’initiative lorsque nous avons vu que dès le premier jour, nous atteignions chacun des objectifs que nous nous étions fixés. Par exemple, nous avons mis en place la page Facebook avec l’objectif initial d’atteindre un millier de personnes, et le lendemain il y en avait déjà plus de trois ou quatre mille. C’était principalement pour deux raisons : premièrement, parce que c'était le bon moment, car évidemment les gens étaient prêts pour une initiative comme celle-ci ; et deuxièmement, par le fait que nous vivons nous-mêmes à Bologne, nous connaissons beaucoup de monde et pouvions donc facilement diffuser le message.

    Mais le 14 novembre, personne ne savait ce qui allait se passer. Nous avions dit aux gens qu’il y aurait une surprise et nous l’avons gardée secrète jusqu'à ce que tout le monde se soit réuni, et à 20h30 nous avons joué une chanson de Lucio Dalla, Com'è profondo il mare, qui se traduit par « combien la mer est profonde ». Dans une partie de la chanson, les paroles disent que nous sommes nombreux, que nous descendons tous du poisson et que vous ne pouvez pas arrêter le poisson parce que vous ne pouvez pas bloquer l’océan, vous ne pouvez pas l’encercler. Cela a généré beaucoup d’émotion et les gens ont même pleuré parce que c’était un sentiment très puissant ; beaucoup de gens ne pouvaient pas croire que cela se produisait vraiment. Les personnes âgées se sentaient à nouveau jeunes, éprouvant des émotions qu’elles croyaient perdues à jamais dans les années 70. Les jeunes enfants ont eu l’occasion de participer à une fête massive et joyeuse, ce qui les a amenés à remettre en question l’idée que la politique est ennuyeuse et sans émotion. Je pense que toute la vague qui a suivi a été générée cette première nuit ; elle est née de cette émotion initiale. Nous n’étions pas 6 000 mais bien plus, et nous avons envoyé le message que le match était loin d'être terminé et que, par conséquent, Salvini ne pouvait pas encore être considéré comme le vainqueur. C’est la clé : quel que soit le sport que vous pratiquez, si vous entrez sur le court en pensant que vous allez perdre, vous perdrez. C’était l’ambiance qui prévalait parmi les partis de gauche et les citoyens progressistes. Nous avons fait ce que nous avons pu pour faire croire à « notre équipe » en elle-même et en ses chances de victoire. On pourrait dire que ce que cherche le mouvement des Sardines, c’est de susciter la confiance en soi dans le camp progressiste.

    Qui a organisé toutes les manifestations suivantes ?

    L’excitation de la première manifestation s’est propagée grâce à une impressionnante photographie prise du toit du bâtiment municipal, montrant une fourgonnette rouge entourée de milliers de personnes. L’image s’est répandue sur internet et les réseaux sociaux. Elle a aidé à concentrer l’attention sur les élections régionales. Tous les médias internationaux étaient là, alors on leur a offert l’image et ainsi tout a commencé. L’image reflétait le fait que quelque chose d’important se passait, alors quand des gens dans d’autres villes et même d’autres pays ont commencé à nous contacter, nous avons créé une adresse e-mail pour que n’importe qui puisse nous contacter.

    Nous avons partagé notre expérience et expliqué à ceux qui nous ont contactés comment nous avions tout mis en place en seulement six jours : comment nous avions demandé des permis pour la manifestation et pour jouer de la musique, comment nous prenions soin des gens, ce genre de choses. Nous avons ensuite organisé toutes les informations afin qu’elles puissent être partagées avec toute personne souhaitant faire quelque chose de similaire ailleurs. Nous avons également enregistré le nom de l’initiative, non pas parce que nous voulions la posséder, mais pour empêcher son utilisation abusive et protéger ses valeurs sous-jacentes. Nous avons passé des heures et des jours à parler au téléphone avec des gens de toute l’Émilie-Romagne, puis d’autres régions, jusqu’à ce que le mouvement soit devenu si grand que nous avons été en mesure d’annoncer une manifestation massive qui se tiendrait à Rome en décembre.

