This year ALDA celebrates the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the first Local Democracy Agency in the Balkans, LDA Subotica. This special occasion has been at the core of ALDA Festival and General Assembly 2023, within which the event “30 Years Local Democracy Agencies in the Balkans” took place on 9 June, 2023.
Key speakers had the chance to connect the recent past with the present and future work of ALDA in the region, linking the past struggles with the current realities while envisioning a European future. The panelists addressed pressing topics for the Western Balkans, offering unique perspectives on democracy work and the challenges that lie ahead. Moderated by Ms. Katica Janeva, Director of Skopje Office and Head of the ALDA Western Balkans Unit, the audience had the pleasure to listen to the contributions of some of the most relevant local and institutional stakeholders in the Balkans. Among them, Ms. Dusica Davidovic, Deputy Mayor of Nis and Member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Council of Europe, who underlined the absolute relevance, especially in the Balkans, of transparent institutions and availability of information in order to build a strong local democracy; “Local democracy is key to building a secure and stable society” – stated Ms. Davidovic.
Afterwards, Ms. Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel, Member of the European Parliament took the floor remarking that local deliberative democracy is essential to create a community in which everyone feels integrated and no one is left behind. As Ms. Von Cramon-Taubadel stated; “I would like to emphasise the importance of local democracy, which is the foundation on which our democratic systems are built. The Local Democracy Agencies act at the local level, and over the last three decades they have worked to create a more inclusive and cohesive society”.
Later on, Ms. Dragica Martinovic, Vice-president of the EESC‘s Western Balkans Follow-up Committee, contributed by stressing the importance of an effective advocacy action in order to enhance civil dialogue together with social and economic cohesion among the Balkans, which is meaningful in the entire process of EU integration. Furthermore, she dwelt on the importance of young people in the Balkans as key actors of cohesion, so that the EU institutions pay more attention to the needs of civic and local CSOs.
Local democracy as the key to European integration in the Balkans
Lately, the newly elected vice president of ALDA and Director of the Center for Democracy Foundation Ms. Natasa Vuckovic took the floor and stated: “It’s vital to keep reinvigorating the values contained in the EU-Western Balkans Summit Thessaloniki everyday. (…)Taking care of minorities and vulnerable groups, such as LGBTQ+ needs, should become a priority in every Balkan’ Government Agenda in order to make everyone feel part of their own community”. – Ms. Vuckovic concluded.
The Minister of Local Government Administration of the Republic of Kosovo*, Mr. Elbert Krasniqi, gave then his own valuable contribution as he is trying to be “a minister from another perspective, the one of local government” – Mr. Krasniqi stated. He emphasised the work that the Government of Kosovo* is doing in investing in digital transformation, as a push for the spread of participatory democratic processes among the Kosovar population to improve citizens’ civic engagement.
To conclude, ALDA Governing Board Member and representative of the Municipality of Centar, Mr. Emir Coric underlined the significance of citizens’ decision-making and the increasing need along the Balkan area to strengthen participatory processes such as civic forums; “If we don’t encourage these kind of democratic participatory procedures, the Balkans risk losing the transformative power that every government should have: it’s a threat to future EU integration, and ALDA knows it very well. LDAs in this sense have a key role in gathering communities to encourage participation” – stated Mr. Coric.
The event represented a valuable occasion to look back together on the road built so far and discuss tomorrow’s commitments and next steps. “There still is an open path that needs to be developed” – stated Mrs. Antonella Valmorbida, ALDA Secretary General – “ALDA is looking forward to working everyday more to join forces in promoting democracy at all levels, especially the local one” – stated Mrs. Valmorbida.