Meta-Organization of Participation

Monday the 30th of July, Mirjana Mirosavljevic of the Reconstruction Women’s Fund generously spend an hour explaining to me her view of the intricacies of civil society participation in a Serbia undergoing a difficult political and economic transition.

One particularly interesting thing for me was RWfund’s deliberate attempt to work as a sort of meta-organization, focused on the development of other NGO’s, the strengthening of networks between them, and the training of activists. They raise money from international foundations like George Soros’s Open Society Institute and the Rockerfeller Brothers Fund, donors that smaller, local organizations are unlikely to reach, and work to increase awareness of the issue of women’s rights in Serbia, and Serbian women’s rights amongst internationals working in Serbia.

Also, she pointed out the increasing importance of the Serbian Orthodox Church (though not in a direction that she and her organization appreciates) in a country experiencing a sort of simultaneous relative implosion of both state politics and the kind of civil society politics that contributed to the regime change of 2000. In this kind of ‘vacuum’, there is a room for those with resources, and the church has both money (from remittances) and people, both as actors in their own right, and, I would deduce, as its own kind of meta-organizers for movements with a quite different agenda. There are some clear parallels here, it seems to me, to the role of the church in many other transitional political situations.

Mirosavljevic readily admitted the challenges involved for an organization like RWfund, not only from the immediate political circumstances they operate in, but also from the strategy they have chosen and the practical paths they pursue. Follow the money here. Being mainly dependent on foreign, and predominantly U.S., funding in a country where the ruins left by the NATO airial strikes from 1999 remain very visible is not a PR boon. But resources obviously has to be found if the work is to continue–like the media I also like to write about, activism is far from free, even if it is voluntary, and both foreign funds and domestic enthusiasm has on many areas been on the wane, especially since the assassination of Zoran Djindjić in 2003 and the relative lack of political improvements since. It takes not only romantic dedication, but also cool cash, to try to match the inertia of the world and whatever forces one’s political opponents marshal. Listening to her stories of attempts to work one’s way through international bureaucracy and lack of government recognition of local expertise and even the legitimacy of activism, I can only respect the work done here to attempt to build and maintain a basis infrastructure of participation.

– – – Nerdy Note – – –

After the talk, I had occasion to re-read Karl Marx’s ‘On the Jewish Question’. It remains for me an interesting point of reference here, not because I agree with it, but because it so mercilessly probes some of the limits of liberal rights and pluralist struggles for freedom, such as the struggle for women’s rights. Marx’s overall argument is that no minority can seriously pursue freedom on its own, as a minority, but only as part of a majority coalition aiming to transform the social order that made them an unfree minority in the first place. But of course, paroles ‘first class struggle, then gender struggle’ and the like proved to be quite a dead-end.

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