    Pour l’événement de Rome, nous n’avons même pas eu grand-chose à faire, car il y avait déjà des gens à Rome qui organisaient eux-mêmes la manifestation et ils nous ont invités comme orateurs. C’était en effet un aspect positif, car il ne s’agissait plus de gens de Bologne qui organisaient un événement pour Rome, mais de gens de Rome s’organisant, mobilisant leurs amis et voisins et invitant les gens à se joindre à eux.

    Juste avant les élections, le 19 janvier, nous avons organisé un grand concert à Bologne, dans le but d’encourager la participation électorale. Nous ne voulions pas faire pression sur les gens pour qu’ils votent pour tel ou tel parti, mais pour encourager leur participation. Lors des précédentes élections régionales, l’indifférence avait prévalu : seuls 37 % des électeurs ont exercé leur droit. Le taux de participation le plus élevé que nous avons atteint cette fois, lorsque 69 % ont voté, était en soi une victoire pour la démocratie.

    Vous avez mentionné que le mouvement s’est répandu à l’échelle nationale et internationale. Avez-vous également établi des liens avec d’autres mouvements pour la justice dans d’autres pays ?

    Le mouvement s’est développé à l’échelle internationale depuis le début, grâce aux Italiens vivant à l’étranger qui ont lu l’actualité, compris ce qui se passait et nous ont contactés. Nous communiquons avec des personnes dans des dizaines de grandes villes de nombreux pays du monde entier, notamment en Australie, aux États-Unis et aux Pays-Bas.

    Ce fut le premier pas vers le niveau international, et aussi la raison pour laquelle nous avons ensuite été invités à participer au Forum Culturel Européen, qui a eu lieu à Amsterdam en septembre 2020. Nous avons assisté au festival et là nous avons eu l’occasion de rencontrer des représentants d’Extinction Rebellion du Royaume-Uni, des gilets jaunes français, d’Un Million de Moments pour la Démocratie, une organisation de protestation de la République tchèque, Demosisto de Hong Kong et Queer & Trans Black Resistance, une organisation LGBTQI+ des Pays-Bas. Nous nous sommes connectés à d’autres réalités et avons rencontré d’autres mouvements. Nous avons commencé à parler et à rêver d’un événement qui rassemblerait une grande variété de mouvements de protestation dans les mois ou années à venir, suite à la fin de la pandémie du COVID-19. Maintenant, nous sommes ouverts et curieux de savoir ce que font les autres, tout en restant indépendants. Nous avons notre projet, ils ont le leur et nous collaborons lorsque nous en avons l’occasion.

    La page Facebook « 6 000 Sardines » contient de nombreuses expressions de solidarité avec le mouvement pro-démocratie au Bélarus, #EndSARS au Nigéria et Black Lives Matter aux États-Unis. Travaillez-vous en solidarité avec eux ?

    Ce que nous avons fait, c’est entrer en contact avec ces mouvements, si possible, et leur faire savoir que nous allons envoyer une communication de solidarité, mais c’est tout. Nous sommes trop occupés à essayer de créer notre propre organisation pour investir de l’énergie en essayant de suivre et de comprendre tout ce que les autres font pour construire leurs propres mouvements.

    Nous partageons également l’idée que le mouvement est bien plus que la page Facebook. Pour nous, Facebook est un canal de communication et un moyen utile de diffuser des messages, mais ce n’est pas le cœur du mouvement. Parfois, cela fonctionne plus comme un panneau d'affichage où les gens partagent des informations et échangent des messages, et tout ce qui y apparaît n’est pas le résultat d’une décision commune au niveau de l’organisation. Pour être honnête, parfois j’ouvre notre page Facebook et je ne suis pas forcément d’accord avec tout ce que j’y trouve. Cela se produit en raison de la délégation des tâches et de l’ouverture à la participation.

    Quels sont les objectifs actuels du mouvement et comment ont-ils évolué ?

