After threats against civic activists, the Conference on Democracy was born
Why a conference and why democracy? And what does democracy have to do with ecology? These are the questions that might ask those who come across the announcement of the next edition of the Conference on Democracy, organized by the Public Center for the Environment and Sustainable Development.
“If there is no democracy, there is no protection of the environment,” said the organization’s president, Ilian Iliev. According to him, some of the biggest environmental problems are in countries where there are no civil rights. “No matter how few they are, there are active citizens in our country,” Iliev said.
The conference on democracy coincides with the period when the association began to develop a broad base. The principle of grassroots organizations is that the leader of the civic initiative should lead and coordinate it and that the organization should be supportive.
“The prehistory of the Conference on Democracy is linked to the struggles for the Varna General Development Plan and to one of their promoters, the architect Kalina Pavlova. Ilian Iliev goes back in time. – The battles then became very fierce. C ‘ they were personal threats and provocations aimed at the architect Pavlova “.
As a civil activist, Kalina Pavlova was invited to a conference in Germany to talk about the civil battles she was fighting in Varna. Upon her return, she had the idea of creating a similar forum in the seaside town. “That way, she wanted to advertise civic activities and feel a little better about herself,” says Ilian Iliev. – Furthermore, for years we have seen the absence of the use of terms such as “democracy”, “civil rights”, “European Union” in our country.
Thus, in February 2013, the protests began to bring these words into the vocabulary of Bulgarian institutions and civil society.
Soon after, the high electricity bills became an occasion for open criticism of the undemocratic government of the time, involved in the unhealthy economic interests of monopolies and large industrial groups. The protests ended tragically with the death of Plamen Goranov, who set himself on fire in front of the Varna Municipality building. The first conference of 2015 was in his memory. And the following seven lectures, all were held in late February, which is the anniversary of his death.
A curious fact is that the budget for the first conference was 1,000 BGN and that it was funded by its promoter, arch. Kalina Pavlova. Today the participation of teachers is free and on a voluntary basis. The idea is to present various civic activities in the city of Varna and talk about democracy and civil rights. The format is the same every year. Each speaker is entitled to an 18-minute presentation. The presentations are divided into several panels on similar topics. Usually a panel consists of three presentations, after which there is the discussion. Besides that, various activities are organized to break the static format and make it more colorful. Films and books by local activists were presented. The 2020 conference saw an evening of tango as a dance of democracy take place. In recent years it has become a tradition for the forum to end with a World Café, during which citizens discuss various issues in working groups, and ultimately present state-of-the-art solutions.
By joining the organization of the forum and the Association “For the Earth”, the conference became two days. Regional activities are presented on the first day and national and international ones on the second. Often the guest speakers at the Conference on Democracy are activists abroad.
“Simply in Bulgaria, we want to meet one day a year and talk about all the topics, but that’s not possible. Civic activism should be 365 days a year. You can’t be active one day a year, talk about what you believe in and then keep quiet for a whole year “. This is one of the most common problems during conferences – the lack of time and the desire of many people to speak.
The issues discussed are not only related to democracy, but also to environmental protection. There are often presentations on waste incineration, clean air, misuse of natural resources, energy policies and more.
Over the years, the Democracy Conference has become a trademark of civil society in the region. “There should be such forums, because we have been living in a democracy for 30 years and we don’t even know what that word means,” Ilian Iliev said. According to him, a problem of modern times is that almost nothing is said about democracy in the Bulgarian school. “We have conducted surveys among students on how long they talk about democracy at school. The answers range from 1 to 0 hours. Therefore, if you ask people what the European Union is, most of them will probably say that it has built something in Bulgaria.
But if the EU is regarded only as a piggy bank, how will the integration take place? ”Asks Ilian Iliev. He concludes his story with a thought by Radoi Ralin, which has become the leitmotiv of the last two conferences:
“Freedom is like bread: every day it is kneaded, baked, eaten”.
Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations
The project “Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations” shall be implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project is to improve citizens’ awareness of the role of non-governmental organizations in society. This material is established with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The whole responsibility for the content of the document is held by the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development and under no circumstances can this material be considered to reflect the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria.