A democratic society can’t be developed at all its levels unless it enables full involvement of all interested parties. Active citizen participation means an individual or group action, with a view to identifying and addressing issues of public interest. Civic participation is a process where citizens organize themselves and their goals at the practical level and work together, whether at the individual level or through civil society organizations, to influence decision-making processes.
Participation in decision-making processes means opportunities for citizens, civic organizations and other stakeholders for being influenced the development of policies and laws that affect them. The concept of citizen participation dating from antiquity. The evidence of the writing of civic participation dates back to the seventh and eighth centuries B.C in ancient Greece. Participation in the assemblies of these governing units was open for all free citizens. Citizens' assemblies were called for the purpose of debating, achieving consensus and democratic decision-making.
For more than fifteen years’ experience of action in civil sector in rural areas we can freely conclude that the involvement of citizens from different institutions is small, in some cases is symbolic and often only for the reasoning of the institutions that their processes for all different decisions taken are "transparent".
At one event, in an educational institution where was needed to decide about youth activities in the next year, there was a heated debate among employees on where and how the activities would be carried out. There was a predominated conjecture, and in a moment I reacted with a simple question: Why do not you ask those who are called, or those for whom the project is dedicated, the young?
Everyone was shocked at that moment, and somehow they realized that there was a gap in all this process. Therefore, based on this experience we can conclude that youth as a category of people, almost always treated unequally in society, they are marginalized, their voice is still not heard, and in most cases they are treated only as "problematic". Young people, as well as the majority of the society, face different problems from them of youth employment, their participation in decision-making levels in various social activities. Based on the knowledge we have and as a result of a survey in 2014 in the context of creating a strategy for youth development, 57% of young people in the Pollog region are not at all informed or at all consulted by local self-government for important issues for them, while 41% of respondents think that local self-government does not consult the youth. Also over 70% of young people are not aware that there are local self-government mechanisms that will ensure young people's participation in decision-making. Although the law provides for different forms of citizenship locking in almost all decisions taken at local and national level, according to the experience we have so far, most of the institutions are still closed for citizens. Citizens in most cases are self-organized as a result of various social phenomena, most often damage or destruction of public or natural property, or various reactions in tribunes, which are mostly organized with support from the civil sector.
It may be symbolic to initiate civic participation by the institutions themselves. In different situations, the institutions themselves do not believe that things can change with greater involvement of the affected parties. In the recent period, as a result of the failure of cooperation and communication between the decision makers at all levels and the frequent occurrence of marginalization of citizens' interests and needs, led to the emergence of many movements and initiatives at the local and national level, who publicly promoted the resolution of acute problems and raised their voice against many decisions of local and central authorities throughout Macedonia.
Citizens involvement means opportunities to persuade citizens to have greater faith into local institutions, which later shows a prerequisite for a sustainable deployment of democratic processes. This element leads to more transparency and at the same time makes different functionaries more prepared during decision-making. This is a permanent process, and it should continue to function throughout the period between the two election cycles, whereby citizens are informed of all issues that concern them.
Our experiences as an activist, but also as an organization that promotes greater involvement of citizens, with particular emphasis on youth in decision making processes, greater development of democracy and civil society, strengthening of trust between different ethnic groups , inclusion of youth in cultural, ecological, educational and sporting activities are among of the most varied. Almost all of our activities was included all affected parties, who in a variety of ways contributing to the social processes of the region. This was achieved through their involvement in the preparation of the organization's strategy, which represents a complicated process, but includes all members of the community, representatives of institutions including those in the preparation of the mission statement and vision of the organization.
At that time we believed that this process should not only end with the drafting of this document, but also the involvement in other steps, as well as the preparation of concrete plans and accountability after each event being completed. Through this process, the achieved changes are identified in all affected parties. What later influenced the strengthening of our work in communities, even in rural areas, was our initiative to establish School Councils in the schools of the Polog region, which will be consist of students, teachers and parents. It was a good initiative both by students and parents.
This encouragement and this community contribution through capacity building training later influenced as an organization to establish a Youth Council in the Municipality of Tearce, which was unanimously approved by all parties. What distinguished this process was that everything started by young people, they were carriers of all activities. Had involvement since the determination of their action program, the way how to promote them in society, and up to the realization of some activities where the youth were carriers. The municipal institution had only the role of a supporter of this process.
That this body to be more inclusive and to promote its values easily in the community, we have also developed a Strategy for Youth Development. The preparation of the strategy was very important because resources available to achieve the goals are usually limited.
With this document the youth through long-term plans will plan implementin their goals for improving their lives in the Municipality of Tearce. The process went through several phases.
In consultations with young people, representatives from NGOs, representatives from the Municipality as well as representatives from other stakeholders, through informal and focus groups as well on in compliance with the National Strategy for the Rights of Young.
One of the most comprehensive processes for civic participation was the creation of the USAID-supported Climate Change Strategy. As an organization, but primarily as citizens of Lower Pollog every year we face the effects of climate change, which affect the daily life of man and his environment, so for its creation was implemented the methodology of Agenda Green, which represents a participatory as democratic for the development and implementation of strategies and plans for sustainable local development, with the active involvement of various sectors of the local community where the process is finished.
What makes this methodology special is that the process begins with the identification of local values versus problems, while participation in this process is not limited only by experts but also by certain interest groups and is open to all. What we learned about these years and can serve for others is that civic activism must be based on genuine values and accepted by the community. Otherwise there may be a lot of material and human investment, but something that is not accepted by the community fails. Values such as transparency and good governance can not be promoted if this value is not integrated in the institution it represents. So I think that participation is not a final product, it is a philosophy and process that provides the structure for the most realistic decisions taken by the affected parties.
In many situations, the institution's leaders are skeptical of participation, I think civil participation does not suspend the constitutional and legal powers of executive and legislative powers in the procedure for adopting and implementing laws, as well as public policy instruments, but moreover enables authorities to apply these competencies more efficiently.
Even though civic participation is legally binding, however, its practical implementation in most cases is perceived with difficulties and challenges, therefore it is imperative for civic activism to make change in the community through the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation for change. Which means promoting a more qualitative life in the community, through the interaction of political and non-political processes.
Written by: Metin Muaremi
Center for education and development-CED
This article is published with the support of OSCE support, within the campaign “If I would be asked” 2017 and published in Alsat-M.