Serbia Civil Society and NGOs

By | March 3, 2021

Civil society approaches already existed in Serbia in socialist Yugoslavia; they emerged in the environment of dissident circles and critical intellectuals and formed the nucleus of the later women’s and peace movement. Civil society emerged in Serbia in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as a reaction to and in opposition to the authoritarian Milosevic regime, to nationalism and war politics. International isolation, economic decline and a regime that alternated between ignoring and repression formed the development framework for civil society. In the first half, civil society gathered around the Center for Anti-War Actions (Belgrade), sometimes up to a hundred thousand people, to protest against the war policy of the Milošević regime. With ideal and financial support from international organizations, after the end of the Bosnian War in the second half of the decade, a process of differentiation and professionalization of civil society took place. The internationalization and regional linking of the work developed. Beyond the more socially acting NGOs, this development applied to the more politically acting organizations in particular to human rights organizations, women’s organizations and work in the field of election monitoring. Civil society played a key role in the overthrow of the Milošević regime, especially the youth protest movement Dosta (Enough) that started in 1999. According to transporthint, Serbia is a country located in Southern Europe.

In the past decade, the development of civil society was marked by the loss of opposition to the regime and the decline in committed donor organizations. Established organizations have remained an important yardstick and social mouthpiece in the democratic upheaval. They played a central role in the political demands and civil society work to come to terms with the recent past, the role of Serbia in the Balkan wars and the mass war crimes. Furthermore, they play a pioneering role in the social dissemination of European values and the advocacy of EU integration. In parallel to these traditional organizations, numerous new NGOs have emerged in recent years,

The main problems of civil society’s work in Serbia today are firstly the tax status of NGOs; there is still no tax law differentiation between profit and non-profit organizations; second, in the existing urban-rural divide – most of the NGOs are in the cities; thirdly, competitive behavior weakens the position of civil society as a whole vis-à-vis the state and politics; fourth, the still strongly nationalistic perception within the population shapes their sometimes negative relationship to NGOs, and finally, fifth, the passive basic attitude of broad sections of the population with regard to political or social engagement continues to represent a structural problem for the development of broad social impact of civil society activities.

Important NGOs in Serbia include:

  • Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
  • Humanitarian Law Fund
  • Youth initiative for human rights
  • Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies
  • Belgrade Center for Human Rights
  • Committee of Human Rights Lawyers – YUCOM
  • Women in black
  • Center for Women’s Studies
  • Center for Cultural Decontamination
  • Peščanik portal
  • Group 484
  • Crta

In civil society, the loss of power of the Democratic Party (DS) and its chairman Tadić in 2012 and the rise of the SNS led to upheavals and disorientation. During the election campaign, part of civil society actively campaigned against Tadić and then supported the pro-European and Kosovar politics of the largest ruling party, the SNS, and its chairman Vučić. At the same time, most of the criticism of the populist and authoritarian political style of the new strong man in Serbia comes from civil society. Under Vučić, civil society repeatedly experiences attacks from top government officials and media close to the government. Last protested in July 2020 more than two hundred civil society and media organizations opposed the fact that a money laundering department of the Ministry of Finance, which was originally set up to finance terrorism, had made official inquiries about several civil society organizations from commercial banks in Serbia. The signed organizations condemned this move by the Treasury Department as a political abuse and harassment.

As in neighboring countries, Serbia’s civil society is actively involved in the country’s EU integration process. In 2014 the National EU Convention to Accompany Serbia’s Accession Negotiations was founded. Civil society organizations and other social interest groups are organized in working groups on the individual membership chapters. The convention provides critical monitoring of the accession negotiations and exchanges with representatives of government and parliament. It is financially supported by the EU and various bilateral donors.

Serbia Civil Society