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PDF Poland-CEE 2014: Democracy is Weak but Technology Can Be A Trigger for Social Change

BY Antonella Napolitano | Tuesday, March 18 2014

Photo by Fundacja ePaństwo

In Eastern Europe, democracy is considered "young" but it is also weak, said several activists from the region during the Personal Democracy Forum Poland-CEE, held in Warsaw, from Mar. 13 to 14.

Sandor Lederer, co-founder and CEO of K-Monitor, a watchdog NGO for public funds in Hungary, says of his country that democracy is weak because "it fell into our arms 25 years ago." The government has undermined the system of checks and balances and opposition is non-existent, he explained in his talk.

Democracy is also weak in Ukraine, warned Svitlana Zalischuk, the founder of Ukraine's Center UA civic group. As our own Micah Sifry writes in a profile of Zalischuk, "The 'EuroMaidan' movement may have forced Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych out of office, but it was far from clear that non-violent civic activism was going to win the day in the face of an invasion of Crimea and more not-so-veiled threats of force from Russia."

Political apathy was mentioned throughout the conference but PDF speakers also looked at what exactly triggers civic engagement.

The activists, technologists and journalists that gathered at PDF Poland-CEE came from 25 European countries and they reminded the more than 300 attendees of the positive force of social change, built by people but triggered by technology.

Zalischuk provided examples of the social solidarity that technology can trigger, such as when 200 people showed up at a Kiev hospital after a call went out on Facebook for donors with a particular blood type.

Later, several NGOs from the Balkans compared their experiences using "truth-o-meters" as a way for civil society to introduce the concept of government accountability. These tools, like the American websites of the same name, aim at checking whether electoral promises were kept, but are having mixed outcomes so far in the region: according to activists working in Montenegro, politicians are now making less and less electoral promises, in order to be able to "escape" the truth-o-meter. In Bosnia, on the other hand, the tool has been around for almost an electoral cycle and is now gaining credibility even though politicians "are still trying to lie their way out of this," Bosnian activist Darko Brkan commented sarcastically.

This may be the end of the beginning of a new kind of public conversation, though, as the debate on transparency is out.

Even terms like "whistleblowing" are now a matter of living room banter, as OpenLeaks founder (and former Wikileaks spokesperson) Daniel Domscheit-Berg pointed out in his speech on the future of the transparency movement.

"Transparency is the first step to any reform agenda" said Sunlight Foundation's Julia Keseru, a native of the Eastern Europe region.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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