Sunday, May 19, 2024

How “immune” is civil society to COVID-19 ?!

The COVID-19 crisis has shaken cooperation and partnership between civil society and government over the past three years. Not only has shaken, but has also detached it from the government’s decision to drastically reduce financial support for civil society organizations. Civil society even in the post-pandemic period will be facing major challenges. If this very important sector of a society suffers, many civic values will suffer, solidarity, volunteerism, the ease of fostering civic initiatives, and many values that define civil society will suffer.

Author: Lulzim Haziri

Civil society in North Macedonia was among the first to recognize the urgency of action in the face of the previously unknown challenge, the pandemic caused by COVID-19, taking concrete steps and promoting solidarity as a little-known value in the country, especially at local level. 

With this adaptation to the new challenge, civil society proves that the purpose of their existence is to contribute to maintaining the peace, harmony and prosperity of society through participatory democracy, the rule of law, balanced and sustainable socio-economic development, nonviolence and respect.

Respecting the measures and recommendations of the competent institutions, civic associations and foundations, for a short time managed to adapt their services as well as adapt activities, in order to continue to be closer to citizens and marginalized groups, in which the state hardly penetrates, or does so with delay.

As the time of pandemics shortens, we must remember the willingness shown to provide humanitarian assistance to those most affected in the form of hygiene products and food packages, providing legal aid to protect the rights of workers affected by the crisis, activities in support for victims of domestic violence, which being for a long time under one roof, began to grow; there was no lack of legal aid for victims of hate speech; support through open educational platforms to maintain the level of equal access to on-line learning; direct financial assistance to citizens at social risk; preparation of analyzes and documents to deal with the growth of fake news, economic measures to be taken, more rational spending of public money during the crisis etc.

As an illustration of these areas of action of civil society in the face of COVID-19, Civica Mobilitas program supported by the Swiss Embassy in Skopje has marked over 700 activities of its grant recipients in this regard, while all foundation grants were reprogrammed and are being programmed for this purpose.

The government “forgot” civil society in a joint war against COVID-19

It seems that the adaptation of civil society to the new moment has been obtained in time and responsibly. Particular attention was paid to the commitment to maintaining the rule of law and ensuring transparency and accountability for procedures undertaken by state institutions in an emergency. On this occasion, the civil society has requested the participation of all stakeholders in these processes, continuing with the monitoring of processes to ensure the rule of law and transparency of institutions in the process of dealing with the crisis caused by COVID-19.

However, the appeals to include the civil sector in the Government Council, in the Steering Committee for Crisis Coordination and Management, and in other relevant groups established in order to coordinate for greater effectiveness at the central level as well as in the local one, were useless. On this occasion, through an appeal to the Government, civil society and foundations have shown their willingness to provide their capacities and expertise in order to reduce the negative implications of the current crisis.

Time of lack of readiness

The crisis caused by COVID-19 has shaken the cooperation and partnership established between civil society and government in the last three years. Not only has shaken, but it has also detached it from the government’s decision to drastically reduce financial support for civil society organizations, published in the Official Newspaper of the Republic of Macedonia on April 9, 2020.

This decision, by which financial support, depending on the institution, has either been completely repealed or severely reduced, was taken in a non-transparent manner, without consulting civil society organizations, stakeholders and the general public, which speaks for the unprincipled attitude of the government towards civil society in this time of crisis. With the decision to reduce the necessary support of nearly 525,000 euros, de facto the state excluded civil society as a relevant partner in dealing with the crisis caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.

Unfortunately, the government of North Macedonia did not recognize the quick reaction to take action that is of great importance to the citizens, but also to the direct treatment of the crisis, as a partnership in the fight against COVID-19.
With this decision, the government seriously hinders the sustainability and continuous work of organizations, especially in terms of their assistance and support to communities in times of crisis.

Once again, the government was deaf to the appeal of civil society to change its decision and through dialogue and transparently return part of the funds for their initial purpose – support of civic organizations to achieve their missions and goals, but especially to support activities to deal with the crisis caused by the epidemic.

The post-COVID-19 period, a new challenge for civil society

Found in this situation and supported only by the international community and the business sector, non-governmental organizations continue with their mission in disseminating information, in education, in equipping the population, health workers and humanitarian workers with protective equipment, while the population and businesses may already possess protective equipment. Civil society also remains focused on supplying marginalized groups, supporting victims of violence, the homeless, etc. who at the time of the limited movements faced a number of challenges that are different from the rest of the population.

Undoubtedly, this emergency will affect the functioning and sustainability of associations and foundations in order to reorganize their services to meet the needs of users, the flexibility of programs tailored to the situation, and the retention of employees and volunteers.

This will be the biggest challenge of civil society even in the post-pandemic period. How successful and stable they will be in this period does not depend only on them! If this very important sector of a society suffers, many civic values will suffer, solidarity, volunteerism, the ease of fostering civic initiatives, and many values that define civil society will suffer. Political parties will be the occupiers of the empty space that could be caused by the weakening of the civil sector. Then democracy will suffer, which is still fragile in this country.

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