Slovakia’s CSO sector is vibrant
SLOVAKIA has many thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs) but some of them face serious financial problems due to a lack of stable funding.
SLOVAKIA has many thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs) but some of them face serious financial problems due to a lack of stable funding. But many CSOs have been quite active in using social networks via the internet to activate citizens around particular issues and protests. These are the main findings of the 2011 CSO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, a report that is prepared annually by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in cooperation with non-governmental organisations in countries of the region.
The report, first published in 1997, reviews the strength and overall viability of CSO organisations in 29 countries in Europe and Asia. It describes both improvements and setbacks in the development of the sector in each country and allows comparisons to be made between countries and sub-regions, focusing on several interrelated dimensions such as the legal environment, organisational capacity, financial viability, types of advocacy and services undertaken, infrastructure support and public image of the CSOs. The activities and condition of civil society organisations in Slovakia is dependent on the legal environment, Petra Nagyová, PR manager of the Pontis Foundation that cooperated in preparation of the report, told The Slovak Spectator.
“We are missing a welcoming legislative environment that would accelerate the passage of laws as well as improve the operation of non-profit organisations,” she said. The report covers the CSO sector from the Baltic countries in northern Europe to those in Central Asia and states that it is an important and unique tool for CSOs, governments, donors, academics, and other interested persons to understand and measure the sustainability of this non-profit, civil society sector.
Stability but little growth
In 2011 Slovakia had nearly 37,000 CSOs registered with the Interior Ministry spread among four categories: civil associations; non-investment funds; non-profit organisations providing public service benefits; and foundations. The report notes that civil associations account for the vast majority of the CSOs in Slovakia, around 33,240 groups. The report noted that there was a positive trend in the CSO sector under the leadership of former prime minister Iveta Radičová, who significantly contributed to development of civil society organisations. Radičová also cooperated more actively with CSOs in preparation of legislative measures and was praised for establishing the post of government proxy for the development of civil society, said Norbert Maur from the Pontis Foundation in the organisation’s press release. “The fall of the government, however, halted many of the initiatives,” Maur wrote.
The report praised the law that was passed on volunteering in 2011 that became effective last December as well as amendments to the law on public access to information and the law on public procurement that was designed to “increase the transparency of government operations”, stated the press release.
The index of the sustainability of CSOs in Slovakia has not improved in the last few years in several of the fields evaluated by the USAID report and Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator that this might be the result of several factors, including the legislative process which “to a great extent has had an effect on non-profit organisations”. She noted that the law on volunteering took four years to be passed by parliament.
Financing difficulties and sustaining viability were some of the greatest challenges facing CSOs in the surveyed countries last year. Many CSOs, including those in Slovakia, reported a drop in funding at least partly due to the difficult economic environment. Nagyová said that in Slovakia the drop in funding was mostly caused by a legislated change in the amount that corporate taxpayers could assign from their income tax liability. She referred to an amendment to the income tax law that allows a legal entity such as a corporation to assign 2 percent of its tax liability to an CSO organisation only if it had also given a direct donation to a CSO equal to at least 0.5 percent of its tax liability, noting that after 2014 the amount that can be assigned by a corporation from its tax liability will be gradually reduced to 0.5 percent.
The report noted that Slovakia was the only country in the report’s Northern Tier region where CSO infrastructure weakened during the past year. This category of infrastructure includes various kinds of education and training for representatives from NGOs as well as the exchange of information, presentation of CSO interests to the general public and the state, courses on managing NGOs, and the availability of educational materials in the Slovak language, Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator. The report stated that this was due a shortage of funds for training and networking, combined with the decision by several prominent CSO leaders to take positions in the corporate or government sectors.
“After the  revolution several foreign funding sources, involved in developing infrastructure and organisational capacity of the CSO sector, came to Slovakia to help develop a sector that had not previously existed,” Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that gradually some of these foreign funding sources ended their programmes in Slovakia, causing several Slovak organisations to fold. The report also noted that there was less available funding for private providers of public or social services due to a change in law even though parliament has now supposedly remedied the situation by passing an amendment to the law on social services in December 2011 that was designed to improve the situation and make funding of the social service facilities, whether private or public, more equitable.
More civic activities
Another important finding in the CSO Sustainability Index report was that the average number of people engaged in various kinds of public affairs increased in 2011, noting that many kinds of protests and initiatives were organized through social networks on the internet. “Citizen participation in community development increased, professional associations mobilised citizens to participate in the legislative process, and formal and informal volunteering was further developed during the year,” the report states. The report noted that the image of CSOs remains strong even while stating that there was a lack of positive coverage by media outlets. The report stated that the merger of the public-service broadcasters, Slovak Radio (SRo) and Slovak Television (STV), limited the number of topics that were covered by these broadcasters, particularly on coverage of what the report called discrimination against private social service providers.
“During the year, journalists left media outlets for jobs in the corporate sector as well as the government, including approximately one-third of the journalists who had covered CSOs,” states the report. The report also noted that there was a lack of positive coverage of work undertaken by CSOs and opinions from CSO experts were rarely included in news stories. Nevertheless, the media did cover various kinds of civil initiatives, petitions and other causes at the regional level and the report found that Slovak citizens began to have considerably more influence on local and regional governments, as well as more media coverage of the work of foundations and the results of their projects. Additionally, electronic media, blogs, electronic versions of daily newspapers and online broadcasting increased the visibility of CSO activities and initiatives, the report stated.