The Swedish Network for the Eastern Partnership region strengthens civil society

News - 2021-09-24
A little over a decade ago Sweden and Poland took initiative to what would be called the Eastern Partnership (EaP), which is a collaboration between the EU and the six eastern neighbouring countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The aim is to improve and deepen relations to strengthen sustainable development, support democracy and human rights and improve market economy mechanism. In other words, to tie the eastern neighborhood countries closer to the EU.
Eastern Partnership (EaP)
Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a region which include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Countries the EU wish to strengthen its collaboration with.

To strengthen the bonds between civil society in Sweden and civil society in the Eastern Partnership region, ForumCiv decided in 2015 to start at Network aiming to facilitate cooperation, strengthen capacity and conduct joint advocacy work for the region. Given the region’s historical relations and present influence of Russia, the network also collaborates with the Russian civil society.

Since then, what became called the “Swedish Civil Society Network for Eastern Partnership and Russia” or “the EaP Network” has assisted civil society in Sweden, the EaP and Russia to work together, promote their joint voice and advocate for change by influencing strategies and political decisions. The strategy is to assist Swedish civil society organisations and their EaP partners to get their will through via influencing political decisions

Connects 36 Swedish civil society organisations

EaP Network has grown to include 36 Swedish civil society organisations as members. The diversity of thematic and geographic expertise among the members makes the Network a hub of knowledge that can take firm stands in joint advocacy campaigns. Many members testify to the important role the EaP Network plays as a platform to share relevant and up-to-date information on the civil society situation in the region, information that is difficult to find elsewhere and aren’t much reported on in the Swedish media.

By sharing information about the region, common challenges can be identified, which have then been addressed by different capacity strengthening exercises. One of the latest workshops discussed digital security and how to digitally navigate to be able to work in the EaP region sustainably and safely.

Online safety and security for local human rights defenders is something that we wanted to understand better as the digital challenges changes rapidly, thus it was very beneficial for us to have local partners and Stockholm staff getting training on this through the network. (Mikaela Engwall, United Nation Association of Sweden)

The network has also enabled new partnerships between its members and local civil society actors in the EaP region and Russia. In 2019, the Network organised a field trip to Armenia to enable meetings in Yerevan, Gorisa and Gyumri. This trip resulted in that many new connections were made, project plans were created and some materialised to ongoing projects.

Picture of the network members who joined the field trip to Armenia 2019, here outside the Swedish embassy in Yerevan.
Picture of the network members who joined the field trip to Armenia 2019, here outside the Swedish embassy in Yerevan.

Engagement in the Network increased the possibility of the cooperation in the region, otherwise we wouldn’t have a chance to meet these people, to get such a close contact with them. (Martin Dworén, Fryshuset)

The influence the EaP Network has had is acknowledged by the Swedish Ambassador for the Eastern Partnership region, Anna Westerholm. The input that the EaP Network has given on government and EU strategies has allowed Ambassador Westerholm to verify or falsify activities and trends on the ground, she testifies.

Through the Network, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received valuable information on trends, local needs and adjustments that we probably would not have received from other actors. (Swedish Ambassador for the EaP, Anna Westerholm)

To coordinate the ideas and input from civil society and to speak as a joint voice is core when doing political advocacy. On a number of occasions, when the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in the process of designing new development reform strategies for Russia and the Eastern Partnership region the EaP Network organised civil society consultation meetings that provided input directly to the Swedish decision makers on the formulation and design of the new strategies.

The Network became a platform where we can share ideas and develop common advocacy goals towards the Swedish government. (Anastasia Lundquist, RFSU)

Civil society make their voice heard

In summary, the advocacy work and consultations arranged by the EaP Network has facilitated for civil society actors to make their voice heard and helped decision makers to sharpen their analysis and put civil societies perspectives and needs on Swedish and EU policy papers. Apart from influencing political strategies that impacts the EaP region, the network has achieved a few very concrete changes.

Shortly after an advocacy campaign by the EaP Network, Sweden formally changes its usage of “White Russia” to “Belarus”. According to Ann Linde, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, “the decision was made as a way to recognize the Belarusian civil society and the people who for a long time have wanted to underline their country’s national identity and sovereignty”.

If the political advocacy was not coordinated in this way, we would not have been able to make an impact to this high extent. Speaking as a joint voice gives a higher impact on decision makers. (Alesia Rudnik, Sveriges Belarusier)

The fight for democracy and human rights is a fight that must be fought everywhere and at all times. Which is why, speedy lobbying and advocacy took place as László Trócsányi was appointed as EU Commissioner for the EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio at the European Commission after the EU election in 2019. Mr Trócsányi is a controversial politician, connected to Victor Orbán’s party Fidesz in Hungary. The EaP Network, and its close cooperation partner, the Brussels based EaP Civil Society Forum, contributed to that the extreme-right wing candidate to the EU Commission was stopped and replaced.

The continued work of civil society is of essence

With recent developments in the region, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the seemingly crushed civic uprising in Belarus and elections which has shaken stability has put the region on the map of world attention. As has the courage and resilience of its civil society. The continued work of civil society is of essence, and the EaP Network has a unique role to further collaboration that strengthens the influence of the will of the people.

Complexity of the Network is great. When I see it – this network goes in the forefront of how you can work together. The diversity of the Network is its strength. (Britt-Marie Torstensson, Winnet Sverige)

It’s a huge advantage to be a part of the Network, it legitimizes you when you reach out to people or spreading information. (Natia Gvianishvili, RFSL)

EaP

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