    Nous y avons beaucoup réfléchi car tout a commencé très spontanément et avec un événement fortement lié aux élections, mais ensuite il a continué à se développer. Par conséquent, nous nous sentons responsables de gérer toute cette énergie que nous avons générée. Nous avons fait de notre mieux pour diffuser les bons messages sans alimenter l’illusion. Nous sommes toujours les mêmes que nous étions l’année dernière, quelles que soient les expériences que nous avons vécues ; cependant, nous n’étions pas préparés à tout cela. Jour après jour, nous apprenons à gérer l’attention, les médias et tout ce qui va avec. Nous nous concentrons sur la nécessité de fixer des objectifs et une vision.

    Nous y étions lorsque la pandémie de COVID-19 nous a frappés. D'une part, cela nous a affectés négativement parce que nous n’avons pas pu continuer à nous mobiliser ; d’un autre côté, cependant, il s’est avéré avoir un effet étrangement positif, car il nous a obligés à ralentir. Nous avons profité du confinement pour faire la seule chose que nous pouvions faire : s’asseoir et réfléchir. Nous avons ainsi réussi à construire notre manifeste, qui a été le résultat de multiples débats au sein de notre cercle intime.

    Le manifeste a marqué un jalon, et nos prochaines étapes ont consisté à travailler pour rendre chacun de ses composants visible et tangible dans la vie réelle. C’est ce sur quoi nous nous concentrons actuellement. Suivant la métaphore de la mer, après la marée haute est venue la marée basse, qui est plus gérable, et nous essayons de nourrir le mouvement pour qu’il pousse à partir des racines, plus lent mais moins chaotique et instable. Nous essayons d’être un point de référence pour quiconque recherche des idées progressistes, sans être un parti mais en montrant le chemin.

    Je voudrais souligner le fait que nous avons lancé ce mouvement avec l’idée que nous ne devrions pas simplement blâmer les politiciens ou les partis, mais plutôt nous demander ce que nous faisons nous-mêmes pour apporter au monde le changement que nous voulons voir. Cela signifie que nous n’excluons pas les approches centrées sur de petites choses, comme prendre soin de son quartier. Nous incluons ce type d’approche, ainsi que d’autres plus ambitieuses, telles que la mise en place d’un cap pour les partis progressistes de gauche. Nous considérons que les deux approches sont également valides.

    Nous n’excluons pas non plus un discours qui converge avec le nôtre et défend nos valeurs fondamentales. Par exemple, en ce moment, on parle beaucoup de la progressivité du pape ; nous avons donc invité certaines personnes à en parler, non pas parce que nous sommes un mouvement religieux, mais pour diffuser le genre de message positif qui est actuellement assez difficile à trouver dans l’arène politique.

    Il y a quelques mois, nous avons organisé notre première École de Politique, Justice et Paix. Nous l’avons fait dans une petite ville, Supino, parce que cela correspond mieux au modèle d’auto-organisation locale que nous voulons promouvoir. Nous avons invité des acteurs politiques à interagir avec des militants d’une vingtaine d’années. L’idée était de fusionner ces mondes pour créer ce type de communication qui est si rare sur les plateformes de réseaux sociaux. Nous voulons créer des opportunités pour que les personnes d’idées progressistes puissent se rencontrer et discuter, pas nécessairement pour trouver la solution à un problème spécifique, mais pour établir un lien entre des personnes ayant un pouvoir de décision et des personnes intéressées à participer et à changer les choses mais qui ne savent pas vraiment comment le faire.

    Comment le mouvement est-il resté en vie pendant le confinement lié à la pandémie du COVID-19 ?

    Nous avons invité des gens de toute l’Italie à se concentrer sur le niveau local, car c’était la seule chose qu’ils pouvaient faire de toute façon. Et pour être crédibles, nous avons donné l’exemple. À Bologne, de nombreuses personnes ont mis leur énergie au service des autres, par exemple en faisant les courses pour ceux qui ne pouvaient pas quitter leur maison et en s’impliquant dans d’innombrables initiatives, mouvements et associations locaux. Nous avons encouragé cette implication car nous n’avons jamais eu l’intention de remplacer les organisations existantes, mais plutôt de revitaliser l’activisme et la participation aux affaires publiques.

