Report Laments Albanian Civil Society’s Shrinking Influence

According USAID’s 2011 civil society sustainability index, Albanian NGOs are increasingly shut out of the corridors of power and have little means of influencing public policy.The report by USAID makes grim reading for Albanian NGOs and civil society pressure groups.

Despite efforts by NGO’s in 2011 to open up dialogue in order to resolve the tense political crisis between the centre-right ruling majority and the Socialist opposition, the report says its calls mostly fell on deaf ears.According to the report, civil society in Albania remains structurally weak and the legal environment in which more than 1,600 organizations operate worsened in 2011. Some organizations have faced harassment from the government, mainly through fines from the tax authorities.

“When the government drafted the legal framework for civil society organization [in 2010] consultations with its actors were limited and sometimes non-existent,” said Gjegji Vurmo, an expert at the Institute for Democracy and Mediation in Tirana and one of the authors.

According to Vurmo one of the key indicators that have deteriorated in 2011 in the index has been the capacity of local NGOs for advocacy, mainly due to the tense political climate before and after the riots in January 2011, where the Republican Guard shot four opposition protestors.

Political scientist and civil society activists Blendi Kajsiu also blames the increasingly close relationship between politics, business interests and the media for the inability of civil society organization to influence public affairs.

“Today Albania’s civil society is in crisis and civic reaction is almost numb,” Kajsiu said. “The ever closer relationship between business, media and politics has transformed the public sphere into a space where only private interests are articulated,” he added.

Kajsiu underlined that Albania’s civil society sector remains dominated by the priorities of donors, which often put stability above democracy, creating an almost clinical sector.

“In Albania, civil society speaks with the voice of EU bureaucrats rather than the language of civic revolt that is absent from Albania’s political scene,” he said.

“In Albania there are countless reasons to feel revolted but very little encouragement to act upon them,” Kajsiu concluded.

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