Civil society and its organizations play an important social, political and economic role in democratic countries. They provide (social) services, represent interests of minorities or vulnerable groups, perform a watchdog function towards politics and public administration, and contribute to community building by involving different people, e.g. in volunteering and membership. The existence of a vivid civil society is an indicator of well-functioning democracies that give space to the full variety of different opinions, concerns and solutions.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) are often established where a particular social or political concern emerges. By combining a mix of various public and private resources – such as public funds, private donations, voluntary work and membership fees – they are often a source of social innovation. The political and social environment shapes the operating conditions for CSOs. Political and legal frameworks can be designed in a way to be either supportive or impeding to a flourishing, engaged and pluralist civil society. The most important prerequisite for a vivid civil society is space for the public discussion of different perspectives. Above that, the voices of CSOs need to be taken seriously in the political process: As CSOs have a profound expertise in many fields of society, they play a key role in solving manifold social and environmental problems.
Presently, the culture of open discussion seems to be threatened in an increasing number of countries. In Central and Eastern Europe’s (CEE’s) democracies, recent political developments appear to jeopardize progresses made in the past. Against this background, this study aims at shedding light on the dynamics of CEE’s civil society. Building on our prior research on civil society in CEE (Meyer, M., Moder, Neumayr & Vandor, 2019; Vandor, Traxler, Millner & Meyer, M., 2017), this report gives a brief overview of the status quo and recent developments that directly affect civil society. A further objective is to improve the visibility of civil society in its many facets, and to highlight the appreciation of CSOs as an integrative part of civil society. At last, we will list the most important challenges that civil society is currently facing.
The study was conducted by the Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship
at WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business), commissioned by and in collaboration with
ERSTE foundation as well as with a group of country experts. The inclusion of expert assessments on civil society aims at giving a voice primarily to practitioners. Therefore, the study included an online survey in each participating country, addressing CSO representatives operating in various fields of activity.
Overall, 1,758 organizations participated in the online survey.
Full Report (PDF, 3 MB)