    Mais nous avons demandé aux gens de rester en contact, et nous organisions régulièrement des conversations et des événements spécifiques. Par exemple, pour le 25 avril, Jour de la Libération, nous avons lancé une initiative à travers laquelle nous avons partagé des clips vidéo illustrant la résistance au fascisme et au nazisme pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale et nous avons invité les gens à les projeter de ses fenêtres sur les murs des bâtiments voisins, et à filmer l’événement. Nous avons récolté les enregistrements et les avons rassemblés dans une vidéo que nous avons diffusée sur les réseaux sociaux. Notre message central était que nous pouvions tous être présents même lorsque nous ne pouvions pas sortir physiquement.

    Début mai, nous avons également organisé un flashmob symbolique sur la Piazza Maggiore à Bologne : au lieu de personnes, nous avons mis en place environ 6 000 plantes, que nous avons ensuite vendues en ligne. Nos bénévoles les ont livrés à vélo, et tous les fonds que nous avons collectés sont allés à la municipalité locale, qui s’était engagée à les doubler avec une contribution de ses propres fonds et à investir le montant total pour soutenir des événements culturels pendant l’été. Avant de remettre les plantes, nous avons réalisé une performance artistique sur la place ; puis nous avons déplacé les plantes pour tracer avec elles la silhouette d’un vélo au sol. À la suite de cette initiative, nous avons non seulement marqué notre présence dans l’espace public, mais nous avons également canalisé environ 60 000 euros (environ 69 800 dollars) vers des événements culturels. Plus tard, de nombreuses personnes dans d’autres régions d’Italie ont reproduit l’initiative ou nous ont fait part de leur intérêt à le faire ; cependant, certains n’ont pas pu le faire car elle présentait des complexités logistiques.

    Et puis un jour, la municipalité nous a dit qu’elle avait des parcelles de terrain inutilisées qui pourraient être transformées en jardins urbains et elle nous les a offertes. Nous avons organisé des volontaires qui voulaient y travailler, de sorte qu’ils sont maintenant devenus des espaces avec des jardins où l’on cultive des légumes. Ceux qui décident d’investir leur temps et leurs efforts dans ces jardins conservent la moitié des produits qu’ils cultivent et livrent l’autre moitié aux cuisines communautaires qui aident ceux qui n’ont pas assez de ressources pour acheter de la nourriture.

    Même pendant le confinement nous avons pensé à Bologne comme un laboratoire où nous pourrions mettre en œuvre et tester nos idées et encourager d’autres personnes à faire de même, soit en reproduisant nos initiatives, soit en essayant quelque chose de différent pour voir ce qui se passe. Si vous testez des initiatives potentiellement reproductibles et faciles à mettre en œuvre, et que de nombreuses personnes emboîtent le pas, vous pouvez réaliser des changements à une échelle considérable.

    L’espace civique en Italie est classé comme « limité » par leCIVICUS Monitor.
    Entrez en contact avec le mouvement des Sardines via leursite internet ou leur pageFacebook.

     

  • ITALY: ‘The Sardines movement is all about building self-confidence in the progressive side of politics’

    CIVICUS speaks to Andrea Garreffa, one of the founders of the Sardines movement (Movimento delle Sardine), a grassroots political movement that began in November 2019 in Bologna, Italy, in protest against the hateful rhetoric of right-wing populist leader Matteo Salvini.

    Andrea Garreffa

    What inspired you to begin this movement?

    Regional elections were scheduled for 26 January 2020 in Emilia-Romagna, our home region – and when I say our, I refer to me and the other co-founders of the movement, Mattia Santori, Roberto Morotti and Giulia Trappoloni. On that moment there was a big wave towards the far right, represented by the League party and its leader, Matteo Salvini. There were very scary signs about the general political situation in Italy, one of which was the lack of respect shown to Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz and was the only survivor in her family. From the 1990s she started to speak to the public about her experience and in 2018 she was named senator for life. Segre received so many insults and threats on social media that in November 2019 she was assigned police protection. The situation was very scary; I am not ashamed to admit that I would often cry when I read the newspaper reporting such episodes.

    How was the first Sardines demonstration organised?

