“Freedom is like bread – every day it is kneaded, baked and eaten”
The annual Civic Forum – Conference on Democracy has been held since 2013 every last Saturday and Sunday of February. The purpose of the event is to provide a platform for various activities in support of democratic values, as well as to support debates on the application of democratic practices. We launched this annual civic forum, provoked by the February protests in 2013. Then the high electricity bills became an occasion for bold and open criticism of the undemocratic government of the country, fused with unhealthy economic interests of monopolies and groups. The protests ended tragically with the death of Plamen Goranov, who set himself on fire in front of the Varna Municipality building.
The February protests of 2013 were indicative in many ways of the level of development of civil society in Bulgaria. The belief that the establishment and preservation of democracy must be worked on every day was confirmed, no matter that 24 years had passed since November 10, 1989. Unfortunately, people have the attitude to think that democracy is given to them, that they are only required to consume it. At the same time, over the years, politicians have made the term “civic organization” a dirty word. This immature attitude towards democracy is a bad joke for us now. In most cases, people are apathetic or react belatedly to violations of democratic principles and rights. Actions are post factum, when things have passed the breaking point and return is almost impossible. Varna is an emblematic example in this respect. There is a lot of evidence – from long-standing struggles for the legality of ownership of the coastal area of the Sea Garden to the explosions of mass discontent expressed by the protests. The challenge before us, as a civil organization, is to work for the establishment, development and maintenance of democratic processes and civil society in Varna.
To create and maintain an annual forum to mark the development of democratic processes and civil society in Varna has become our goal. We called it the Conference on Democracy. Following the model of similar forums held in developed democracies, our conference is also held once a year. Its goals are:
* To provide a platform for the presentation of various civic activities in support of democratic values in society: freedom and protection of civil rights; balance of interests of different groups in society; reaching a consensus.
* Facilitate a debate on the application of democratic values and the improvement of democratic practices.
The forum is open. Proposals for topics, speakers, presenters of implemented civic initiatives are collected currently during the year. At the beginning of December, a public invitation is sent to the citizens for active sharing: presenting an activity, leading a debate, giving a lecture, presenting a film, presenting a nomination, receiving an award, receiving funding for an idea for future activity and etc. Anyone wishing to share their experience and idea must declare their participation by sending us electronically: a cover letter and a summary of the topic (up to 10 sentences). At the end of January, the organizers draw up the agenda of the approved topics and participants, for which a protocol is drawn up. Approved participants are notified that they will be included in the conference agenda.
The criteria for active participation are:
* the activity should be in line with the goals of the forum;
* activists should be open to questions, comments and criticism.
In view of the balance of interests, priority is given first to the most vulnerable group – civic activities, second – to those called for leaders – political actors, and third to business representatives.
In parallel with the selection of activities, we are conducting a campaign to raise funds for the conference.
The first edition of the Conference on Democracy took place on 28 February 2015. From then until today, the forum is always held on the last Saturday and Sunday of February. Depending on the funds raised, the conference lasts one or two days. The first day is for the presentation of local civic initiatives from Varna and the country. The second day is dedicated to civic participation in solving issues of global importance, but reflecting on life in Bulgaria. Participants are divided into thematic panels. There are three 18-minute presentations within one panel. Each panel ends with a 30-minute discussion section, including questions for the speakers. Every year the global topics are different. Initially, the conference included active citizens and representatives of civil society organizations from Varna, Dobrich and Shumen. Today, the geography of the conference covers the entire country.
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.