Civil Society Background

Beginning of civil society actions in Kosovo dates back decades ago. In the modern concept of civil society, the first civil society initiatives and organizations date from the end of the 80s and beginning of 90s, after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the beginnings of a new form of political oppression resulting with the establishment of a  parallel life in Kosovo. Because of the special situation existing at that time in Kosovo, civil society was developed as an important part of an entirely parallel system and civil resistance against the Serb regime, which was built from the basic needs and dealt with population survival issues.

Humanitarian aid and protection of human rights, supplemented by various civil movements, were the most important fields of action of the civil society. The main consolidated organizations at the time were:  humanitarian organization Mother Theresa – which numbered over 7,200 volunteers in its ranks. By using a system that was in place throughout Kosovo, it managed to gather aid both locally and abroad and disburse that aid throughout Kosovo; the Council for Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms – monitored, identified and raised awareness on human rights violations, by contributing directly in informing the international community on the systematic oppression of the Albanian population by the Serb regime. Comprised of the most distinguished lawyers from Kosovo, the Council cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to gather evidence on war crimes in Kosovo.

The end of the war and the NATO intervention, as well as the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and Provisional Institutions of Self Government (PISG) in 1999, was the turning point for the overall development of the civil society in Kosovo. The enormous needs for emergency aid and rebuilding as well as interethnic reconciliation pushed the civil society towards transforming its activities and adapting to the new reality. Large financial and technical support from international donors that arose in the form of the need to channel international funds for an after-war Kosovo resulted in a massive increase of the number of CSOs, which was not necessarily accompanied by the improvement of the quality of their work. ‘Easily accessible’ funds, combined with the dependency on  foreign donations, created a large number of donor-oriented NGOs , as well as “passive” NGOs that would activate their efforts depending on the fund availability. From over 7,000 NGOs registered by 2013, less than 10% are estimated to still be active or partially active.

Currently, the civil society in Kosovo is going through a number of developments but it still faces large challenges. Although some CSOs are increasing their human and financial capacities, the largest part of the sector remains dependent to international funding. Besides this, the continuous increase of European Union portion in civil society funds, bureaucratic procedures for application and the rather large minimum amounts of EU grants exempt a large number of organizations from gaining these funds, since the majority of organizations are too small to execute or absorb such amounts, thus increasing the division between the ‘large’ and ‘small’ CSOs. In an attempt to survive in such a situation, the civil society priorities in the majority of cases have reflected donor priorities, thus increasing the number of those that estimate that a large number of civil society initiatives are not driven by the interests of the community.