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Civil Society Monitoring in CEE 2019

Civil society and its organizations play an important social, political and economic role in democratic countries. They provide (social) services, represent interests of minorities or vulnerable groups, perform a watch-dog function towards politics and public administration, and contribute to community building by involving different people, e.g. in volunteering and membership. The existence of a vivid civil society is an indicator of well-functioning democracies that give space to the full variety of different opinions, concerns and solutions. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are often established where a particular social or political concern emerges. By combining a mix of various public and private resources - such as public funds, private donations, voluntary work and membership fees - they are often a source of social innovation.

The political and social environment shapes the operating conditions for CSOs. Political and legal frameworks can be designed in a way to be either supportive or impeding to a flourishing, engaged and pluralist civil society. The most important prerequisite for a vivid civil society is space for the public discussion of different perspectives. Above that, the voices of CSOs need to be taken seriously in the political process: As CSOs have a profound expertise in many fields of society, they play a key role in solving manifold social and environmental problems.

Presently, the culture of open discussion seems to be threatened in an increasing number of countries. In Central and Eastern Europe’s (CEE’s) democracies, recent political developments appear to jeopardize progresses made in the past. Against this background, the current study aims at shedding light on the dynamics of CEE’s civil society. Building on our prior research on civil society in CEE (Meyer, Moder, Neumayr & Vandor, 2019; Vandor, Traxler, Millner & Meyer 2017), this report gives a brief overview of the status quo and recent developments that directly affect civil society.

The study was conducted by the Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship at WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business), commissioned by and in collaboration with ERSTE foundation as well as with a group of local experts in 15 CEE-countries, including Austria. In addition to the inclusion of expert assessments on civil society, the current study aims at giving a voice primarily to practitioners. Therefore, the study included an online survey in each participating country, addressing CSO representatives operating in various fields of activity. A total of 875 responses were included in the analysis. The country-specific chapters:

  • report key facts about the respective civil society sector in 15 CEE-countries

  • summarize recent political events affecting civil society

  • provide an overview of the legal and political framework relevant to CSOs’ operations, and

  • analyse the funding possibilities and consequences thereof for CSOs.

Furthermore, the study provides a summary of the current state of affairs and general tendencies affecting civil society as well as a synopsis of the individual country chapters. The study wraps up with a discussion on major trends and tendencies that pose both challenges and threats as well as opportunities for the future socio-political and economic development of civil society in the CEE region.

The study was successfully completed in June 2019 and can be downloaded via the ERSTE foundation's website.


Mag.rer.soc.oec. Eva More-Hollerweger

Eva More-Hollerweger

Senior Researcher, Chairperson of the NPO Institute (Association)
Responsibilities: Responsibilities: NPOs, Civil Society, Volunteering, Evaluations and Strategic Management.