Updates from Transitions (TOL)

We would like to highlight here three projects that closed at the end of 2015 that we are proud to have implemented with a few excellent local partners.

Kosovo: Mobilizing Young People Through Environmental Awareness

As noted in earlier newsletters, Science for Change (SfC) is a project that TOL has been implementing in Kosovo since early 2014 in close cooperation with the UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo and local partners: first the Peer Educators Network (PEN), and now the Prosperity Initiative in Kosovo (PIKS). Focusing on environment-related issues, the project aims to introduce the concept of citizen science to Kosovo as a tool to increase civic activism, especially among young people. “Citizen science” means the involvement of ordinary citizens (in this case, young people) in the monitoring of possible pollutants in their local communities.

The final events of last year were environmental education workshops in the Ismajl Qemajli primary school in Pristina, which took place in mid-December. Young activists fully led the workshops, which introduced students to the issue of environmental pollution in Kosovo and then encouraged them to think about moves that they can make on the local level to improve the situation. Feedback from the school and the students has been extraordinary.

Overall, the “Science for Change” project has made great progress toward establishing a youth-led environmental movement that functions through participatory democracy approaches and citizen science principles – actively involving young people at the national level as they mobilize against environmental pollution.

Some feedback from some of the participants:

“There have been times when I was very concerned about putting my ideas into action. I am very delighted to know that I finally got the chance to actually do something – a concrete thing – instead of blaming the others, the other people, the government – THEM. This is not about them, it’s about us, it’s about me. And finally  I get to actually do something for real.” – Ermal Koraqi, Gjakove  

“We learned to work together as a group even though it was the first time we have seen each other for most of us. But, the main reason why we all came here is to improve our skills and learn new things about air pollution and how we can tackle it. This project is a wonderful experience and I look forward to getting things done in the upcoming months.” – Vesa Reçica, Pristina  

And from one of the trainers:

“Those young folks you had in the training are amazing. They need the proper shaping to make great activists, but I believe they are in the hands of the right trainers and soon they’ll be contributing to changes in the community.” – Arijanit Xhaferri, Macedonia (Eco-Guerrilla movement)

Special thanks to the young people from across Kosovo who contributed to the project – no easy task at the end of the year, with violent opposition protests and the unstable political situation. We are also grateful to the support provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry and the UNICEF Kosovo Program.

Ukraine: The Fight for Greater Openness

In Ukraine, we finished up a project of a different kind of activism: methodically monitoring government websites for their level of transparency and then lobbying and training officials to improve their performance. Our tireless partner, the Regional Press Development Institute (RPDI), spent the year monitoring almost 175 websites of  regional authorities, central authorities, and courts.

Their findings were not overly optimistic. Although progress has undoubtedly been made in making information accessible by posting it on official websites, on average. over half of the information required to be posted is still missing  and therefore remains inaccessible to Ukrainian citizens. Often, however, it’s not simply the authorities wishing to keep their activities secret. With oft-changing legislation, officials don’t even realize what they are legally bound to publicize.

“Unfortunately, as we discovered throughout the project, a vast majority of Ukrainian officials do not have access to resources and knowledge on how to manage these websites,” said Olga Trufanova, deputy director at RPDI  “Our project gently ‘pushed’ them to improve their communication process.” The RPDI team ended up coaching official bodies on their legal obligations, as well as ideal standards of website usability and navigability.

The project gained a key ally over the course of the year: the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Ukrainian parliament. This ombudsman will use RPDI’s findings as a measure for disciplining the authorities who do not comply with the law.

Funding for this project has been provided by the Czech Foreign Ministry, the Council of Europe, and the Erste Foundation.

Moldova

In Moldova we wrapped another year of a long-running project called Developing New Media Skills, this time in cooperation with two local partners MediaPoint and RISE. The team is particularly proud of thedebates.md platform, founded last year to provide an open online outlet for Moldovans — at home and abroad — to express their opinions on the crucial issues facing society. That mission has been especially important over the past few months, as the country experienced mass, anti-corruption protests and faced the complicated task of electing a new prime minister. Over 5,000 users of debates.md took the opportunity to contribute comments about the nominees for the position, and lively debates took place  simultaneously on the project’s Facebook page, which  received visits from over 20,000 unique individuals.

“Certainly 2016 will be a more important year for debates.md,” says project manager Andrei Fornea.  “We will discussing the most important things that are debated in society but often ignored by the government. We will also push for the results to be more visible to those who have decision-making power in the hope that they will take them into consideration.”

Debates.md will also soon be available in a more user-friendly, interactive format on mobile devices, suggesting the popularity of the site will continue to grow.

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, Transitions Online magazine published several stories written by the graduates of an investigative training program, which was another component of the project.  The four investigations, coordinated by investigative center RISE Moldova, examined a diverse group of issues unconnected with the current political turmoil.

The National Endowment for Democracy and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Moldova provided funds for this project.

Donate to Transitions and support independent journalism in Central and Eastern Europe. For more information about TOL’s current projects, please click here.