    As the election approached, my friends and I started thinking of a way to speak up and warn the League that the game was not over yet. We wanted to make this extremely clear, both to the far-right parties and to all citizens looking for a stimulus to empowerment. The League party had just won in Umbria and was announcing itself as the winner in Emilia-Romagna as well; they counted on this victory to destabilise the coalition government and return to power. We wanted to do something to stop that narrative. We started to think about this on 6 or 7 November 2019, just a week before Matteo Salvini, along with Lucia Borgonzoni, the League’s candidate to lead the regional government, kicked off their campaign with a rally at Bologna’s sports arena. We had in mind that the last time Salvini had come to Bologna he said that Piazza Maggiore, the main town square, could host up to 100,000 people, in an attempt to claim that was the number of people who attended his rally – something that is physically impossible, as only up to 30,000 very tightly packed people could actually fit into the square. In a way, we also wanted to draw attention to the information on the news and make sure he wouldn’t be able to cheat.

    In short, our idea was to organise a flash mob-style demonstration on Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, on the same day as Salvini’s rally, and we named it ‘6,000 sardines against Salvini’ because our aim was to gather around 6,000 people and our tactic was to show we were many – so we used the image of crowds of people squeezed together like sardines in a shoal. In the few days we had to organise it, we set the main narrative and prepared some templates that could be customised so each person was free to express themselves and be creative. Ours was a message that anybody could understand, and the actions required were something that anybody could do. We wanted to get rid of all the negative feelings linked to existing political parties, so the initiative was inclusive from the very beginning. It wasn’t linked to any party but rather open to anybody who shared its core values of anti-fascism and anti-racism.

    We sent out an invitation, not just through Facebook, which of course we did, but more importantly, we went out to the streets to distribute flyers and talk to people, so people could understand that the event was real and it was actually going to happen. It was surprising that just two days after we had launched the Facebook campaign, we were handing out flyers and people would say that they already knew about the event. Word of mouth worked incredibly well; in my opinion, this reflected a very strong need among people to do something to ensure Matteo Salvini did not win in Bologna and in Emilia-Romagna. People understood and felt the importance of this election. During the summer Salvini had destabilised the national government by ‘showing off’ in Milano Marittima, claiming pieni poteri – ‘full powers’, an expression used by Mussolini back in the day. Citizens could not stand the risk of such a poor show taking place again and really felt the call to action when the far-right propaganda started spreading messages such as ‘Liberiamo l’Emilia-Romagna’ (Let’s free Emilia-Romagna), as if people had forgotten their history lessons: the region had no need to be freed because that had already happened, at the end of the Second World War. People felt disrespected in their intelligence, and we stood up to make that visible and tangible. People are less stupid than what people in power tend to think.

    How did you know people would come?

    We had no clue. On the night of 14 November we found ourselves surrounded by this incredible crowd – the media reported there were 15,000 people – and we couldn’t quite believe it.

    We had expected a number of people to attend; we started to believe in the success of the initiative when we saw that from day one we were achieving every goal we set for ourselves. For example, we set up the Facebook page with the initial goal of reaching a thousand people, and the next day we were already more than three or four thousand. That was mostly for two reasons: firstly timing, as people were ready for an initiative like this, and secondly, the fact that we live in Bologna, so we know a lot of people and could easily spread the message.

    But on 14 November nobody knew what was going to happen. We told people there would be a surprise and managed to keep it secret until everybody had gathered, and at 8:30 pm we played a song by Lucio Dalla, Com'è profondo il mare, which translates as ‘how deep is the sea’. In one part of the song, the lyrics say that we are many, and we all descend from fish, and you cannot stop fish because you cannot block the ocean, you cannot fence it. This built up a lot of emotion, and people even cried because it was very powerful and could not believe it was happening for real. Older people felt young again, living emotions they thought lost forever in the 1970s. Young kids had the opportunity to participate in a massive and joyful party, which made them question the fact that politics is all boring and unemotional. I think the whole wave that came afterwards was born that first night. It built up from that initial emotion. We were not 6,000 but many more, and we sent out the message that the game was far from over and Salvini could not yet claim victory. This was key: whatever sport you play, if you enter the field thinking you are going to lose, you’ll lose. This was the general mood among left-wing parties and progressive citizens. We did what we could to make ‘our team’ believe in itself and its chances of victory. We may say that the Sardines movement is all about building self-confidence in the progressive side of politics.

