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September 17th, 2013 - A Discussion on the Role of Civil Society in the Process of EU Integration

17September

September 17th, 2013 - A Discussion on the Role of Civil Society in the Process of EU Integration

 

The Alpbach Summer School on European Integration gathered 25 aspiring students from throughout Southeast Europe to learn, debate, and discuss the politics of the region and undertake a course on the European Union and the EU integration processes. The CDRSEE’s Nenad Sebek moderated a panel discussion on the “Role of Civil Society in the Process of EU Integration" at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory in Belgrade. Among the distinguished group of panelists was Sonja Licht of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, Dr. Caspar Einem of the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Henri Bohnet of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and Daniela Schily of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

The discussion challenged students to rethink some of the common assumptions of civil society and its role in political life. Sonja Licht, one of the leading political theorists in the region, offered an abstract but accurately descriptive answer to the question of what constitutes civil society. She put forth the idea that civil society is every citizen, institution, or group of people that actively engage in public political life. Her statement, while giving the audience a brief pause to reflect, commenced a lively dialogue on issues ranging from the sustainability of civil society organizations to the hardships of securing donor funding while remaining independent. These fundamental challenges that CSOs face are often neglected, but are necessary for organizations to function and remain committed to their core values. Civil society throughout Southeast Europe is not only an important vehicle for balancing the power of governments and giving citizens a voice in the political arena, but also a space for open minds that has produced influential political theorists and policymakers that currently shape the political discourse of our region.

Following the discussion, the students engaged the panelists with questions focusing on the uncertain future that they as students, and more generally, Balkan societies face. While no one was in the position to offer any comforting answers, the predominant response was that emerging social scientists need to remain committed to democratic values while acquiring the right skills and know how to gradually change the mentality that has plagued post-socialist societies throughout Southeast Europe.

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