Civic engagement increasing in EBRD region

By Axel  Reiserer

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A first glimpse at the imminent “Life in Transition Survey”, presented at a meeting with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the EBRD Annual Meeting 2011 on Saturday in Astana, showed some sharp increases in the membership in voluntary organisations in the period 2006-10 in the countries where the EBRD operates. At the same time membership in political parties is falling, particularly in south-eastern Europe.

The Life in Transition Survey II (LiTS II), conducted by the EBRD and the World Bank, analyses the attitudes and values of more than 38,000 households in 34 countries. The survey was first conducted in 2006 and again in 2010. The full results and findings of the new LiTS will be presented to the public on 29 June at EBRD Headquarters in London.

In his presentation EBRD political counsellor Franklin Steves also pointed out that corruption remains a major problem in the EBRD region: “Road policing, education and health care remain the most affected areas,” Mr Steves said. While in Germany and the UK (who were included in the study as “comparators”) the average perception of unofficial payments is virtually non-existent, it is as high as 65 per cent in Azerbaijan (up from 15 per cent in the 2006 survey).

Concern about corruption also dominated the presentation by Adybek Sharshenbaev, chairman of Transparency International in the Kyrgyz Republic. He painted a gloomy picture: “The country is so corrupt that this has become a real threat to the society and nation,” he said. “The state has been transformed into a machine for personal enrichment.” Especially given this background Mr Sharshenbaev welcomed the recent reforms in the Kyrgyz Republic introducing a parliamentary republic.

While the LiTS shows evidence of an increase in civil society engagement in the EBRD region the situation on the ground often remains very difficult. The study “Civil Society Index in Kazakhstan” by the Public Policy Research Centre identifies significant challenges facing civil society. As examples Meruert Makhmatova, director of the institute, mentioned “high levels of corruption, limited political rights and personal freedoms”.

Even bleaker was the assessment of Anna Andreenkova, vice director of the Institute for Comparative Social Research, one of Russia’s leading public opinion research companies: “We have seen many positive changes over the past 20 years. But the hope of a self-governing and self-responsible society where people engage on government, parties and civil society has not been fulfilled.”

One of the reasons for this was underlined by Marta Turk, President of the Ljubljana Regional Chamber of Commerce, Slovenia. “Without values we cannot build a social environment,” she said. The economic crisis with steeply rising unemployment and pressure on public finances represents another serious challenge. “Forty per cent of all women in Slovenia today are self-employed. But this is mainly due to the dire situation on the job market.” Also the LiTS finds that the ratio of female employment is significantly lower in the overall transition region than in western Europe.

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