    Who organised all the demonstrations that followed?

    The emotion of the first demonstration spread thanks to an impressive picture taken from the municipality building, which shows a red minivan surrounded by thousands of people. The picture spread all over the internet and social media. It helped focus a lot of attention on the regional election. All the international media was there so we offered them the image and that was the start of everything. The picture reflected the fact that something big was going on, so when people from other cities and even from other countries started trying to contact us, we set up an email address so anybody could reach out to us.

    We shared our experience and explained to anyone who contacted us how we set everything up in just six days: how we requested the permits for the gathering and for playing the music, how we took care of people, those things. We then organised all the information to share with whoever wanted to do something similar somewhere else. We also registered the name of the initiative, not because we wanted to own it, but to prevent its misuse and protect its underlying values. We spent hours and days on the phone with people from all around Emilia-Romagna, and then from other regions, until the movement was so big that we were able to announce a massive demonstration to be held in Rome in December.

    For the Rome event we didn’t even have to do much, because there were people in Rome organising the demonstration by themselves, and we were invited to attend as guest speakers. That was actually a strength, because this wasn’t people from Bologna organising an event for Rome, but people from Rome organising themselves, mobilising their friends and neighbours and inviting people to join.

    Right before the elections, on 19 January, we organised a big concert in Bologna, aimed at encouraging electoral participation. We didn’t want to pressure people to vote for this or that party, but rather encourage participation. Indifference had prevailed in the previous regional elections, and only 37 per cent of potential voters made use of their right. The higher turnout we achieved this time around, when 69 per cent of people voted, was by itself a victory of democracy.

    You mentioned that the movement spread both nationally and internationally. Did it also establish connections with other justice movements around the world?

    The movement reached an international scale in the very beginning, thanks to Italians living abroad who were reading the news, understood what was going on and got in touch with us. We reached out to people in dozens of major cities in countries around the world, including Australia, The Netherlands and the USA.

    That was the first step towards reaching international scale, and also the reason why the four of us were then invited to participate in the Forum on European Culture, held in Amsterdam in September 2020. We attended the festival and had the opportunity to meet representatives from Extinction Rebellion in the UK, the French Yellow Vests, Million Moments for Democracy, a protest organisation in the Czech Republic, Hong Kong’s Demosisto and Black Queer & Trans Resistance, an LGBTQI+ organisation in The Netherlands. We connected with other realities and learned about other movements. We started talking and dreaming about an event to bring together a wide variety of protest movements in the coming months or years, after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. We are now open and curious to find out what others are doing, but we remain independent. We do our thing, they do their own, and we collaborate when we get the chance.

    The 6000 Sardine Facebook page displays various expressions of solidarity with movements such as the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, #EndSARS in Nigeria and Black Lives Matter in the USA. Do you organise in solidarity with them?

    What we have done is get in touch with those movements, if possible, and let them know that we are going to send out a communication of solidarity, but that’s about it. We are busy enough trying to set up an organisation of our own to invest energy in trying to follow and understand what others are doing to build their own.

    We also have a common agreement that the movement is not the Facebook page, but a lot more. To us, Facebook is a communication channel and a useful way to spread messages, but it’s not the core of the movement. Sometimes it functions rather as a billboard where people share and exchange things, and not everything there is the result of a joint, organisation-level decision. To be honest, sometimes I open our Facebook page and I do not necessarily agree with everything that I see there. And this happens because of delegation of tasks and openness to participation.

    What are the goals of the movement now, and how have they evolved?

    We have given this a lot of thought because it all started as a spontaneous thing that was specifically related to the elections but then continued to grow. So we felt responsible for handling all this energy. We did our best to spread the right messages while not feeding illusion. We are still the same people we were last year, regardless of the experiences we went through, but we were not prepared for all of this. Day after day we learned how to deal with the attention, the media and everything that came with it. We focused on the need to set goals and a vision.

