Civic Space Watch Report 2019 • Success Stories Of Resistance Is Out!

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty!

Activizenship is a magazine edited by the European Civic Forum, aiming to connect ideas and experiences, explore and capture current trends and transformations affecting civil society in Europe and beyond.

Activizenship brings together stories and analyses to shed light on the potential of civic activism on democratic, social, environmental, cultural and political issues to contribute to renewing, rethinking and reshaping a poetics of citizenship. In doing so, it contributes to giving civic actors the confidence they need to pursue their invaluable work in addressing peoples’ needs and changing the world from grassroots up.

This also means providing them with tools to louden their voice and make it heard by those they wish to convince and by institutions that should support their action and protect their space.

This fourth issue of Activizenship brings into the spotlight success stories of resistance against repression, political apathy, consumerism, exclusion, individualism and fragmentation, putting them into a wider perspective of socio-economic and political developments.

Sixty-two years ago, Europe grew as a promise of peace and a driver of economic progress. Our common heritage is based on struggles to overcome social exploitation, colonialism, patriarchy and racism, on victories against dictatorship and authoritarian regimes. The fall of the Berlin wall thirty years ago opened many hopes towards a new age of democratisation and prosperity.

Today, this common heritage, together with our welfare models, is being eroded, as are many people’s hopes and aspirations for a better way of life. The road to freedom and prosperity for a lot of people from the Eastern bloc turned to a zero-sum game – someone’s success must be at the cost of another’s failure -, as structural adjustment programmes and policies having failed in the rest of the world found breeding ground for a facelift in the East.

The transition towards market economy happened at a time when the neoliberal model was booming during a decade of Thatcherism and “conservative revolution”. Thirty years after, it failed to offer a real prospective for better future for so many people. Moreover, democratic consolidation itself is, in many countries, still a work in progress, or rather in decline.

Declining trust in democracy is a global trend and Europe makes no exception. The erosion of democracy goes hand in hand with the erosion of economic status or confidence in social progress. The universality of rights, which was at the heart of the post-war consensus, is being put under pressure by policies which produce competition for rights and victimhood, and by the rise of regressive, nationalist and exclusionary forces.

Democracy is under fire as well when governments don’t seem to be bothered by powerful companies exerting influence in the corridors of power, while gagging civic actors and campaign groups that promote common good over vested interests.

Democratic civic organisations and rights defenders point the fingers against political forces and narratives questioning the universality of rights, as well as against the inconsistency of a world system based on financial globalisation that has gone rogue, a global system destroying our planet.

They are increasingly facing the pressure of democratic backsliding and shrinking rights and freedoms in Europe today, by governments that increasingly use their repressive power, silence down dissent and even criminalise solidarity.

In the face of these worrying and contagious trends against rights and values, and against those who defend them, Europe is at risk of losing its normative authority and pride of being for decades a role model for the advancement of rights and democracy, solidarity and civic engagement.

While these challenges undermine civic space, they often galvanise resistance, solidarity and action against injustice.

The success stories of resistance we showcase in this publication illustrate some of the many ways in which civil society and citizens work together to create mutualism and solidarity and, as can be seen, win great victories that contribute to making Europe great for all.

These are stories from countries where civic space is under growing pressure, and for this reason, we want to give recognition to civil society for its daily work with examples from Estonia, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, SpainEach story is contextualised through a case study on civic space in that country, written by a national watchdog.

Thanks to these experiences and case studies, Activizenship #4 wants to contribute to the understanding of the features and evolutions of the civic space for those who defend and act for rights on the ground.

Every time citizens challenge the realities they are confronted with, they enact a form of resistance or offensive. Resistance can take different shapes, attitudes and languages. The stories inside this magazine capture some of these nuances, and discuss then their transformative and emancipatory potential to step from resistance to positive systemic change.

In order to frame these stories in the wider European landscape, this issue opens with an analysis of key findings from Civic Space Watch, standing at the crossroads between a magazine and a report from the frontlines.

By Alexandrina Najmowicz, European Civic Forum Director
25th November 2019

Read Activizenship #4: Civic Space Watch report 2019 • Success stories of resistance!


Read the executive summary of the civic space trends observed in the EU!

Success stories of resistance

In May, we launched the call for nomination Success stories of resistance aiming at discovering and collecting inspiring struggles of activists, organisations, associations, collectives of people fighting for fundamental rights (equality, inclusion, dignity, sustainability and justice) against growing political apathy, consumerism, exclusion and individualisation in Europe. Choosing only 6 stories out of such diverse, important and moving applications was not an easy task. In the selection, we tried to ensure a fair territorial and thematic representation of various challenges and diverse rights-related issues.

Kõigi Eesti is a group of citizens from Estonia who mobilised thousands of citizens online and offline to send a signal of tolerance vis a vis the new government coalition with the far-right group EKRE.

We decided to start a social media campaign: the name was “Koigi Eesti”. The translation was “Our Estonia”, but we then decided to use as the [English] hashtag “My Estonia too” to say that people who live here and contribute to this country can say “this is my Estonia too”.” – Silver Tambur

Comité Justice et Vérité pour Adama  fights for the truth concerning the death of the young Adama in the gendarmerie of Persan, in the outskirts of Paris, in July 2016 and for all the other victims of police violence of France left alone by the authorities.

You say it’s the Adama fight but it’s the fight of all the other Adama Traoré – it’s about the invisibility of our suburbs. We said it is the fight we take with the suburbs. It’s not a fight we’re going to fight for the suburbs, it’s a fight we’re going to fight together. That’s right: not to speak for them, but for them to speak.” – Assa Traoré

Mediterranea | Saving Humans from Italy is an colective monitoring human rights violations in the Mediterranean Sea and, when necessary, saving lives.

Mediterranea is not an NGO, but as we define it, – an NGA, a Non-Governmental Action: it is born from a group of friends and some associations. We were many – with diverse backgrounds, ways of acting and training, but united by years of concern and fights for the defence and protection of the rights of all. [Together we] took an action [that was] extraordinary but also needed, tangible, like buying a ship and putting it at sea.” – Alessandra Sciurba

Krakow Smoke Alert from Poland tells a story which revolves around the right to clean air and their ability to mobilise citizens for the sake of the city and of those who live in it.

I think we were able to mobilise many people because we were addressing the issue that was burning for them. They were [already] thinking this [:the quality of air] was a problem. They did not really know whether it was harmful or not, but it was bothering them. What helped us was creating awareness among people that air pollution was not harmless and that there are serious health consequences connected with it.” – Magdalena Kozłowska

Linda Greta Zsiga from Romania is a Roma activist fighting to improve the conditions of her community after they were evicted and moved near the garbage dump in Cluj, and for everyone’s right to housing.

Now it is almost nine years that I am involved as an activist in all the evictions happening here in Cluj-Napoca and in other cities. The people contact me and I am there. In every city where there is an eviction there is a group of activists resisting, fighting for their rights.” – Linda Greta Zsiga

Defender a Quien Defiende from Spain is a platform of human rights defenders, journalists, psychologists, legal experts and social movements supporting organised resistance all across the country.

We started to work in 2014, one year before the approval of the so-called Gag Laws in Spain in the face of the regression of rights we could face. Members of the platform are movements and organisations that work on a multitude of issues related to human rights (environment, feminism, housing, migrations, institutional violence…). However, it is the right to protest that brought us together!” – Thais Bonilla and Serlinda Vigara