    We were at it when then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. On one hand it was very negative for us, as we couldn’t keep mobilising, but on the other hand it turned out to be a strange kind of positive, because it forced us to slow down. We took advantage of the lockdown to do the only thing that we could do: sit down and think. We managed to put together our manifesto, which was the result of multiple debates within our inner circle.

    The manifesto was a milestone, and our next steps were to try and make each of its articles visible and tangible in real life, which is what we are focusing on now. Following the metaphor of the sea, after the high tide came the low tide, which is more manageable, and we are trying to nurture the movement so it grows from the roots, more slowly but less chaotic and unstable. We try to be a point of reference to anyone who is looking for progressive ideas, without being a party but pointing out the direction.

    I would like to stress the fact that we started this movement with the idea that we should not point fingers at politicians or parties but ask ourselves what we are doing to bring into the world the change that we want. This means we don’t exclude approaches focused on little things such as taking care of your own neighbourhood. We include this kind of approach as well as more ambitious ones such us setting up the direction for progressive left-wing parties. We consider both approaches to be valid.

    We don’t exclude any discourse that converges with ours and upholds our core values. For instance, right now there is a lot of talk about how progressive the Pope is, so we are inviting people to talk about that, not because we are a religious movement but to spread the kind of positive messaging that is currently quite difficult to find in the political arena.

    A few months ago, we organised our first School of Politics, Justice and Peace. We held it in a small town, Supino, because it better fitted the model of local self-organisation that we want to promote. We invited people who are involved in the political arena to interact with activists in their 20s. The idea was to merge those worlds to create the kind of communication that social media platforms lack. We want to create opportunities for progressive people to meet with others and talk, not necessarily to find the solution to a specific problem but to make sure that there is a connection between people with decision-making power and people who are interested in participating and changing things, but don’t really know how.

    How did you keep the movement alive while in COVID-19 lockdown?

    We invited people all over Italy to focus on the local level because it was the only thing they could do. And we set the example to be credible to others. Many people in Bologna put their energy at the service of others, for instance by going grocery shopping for those who couldn’t leave their homes and getting involved in countless local initiatives, movements and associations. We encouraged this, because it was never our goal to replace existing organisations, but rather to revitalise activism and involvement in public affairs.

    But we did ask people to stay in touch, so we would have calls and organise specific events. For example, for 25 April, Liberation Day, we launched an initiative in which we shared clips from movies showing resistance to fascism and Nazism during the Second World War and invited people to project them out of their windows and onto neighbouring buildings, and film the event. We collected the recordings and put them together into a video that we disseminated on social media. Our core message was that we could all be present even if we could not physically get out. 

    In early May we also organised a symbolic flash mob in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore: instead of people we lined up around 6,000 plants, which we went on to sell online. Our volunteers delivered them by bike, and all the funds we collected went to the local municipality, which had committed to invest the full amount, matched one to one with their own funds, to support cultural events over the summer. Before delivering the plants, we staged an artistic performance on the square; then we moved the plants around to draw the shape of a bicycle on the floor. As a result of this initiative, we not only marked our presence in a public space but also channelled about €60,000 (approx. US$69,800) towards cultural events. Later on, people from all over Italy either replicated the initiative or told us they were interested in doing so; however, some couldn’t because it involved some complex logistics.

    And then one day the municipality told us that they had some unused plots of land that could potentially be turned into garden blocks and offered them to us. We organised volunteers who wanted to work on them so now these have become garden blocks in which vegetables are grown. People who invest their time and effort to work in these gardens keep half the produce for themselves and give the other half to communal kitchens that help people who cannot afford to buy food.

    Even under lockdown, we thought of Bologna as a lab where we could implement and test our ideas and encourage other people to do the same, by either replicating our initiatives or trying something different to see what happens. If you try things that are potentially replicable and easy for others to implement, and many people follow through, then you can achieve change on a considerable scale.

    Civic space in Italy is rated as ‘narrowed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Sardines movement through itswebsite orFacebook page.

     

     

  • 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.

     

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